The term Hangul stands for the Korean alphabet, whose letters are intended for the written realization of the language. Unlike, for example, the Japanese kanji or the Chinese hànzì, the Korean hangul does not function on a logographic level. That is, the Korean alphabet is not built on a complex number of morphological syllables in written form, but is based on letters in the form of consonants and vowels, similar to the Latin alphabet used in the West. This makes the Korean alphabet much easier to learn than the complex Japanese or Chinese script variants. The roots of modern Hangul can be traced back to the 15th century.
History and Origin of Hangul
In fact, people in modern Korea reverted to Chinese characters for a long time. In competition with the Chinese characters, phonetic writing systems such as the Hyanchal or the Gugyeol developed centuries before the establishment of the Hangul. Already the Gugyeol from the 13th century was intended to simplify the complex Chinese writing forms and to increase compatibility with the Korean language.
The roots of modern Hangul lie in the 15th century: King Sejong, for example, sought to simplify the alphabet to facilitate literary and linguistic access for the general public. In fact, the Hangul emerged between 1443 and 1446 and was first recorded in the document Hunminjeongeum (1446). The Hangul thus emancipated itself from the sometimes complex Chinese alphabet and simplified the written language to represent 17 consonants and 11 vowels. Today’s Hangul consists of 24 basic letters: 14 consonants and 10 vowels. There are also some complementary more complex characters. But the basic principle is clear: the Hangul is a comparatively accessible written form. The Korean script, according to Sejong’s plan, should be learnable within a day.
At the time of Japanese rule and occupation, Japanese was declared the official language – and thus an attempt was made to establish the Japanese alphabet. At that time, the Korean language such as Hangul was also banned from public use. With the independence of Korea, the modern Korean script based on Hangul was reintroduced in 1946. From the origin of the language in the 15th century to the present day, Hangul, like many other written languages, has been in a constant state of change.
Special peculiarities of Hangul
Today, Hangul is officially used not only in South Korea, but also in North Korea and China. There are different variants between the North and South Korean spellings of the letters. Basically, the script was oriented like the Chinese alphabet in the writing orientation from top to bottom as well as in columns leading from right to left. Thus, according to European perception, the Hangul was read „in reverse“. However, the modern implementation of the Hangul follows the European writing direction from left to right.
The modern Hangul does not function completely detached from the Chinese script. Thus, isolated characters with Chinese origin are also used in Hangul. These characters are also known as hanja. They are meant to complement the comparably few characters of the alphabet. Even in school, the Chinese hanja characters are typically still taught. However, the basis of the modern Korean language remains the Hangul.
Historically, the Hangul has another peculiarity. While the exact time of origin of almost all alphabets in the world is not known, it is still known when and by whom the Hangul was created. But as much as it was planned: The Hangul was not created in a vacuum, but was consciously modeled on Asian and Chinese phonologies. For King Sejong was an educated linguist who pursued a clear goal with his project: To make the Korean language more accessible.
Summary findings on Korean Hangul
The Korean alphabet Hangul has been established since the 15th century. It was a deliberate attempt by the ruler Sejong to simplify the Korean written language and make it accessible to the general public. Although forbidden in the meantime, the Hangul has been able to assert itself in a modern variant to this day. Chinese characters, the hanja, are still found in the alphabet. But unlike Japanese or Chinese, Korean Hangul with its 14 consonants and 10 vowels can be learned within a few hours.