Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) 's online course, The Korean Alphabet: An Introduction to Hangeul. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds Hello everyone. Last class we learned about the background behind Hangeul’s creation. This class we will explore the creation process and promulgation of Hangeul. Last class we learned about the need for the creation of a Korean alphabet because there was none at the time, contrasted with the historical context of the Joseon dynasty. At the time, reading and writing were done in Chinese characters, which were different from the spoken Korean language. This kind of double-language life was very inconvenient and difficult. That’s why King Sejong started to create new alphabet which anyone could learn easily. However, the process of creating a new alphabet was not all smooth. In the palace during the Joseon dynasty there was a royal research institute called the Jiphyeonjeon.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 seconds The lower-level scholars of the Jibhyeonjeon were involved during the process of creating Hangeul. Immediately, Choe Manri, the head of the Jibhyeonjeon, and others made a submission to the King. They were trying to deter the creation of King Sejong’s Hangeul. Having an illiterate common class helped the ruling class to maintain their power, so the elite opposed the creation of an alphabet that was easy to learn. Not everyone could learn the Chinese characters which were used for writing at the time, and the ruling class used this to their advantage to maintain privileges across society. So the ruling class did not welcome the idea of an alphabet that the common people could learn easily.

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds The submission by Choe Manri to the King was mainly about the function of the new alphabet, Hangeul. The preface of the book, “Hunminjeongeum” states the need for a new alphabet because there were difficulties communicating using Chinese characters, and it was hard for the people to learn the content of books. Choe Manri and others disputed this point by point in a submission to the government. The main argument against Hangeul was that they should not discard Chinese characters and writing. The submission also argued that the fact the new alphabet’s characteristics were different from the essence of Chinese characters was a problem. Their argument reveals the fact that at the time, the ruling elite revered and served the more powerful China.

Skip to 3 minutes and 1 second While Chinese characters express meaning, the new alphabet Hangeul expresses sound. The submission to the King argued that because Hangeul was fundamentally different from Chinese characters, it was going against the fundamental law. King Sejong received the submission and responded, clearly stating the need for a new alphabet because borrowing Chinese characters was inconvenient and did not sufficiently express meaning. In Choe Manri’s submission, it even mentions how King Sejong’s health deteriorated from spending so much energy on Hangeul. He argued that it was not proper for the King to focus so much on Hangeul, which was not an urgent matter. In response, King Sejong says, “do you have knowledge of the rhyming book?

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 seconds Do you know how many consonants and vowels are in the four tones and seven sounds? If I do not correct the rhyming book now, who will?” In other words, King Sejong, who was knowledgeable of the system of sounds, believed it was necessary to create a writing system that was right for the sounds of spoken Korean. From this we can see King Sejong had great scholarly pride. King Sejong had extensive knowledge of Chinese phonology. King Sejong was a great scholar who could carefully analyze language and could make a scientific alphabet that accurately expresses a spoken language. King Sejong was able to overcome the scholars’ opposition and promulgate Hangeul in 1446 through the publication of “Hunminjeongeum.”

Skip to 4 minutes and 57 seconds According to the historical records, the “Hunminjeoneum Haerye” was published in the “Sangsoon” of September in 1446, of the lunar calendar. “Sangsoon” means the first ten days of a month. The Joseon Language Academy declared September 10 (the last day of the “Sangsoon”) of the lunar calendar as the promulgation day of Hangeul. In 1945, this day was changed to October 9 on the solar calendar, and has been celebrated as “Hangeul day” ever since. Nowadays “Hangeul day” is a national holiday to commemorate the promulgation of Hangeul. On this day there are various events around Korea to celebrate the creation of Hangeul and promote Hangeul distribution and research. This class we learned about the creation process and promulgation of Hangeul.

Skip to 5 minutes and 52 seconds Despite great opposition from many people, King Sejong the Great was able to create the new alphabet Hangeul. Currently, Hangeul Day is celebrated in Korea to commemorate the promulgation of Hangeul. This is the end of the lesson. Thank you.

Invention and Distribution of Hangeul

Having an illiterate common class helped the ruling class to maintain their power, so the elite opposed the creation of an alphabet that was easy to learn.

King Sejong, who was knowledgeable of the system of sounds, believed it was necessary to create a writing system that was right for the sounds of spoken Korean.


[KEY WORDS]

훈민정음 해례본(Hunminjeoneum Haerye), 한글날(Hangeul day)

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

The Korean Alphabet: An Introduction to Hangeul

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)