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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 Hangeul’s principle of character creation and its characteristics. Hangeul’s basic characters were modeled after the speech organs. The rest of the characters were created by adding strokes to or writing the basic characters side by side. You probably understand now the reason behind Hangeul character shapes and their relation to character sounds. Now you know the shapes of Hangeul consonants and vowels. Let’s take a look at how to write Hangeul characters. Roman characters, like table(English), tisch(German) and escritorio(Spanish), are written with all the letters that express each sound (phoneme). Hangeul is like Roman characters in that phonemes are represented in the written characters, but the way to express them is different.

Skip to 1 minute and 24 seconds Hangeul is written in syllabic blocks, where one sound is made at once In other words, the first (initial), middle(medial) and last(final) sounds are grouped together and written in one syllabic block. The initial sound is first sound in a syllable composition. The medial sound is the middle sound in a syllable composition. The final sound is the last consonant sound in a syllable composition; it is the final consonant in Korean. One syllable is composed of initial, medial and final sounds. For example the 1 syllable [강] has the initial sound [ㄱ], the medial sound [ㅏ] and the final sound [ㅇ]. Because Hangeul is written by grouping the initial, medial and final sound into one syllable, The sound [강] is written as ‘강’.

Skip to 2 minutes and 20 seconds Hangeul’s sound structure is reflected in the written characters. Hangeul’s smallest units of writing are phoneme units like ‘ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ’ but speech is written by grouping phonemes into syllabic blocks which are pronounced one at a time. This system has visual advantages as well compared to the Roman alphabet. With the Roman alphabet, you cannot see the division between syllables in writing. For example the word ‘promotion’ has nine letters in a row and is pronounced in three units ‘pro+mo+tion’. However visually it appears as one group, so a person who doesn’t know this word could misread it as ‘pro+mo+ti+on’. On the other hand the visual unit of Hangeul characters represent their pronunciation.

Skip to 3 minutes and 51 seconds This is because Hangeul characters are phonemic, but Hangeul is written in syllabic blocks. Hangeul is very practical because the characters are phonemic units, but it is written by combing initial, medial and final sounds into syllabic blocks. This is possible because although Hangeul has phonemic characters, it has adopted the conveniences of the syllabic alphabet. Hangeul writes characters in phonemic units, which are grouped together in syllabic blocks, thereby expressing the best of syllabic alphabets as well. Hangeul has a strict awareness of phonemic units and relation to sound. These principles behind Hangeul’s character creation are applied even today in the modern IT world. When typing Hangeul on your mobile phone, you can use the “Sky-Land-Human” keyboard.

Skip to 5 minutes and 3 seconds With the “Sky-Land-Human” keyboard all the Hangeul vowels can typed by combining these there keys ‘ㆍ, ㅡ, ㅣ. For example to type the vowel ‘ㅘ’ you type ‘ㆍ,ㅡ, ㅣ, ㆍ’ in order. The principle of Hangeuls’ character creation which combine sky(ㆍ), land(ㅡ), human(ㅣ) to form all the vowels is applied to the modern day keyboard. Anyone can instinctively learn this way to use a keyboard. It is also a space efficient keyboard layout because it only takes three keys to express all the vowels. Hangeul’s scientific characteristics are reflected in mobile phone keypads, making texting in Hangeul easy and convenient. This week we explored the principles behind Hangeul’s character creation. I hope you learned about how Hangeul was created in a systematic and scientific manner.

Skip to 6 minutes and 17 seconds This concludes today’s lesson. Thank you.

Writing in Syllabic Blocks

Hangeul is written in syllabic blocks, where one sound is made at once.

In other words, the first (initial), middle(medial) and last(final) sounds are grouped together and written in one syllabic block.


ㄱ + ㅏ + ㅇ → 강

ㅇ + ㅗ + ㅏ → 와

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This video is from the free online course:

The Korean Alphabet: An Introduction to Hangeul

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)