Hangul Day: A Day to Celebrate for Koreans

Richard WhittenCultureTraditional

“A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.”

                               – Jeong Inji, from Explanations and Examples of the Proper Sounds for the Instruction of
the People,the first guide to writing and pronouncing the Korean alphabet

In South Korea, October 9 is Hangul Day, a public holiday celebrating the Korean alphabet, Hangul. To non-Koreans, a public holiday for an alphabet might seem odd, but Koreans are proud of their native writing system, and rightly so.

Before Hangul was invented, only wealthy, upper-class Koreans could read and write, and they did so using complicated Chinese characters. The average Korean, lacking the time and money required for a classical Chinese education, had almost no chance of ever learning to read and write. It was King Sejong (the man on the 10,000 won note) who commissioned a group of scholars to create a simple writing system that anyone could learn.

King Sejong is given credit for the creation of Hangul

Hangul was proclaimed to the public in 1446. And it was a linguistic masterpiece. Strategically designed from scratch, the new alphabet used a limited range of strokes and circles, following a simple system and forming letters into syllabic blocks to accurately represent the sounds of the Korean language. Unlike English, where the pronunciation of letters changes depending on the word, Sejong’s new system had a fixed pronunciation rule with few quirks or exceptions. And no one needed to memorize hundreds or thousands of Chinese characters just to write a simple message.

Hangul written in the subways of Korea

Still, Hangul was hardly an overnight sensation. It would be several centuries before it gained the prominence it has today. Hangul was considered dangerous by some, vulgar by others. It was dismissed as “women’s letters” and “children’s letters.” But over time, genres of Hangul novels and poetry developed, truly Korean art forms in a country that was beginning to emerge from under China’s cultural shadow. Later, during the struggle for