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[Editorial] Hangeul Day

Posted October. 09, 2009 07:41,   


Hangeul Day today holds extra meaning this year since the newly opened Gwanghwamun Square has the statue of King Sejong the Great, the inventor of the Korean alphabet, at the center of the square’s street that symbolizes the nation.

The king invented hangeul to help the people to learn and use their language more easily. For the ruling class at the time, creating a writing system to awaken laypeople was not just unnecessary, but also dangerous. University of Seoul professor Kim Young-wook called King Sejong a reformer who laid the foundation for democracy by inventing Hangeul, saying the wide use of a writing system can lead to a knowledge revolution and help nurture democracy.

Hangeul is so easy to learn, children can master the alphabet in just several hours. This has helped Korea eliminate illiteracy and achieve rapid economic growth. Hangeul is a blessing in the digital era since it can be quickly written on digital devices to send information. S. Robert Ramsey, a professor of East Asian languages at the University of Maryland, calls hangeul an alphabet for and a gift to the world.

Hangeul’s value is recognized in many countries. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who will visit Seoul today, said in his election campaign, “My mother-in-law started learning hangeul though she is over 90 to meet Korean entertainers.” A growing number of Chinese are learning Korean to land jobs at Korean companies for higher wages. The Indonesian tribe Jjia Jjia, which lacks its own writing system, has adopted the Korean alphabet to transcribe its history and culture.

A banner reading “Hangeul, a Beautiful Vessel that Holds the World” flies on a thoroughfare in Seoul’s downtown Sejong Road. Though the Korean alphabet is indeed a beautiful vessel that can hold people’s minds and voices, improper usage and grammatically incorrect expressions in Hangeul are prevalent on the Web. King Sejong would be ashamed to see this if he were alive today.

Hangeul is cultural content as well as a national brand raising Korea’s dignity and international standing in the 21st century. The country must preserve and further develop hangeul, arguably one of the best alphabet systems in the world, to pass down to future generations.