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King who founded Hangeul, King Sejong

Let's learn about King Sejong who made Hangeul.
Hello class, how was your week? Last week we learned that Hangeul was created in 1443 and promulgated in 1446. Today we will learn about the creator of Hangeul, King Sejong the Great. There are great kings in the histories of countries around the world. Can you think of a great king from your country’s history? Most Koreans would answer “King Sejong the Great” to this question. The time in Korea’s history when Korean culture flourished. When the country was prosperous because of great scientific achievements. Thus, the time when all the Korean people were able to lead prosperous lives. That time was 500 years ago during King Sejong the Great’s reign.
King Sejong the Great was born the third son of King Taejong and ascended to the throne when he was twenty-two years old. He created the country’s alphabet, known as Hunminjeongeum. He also had the scholar Jang Yeong-sil invent the rain gauge. Records show this tool to be the first in the world to measure rain. King Sejong the Great also modified instruments from China to fit the Korean style. Additionally he installed sundials and water clocks needed for farming, and he invented the celestial globe to observe the movements of the sun and moon. This is why King Sejong the Great’s reign is considered a period of great scientific development in Korea’s history.
King Sejong the Great was the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty He reigned from 1418 to 1450, and he contributed to many scientific, artistic and cultural developments. He had a keen interest in science and technology, and invented various scientific devices. Some of his scientific achievements include inventing a celestial globe to observe the heavens, a hemispheric sundial, water clock, and a rain gauge. These are all related to observing astronomy and weather, and directly help the people’s farming and daily lives. People of all classes participated in inventing these scientific devices. At the time, it was rare for lower classes to participate in the activities of the state.
In addition to scientific devices, King Sejong the Great worked for the balanced development of the land, reorganized the law books, and contributed to establishing a taxation system. Of these many achievements, his most noted is the creation of Hangeul. There is a story about the creation of the alphabet. One day King Sejong the Great was reading a book about farming for the people. Because there was no Korean alphabet at the time, books were written borrowing Chinese characters (Hanja). However Chinese characters were difficult for the common people to learn, and the people could not read the books written in complicated Chinese.
As you can see, the world ‘agriculture’ in Hangeul is ‘농업 But in Chinese characters (Hanja) it is ‘農業’ which is very complicated At the time, the elite ruling class learned and used Chinese characters. The common people or people with lower status didn’t know how to read or write it. King Sejong the Great wrote a book for the people, but the common people could not read or write. That is when he realized the need for an easy alphabet. He decided to create a writing system that anyone could easily learn and use to express themselves freely. That is how Hunminjeongeum, which means “Correct Sounds(Letters) for the Instruction of the People,” was created.
With the creation of Hunminjeongeum (Hangeul), the common Korean people were finally able to express and record themselves freely. The Korean people were free from this double life of writing in Chinese characters and speaking in Korean. King Sejong’s personal characteristics and academia came together to create Hangeul. King Sejong enjoyed academia and was accomplished in many areas. He was knowledgeable of phonology, music, Neo-Confucianism, and was said to enjoy discussions with scholars in an academic atmosphere. He also had a strong utilitarian side, and instructed scholars to study astronomy, clocks, music and to publish books on agriculture. This utilitarian side of King Sejong led to the creation of Hunminjeongeum, a writing system for the common people.
The illiteracy rate of Koreans is very low, at 1.7%. This is because Hangeul allows one to easily combine characters and write words as they sound. In 1997, UNESCO chose Hangeul as a ‘Memory of the World’ And the department of linguistics at Oxford University evaluated Korean as the most pragmatic, creative, scientific, and rational alphabet. Hangeul is a phonetic alphabet where you write words as they sound. The shapes of the consonants are modeled after the shapes the speech organs make when forming the consonant sounds. The vowels were created to symbolize sky, earth and human, which is an important concept in Eastern philosophy. There is a UNESCO prize named after King Sejong the Great. It is called the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize.
This prize was created in 1989 and first awarded in 1990. It is given to an individual or group who has contributed greatly to the development and dissemination of their own language. The ceremony is held every year on September 8, International Literacy Day. This prize is named after the creator of Hangeul, King Sejong. It also recognizes and commemorates King Sejong, who created the easy-to-learn alphabet, Hangeul. In this class we covered King Sejong the Great. Next class we will learn more about the historical context of the creation of Hangeul. See you next time! Thank you.

Can you think of a great king from your country’s history?

Most Koreans would answer “King Sejong the Great” to this question.

Of these many achievements, his most noted is the creation of Hangeul.


세종대왕(King Sejong the Great)

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The Korean Alphabet: An Introduction to Hangeul

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