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Indonesian Students Learn Hangeul to Preserve Tribal Tongue

Indonesian Students Learn Hangeul to Preserve Tribal Tongue

Posted August. 12, 2009 08:37,   


The Dong-A Ilbo yesterday visited Caryabaru Elementary School in Indonesia, where students are learning the Korean alphabet “hangeul” to preserve the indigenous tribal language “Jjia Jjia.”

The school is located in the city of Bau-Bau on Buton Island, Sulawesi Province, with a fence colored blue like the ocean surrounding the island.

In the classroom where students were learning the tribal language, the blackboard was full of Korean characters, including those phonetically representing “kkaana (house),” “shigola (school),” and “boku (book).”

The Korean linguistic group Hunminjeongeum Society and the Bau-Bau city government last month signed a memorandum of understanding to introduce hangeul. The Korean alphabet was adopted as the city’s official language to transcribe the native language.

As a result, the tribe, which has no alphabet despite having as its native language Jjia Jjia, started using hangeul last month.

The Dong-A Ilbo is the first Korean media company to visit the city since the adoption of hangeul there.

When the Korean alphabet teacher asked students, “Who wants to read” at Buton’s sole elementary school, several raised their hands. A student read letter by letter, “kka,” “ah” and “na,” sounding quite natural.

Students there have learned Bahasa Jjia Jjia (the language of Jjia Jjia) written in hangeul. The class is offered once a week, but students have memorized all 24 vowels and consonants after just two sessions.

A student dictated the word “mesa (desk)” after the teacher read it. The teacher proudly said, “I asked students to memorize vowels and consonants after the first class, and they memorized the entire Korean alphabet in a week since they like hangeul so much.”

“I hear that Korean students find it difficult to learn hangeul. Our children here work hard to learn the alphabet on their own as they love it.”

On the island, high schools have also started offering hangeul classes in addition to those for Indonesian and English. Arabic has been dropped in favor of Korean since all island residents are Muslims and have learned Arabic to read the Quran.

A nine-year-old girl at the elementary school said, “My favorite subjects at school are the Jjia Jjia language taught in the Korean alphabet and math.”

When a Dong-A reporter wrote the girl’s name Sulis in Korean, she tried to copy it on her own.

Another 10-year-old girl was also hard at work learning hangeul. With her big eyes wide open, she read aloud words written in the Korean alphabet.

When the reporter jot down “Sarang hamida (I love you in Korean)” on her notebook, she articulated the words despite not knowing what they meant.

When the reporter read “Jjia Jjia” written in hangeul, students clapped and giggled. They seemed to find it interesting a Korean speaking their language with a strange accent.