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 week we covered the background behind how Hangeul was created. Hangeul was planned and created out of necessity in 1443 and widely distributed among the common people. So what are the principles and standards behind the creation of Hangeul? This week we will learn about the principles behind Hangeul’s creation. Today we know about the principles behind Hangeul characters through reference documents. Before the references were discovered, there was no way to know the principles behind the alphabet. In 1940 the Hunjeongeum Haerye was discovered in Andong, Korea. This document explained the principles behind the Hangeul characters, and with this discovery the principles were made public. The Hunminjeongeum Haerye was written to explain the Hunminjeongeum alphabet system and its use.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 seconds This book was registered as a UNESCO Heritage Memory of the World in 1997. The discovery of this book finally shed light on the principles behind the creation of Hangeul characters. Let’s take a closer look at those principles explained in the Hunminjeoneum Haerye. Hangeul’s consonants and vowels were not all created separately. First, a few basic characters were created, and then the rest of the characters were made from the basic characters. Then how were those basic characters created? The principle of image modeling was used. In other words, a model was used as reference to create the basic consonants and vowels. Let’s look at the consonants and vowels separately.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 seconds There are five basic consonants: ‘ㄱ, ㄴ, ㅁ, ㅅ, ㅇ’. The five basic consonants were modeled after the speech organs. The letter ‘ㄱ’ was modeled after the shape of the back of the tongue blocking the throat, and the letter ‘ㄴ’ was modeled after the shape of the tip tongue touching the roof of the mouth. The letter ‘ㅁ’ is modeled after the shape of the mouth. The letter ‘ㅅ’ resembles the lips, and ‘ㅇ’ is modeled after the shape of the throat. So the five basic consonants are modeled after our speech organs. Observe the position of your tongue and the shape of your lips as you pronounce the consonants.

Skip to 3 minutes and 1 second You will feel how each letter shape is modeled after shape of the speech organs as that letter is pronounced. Right now pronounce ‘ㄱ[k]’. Where is the highest point of your tongue when you pronounce ‘ㄱ’? You will feel that the back of your tongue tenses and touches the back of the roof of your throat. Next pronounce ‘ㄴ’. Can you feel the tip of your tongue slightly touch your top gums as you articulate it? What about ‘ㅁ’? Can you feel you upper and lower lip touch slightly as you pronounce it? When you pronounce ‘ㅅ’ you can feel the tip of your tongue get close to the back of your top front teeth.

Skip to 3 minutes and 51 seconds When you pronounce ‘o’ the back of your tongue gets close to the back of the roof of your mouth. Do you understand now how the shapes of the consonants are modeled after the shape of the speech organs as each letter is pronounced? Therefore, when the alphabet was created, the shapes of the letters were designed based on knowledge of the speech organs. Even back then, the Hangeul alphabet was created based on knowledge of phonetics. Now let’s look at how the basic vowels were created.

Skip to 4 minutes and 36 seconds There are three basic vowel characters: ‘ㆍ, ㅡ, ㅣ’ ‘ㆍ’ is modeled after the round shape of the sky, ‘ㅡ’ is modeled after the flat earth, and ‘ㅣ’is modeled after the shape of a human standing up. The Joseon dynasty was influenced by Neo-Confucianism, with its cosmological view that the universe was composed of the sky, earth, and humans. The basic vowel characters were modeled after that philosophy. So far we learned about the principle of modeling behind the creation of the basic Hangeul characters. The basic Hangeul consonants of ‘ㄱ, ㄴ, ㅁ, ㅅ, ㅇ’ are modeled after the shape of the speech organs. The basic Hangeul vowels of ‘ㆍ, ㅡ, ㅣ’ are modeled after the sky, earth and human.

Skip to 5 minutes and 34 seconds We will end this lesson here. Next class we will learn about how the rest of the characters were derived from these basic characters. Good job today.

Principles of Hangeul’s Character Creation 1

First, a few basic characters were created, and then the rest of the characters were made from the basic characters.

The principle of image modeling was used. In other words, a model was used as reference to create the basic consonants and vowels.


[KEY WORDS]

훈민정음 해례본(Hunminjeongeum Haerye)

ㄱ(기역), ㄴ(니은), ㅁ(미음), ㅅ(시옷), ㅇ(이응), ㆍ, ㅡ, ㅣ

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

The Korean Alphabet: An Introduction to Hangeul

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)