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Indonesian Tribe Adopts Korean Alphabet

Posted August. 07, 2009 08:19,   


An Indonesian tribe called “Jjiya Jiiya” has adopted the Korean alphabet hangeul to transcribe its language.

The Korean linguistic think tank Hunminjeongeum Research Institute in Seoul said yesterday that Bau-Bau on the island of Buton, southeast Sulawesi, adopted hangeul to transcribe its aboriginal language. Students on the island have begun learning the Korean alphabet.

Since July 21, the city has provided textbooks written in hangeul to some 40 students at an elementary school in an area where the tribe lives and taught them for four hours a week. Certain Bau-Bau high schools are also teaching Korean with basic textbooks eight hours a week.

The textbook has the tribe’s words for hands written in the Korean alphabet as “을리마 (eulima),” feet as “까께 (kkakkae),” and umbrella “빠우(bpa-ou).”

With a population of around 60,000, the tribe stood to lose its language because it had no alphabet to transcribe it. The Korean think tank heard of this and visited Bau-Bau to propose the adoption of hangeul.

Both sides signed a memorandum of understanding on the adoption of hangeul last month. Lee Ho-yeong, a linguistics professor at Seoul National University, led the effort and supplied textbooks written in the Korean alphabet.

The tribe’s adoption of hangeul is the first by a non-Korean people in the world.

The think tank’s hangeul globalization project started in May last year. Scholars failed in their attempts to spread hangeul to China’s Heilongjiang Province or minorities in Thailand and Nepal.

They said, however, that the excellence of hangeul is proven since Bau-Bau has officially started to teach hangeul.

“There is a huge difference in cultural power between a people with an alphabet and a people without one,” said Kim Joo-won, a linguistics professor at Seoul National University and head of the think tank. “When this project succeeds, it will greatly raise the image of Koreans and Korea’s national brand.”

Professor Lee said,” Hangeul will be of great help to tribes without an alphabet in preserving their tribal identity and culture.”