Translation musings: Hangul, the Korean alphabet

Jan 19, 2016 | Language, Miscellaneous, Musings

Korean textAt a quick glance, Korean texts might seem like they consist of several hundred (if not thousand) different, complicated blocks of characters, like Chinese or Japanese. One might think that it must take years of hard study to master the Korean writing system… But this is not the case at all! The Korean alphabet is actually really simple and logical. According to its creator, “a wise man can acquaint himself with [it] before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn [it] in the space of ten days”.

The Korean alphabet, or Hangul was created in the middle of the 15th century. Before the invention of this system, Chinese characters were used, however, as the phonology of Korean is so different from that of Chinese, they were inadequate to represent the sounds of Korean. This is why King Sejong the Great set out with his Hall of Worthies to design a writing system specifically for their own language.

The alphabet consists of only 24 consonant and vowel letters that are grouped into syllable blocks. One syllable block must include at least one consonant and one vowel, in accordance with the rules of Korean phonology. These blocks then can be arranged either horizontally, from left to right (like texts in the Latin script), or vertically, from top to bottom (like traditional Chinese texts). Not so complicated after all!


h + a + n = han


(source of image on top: Wikimedia Commons)