Saturday, October 9, 2010

King Sejong's Great Gift to the Koreans

Today, Hangul Day, honors the creation of the Hangul alphabet by King Sejong in 1443. It is celebrated each year on January 15th in North Korea and on October 9th in South Korea. Koreans are justly proud of their script: The literary world has given them reason by recognizing its greatness as a writing system, some placing it among the most original and scientific of all alphabets and one of the easiest to learn. It was the intention of Sejong to devise an alphabet that would help all Koreans to become literate. And today Korea is close to having a literacy rate of 100 percent, one of the highest in the world. 

 A columnist on the opinion page of  the Catholic Times  goes back to when she was a teacher. At the beginning of each new term, she would ask her students who they thought was the most respected person in Korean history. After they began to give their varied opinions, she would interrupt and say: "Repeat after me, King Sejong. After that you are free to say what you want."

The script  combining the vowels and consonants  can make about  70 thousand different sounds. With one symbol, they can express one sound without  any other phonetic sign.  It is  considered by many linguists one of the greatest achievements of humanity. There is no other alphabet that is  philosophically, rationally,  and scientifically constructed and so easily to learn. Korea is close to having a rate of literacy of 100%, a great achievement. The praise that is  heaped on the  Korean script is truly exceptional. It is also considered by many to be a reason for Korea's  great achievements in recent history
A unique feature of the Korean script is the correspondence  of the way the script is written and functions. The shape of the consonants and vowels are not only different,  but they in some way are associated with the  way we make the sounds with our lips  tongue and mouth. It is a unique way making an alphabet. However, that is just the beginning for  even belief in the unseen world came into the formation of the alphabet. Each one of the vowels and consonants are a Ying or Yang, and the five basic consonants  represent the five elements. Those who enjoy  studies in linguistics   have an unlimited field  in which to work.  It is a complicated way of composing the alphabet with joyful results  for the efforts.

It was the King's compassion, she says, for the common people who could not read that prompted him to create this easy-to-learn script. It is for this reason that he receives the respect and gratitude of all Koreans.
The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize, created in 1889, is given to those who have helped foster literacy in the world.   Just recently an island in  Indonesia with a spoken language but no script has imported the Korean script for their 60,000 inhabitants--yet another export of Korea.

The writer concludes her article by telling us that when she goes to the center of Seoul and sees the statue of the Great King Sejong she bows deeply in front of the Statue  thanking the king and God for this marvelous gift to  the Koreans.