Understanding Korea materials - Hangeul: 3.2 The Design Principles of Hunminjeongeum Letters
|Understanding Korea Series No.1|
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|Appendix: King Sejong and Jiphyeonjeon(The Academy of Worthies)||2) The Design Principles of Hunminjeongeum Letters||Appendix: Various Hypotheses on the Creation of Hunminjeongeum|
3. The Creation of Hunminjeongeum
2) The Design Principles of Hunminjeongeum Letters
Hunminjeongeum consists of 28 letters in total, 17 consonants and 11 vowels. The design principle of these letters can be examined in Jejahae section of Hunminjeongeum haerye. Hunminjeongeum haerye is divided into two major sections. The first section is commonly called Yeuipyeon (例義篇, Section of Examples and Definitions) and includes the preface by King Sejong, the phonetics of letters and the order usage. The second section is Haeryepyeon (解例篇, Section of Explanations and Examples). This section includes Jejahae (制字解, the Explanation of Letter Design), Choseonghae (初聲解, Explanation of Initial Sounds), Jungseonghae (中聲解, Explanation of Medial Sounds), and Jongseonghae (終聲解, Explanation of Terminal Sounds). It also includes Hapjahae (合字解, Explanation on Combining Methods of the Letters), Yongjarye (用字例, Examples of Word Usage), and the preface by Jeong Inji.
The content of Yeuipyeon is widely known since it has been identically recorded in both Sejongsillok and Volume 1 of Worinseokbo. But the content of Hunminjeongeum haerye, particularly the letter design principle, was unknown until a copy of this book was discovered in 1940. Prior to this, there various hypotheses regarding the letter design principle. However, since the book’s discovery, the letter design principle explained in Hunminjeoneum haerye has become the orthodox theory. Accordingly, the letter design principle explained in the Jejahae section of Hunminjeongeum haerye will be elaborated here.
The design principle of the basic letters of consonant and vowel is hieroglyphic. Hieroglyph means “to imitate shapes.” The basic consonant letters are modeled after the features of articulatory organs when they make sounds. The basic vowel letters are based on the shapes of Samjae (Three Powers), namely: Heaven, Earth, and Man.
The basic consonant letters are ㄱ[k], ㄴ[n], ㅁ[m], ㅅ[s], and ㅇ[ɦ]. All five letters depict shapes of articulatory organs take when making these sounds. That is the reason why Jejahae section of Hunminjeongeum haerye has divided sounds according to the places of articulation: molars, linguals, labials, incisors, and laryngeals. The explanations given in the Jejahae are as follows:
- The molar sound ㄱ depicts the outline of the root of the tongue blocking the throat.
- The lingual sound ㄴ depicts the outline of the tongue touching the alveolar ridge.
- The labials sound ㅁ depicts the outline of the mouth.
- The incisor sound ㅅ depicts the outline of the incisor.
- The laryngeal sound ㅇ depicts the outline of the throat.
The shapes and gestures of articulatory organs used in the pronunciation of these consonants are illustrated in <Figure 7>, below:
The basic vowel letters are ㆍ[ʌ], ㅡ [i], and ㅣ[i]. These three letters were modeled after shapes of Samjae (Three Powers), namely, Heaven, Earth, and Man. The explanations given in the Jejahae are as follows:
- With ㆍ, the roundness of the outline is a depiction of H*eaven.
- With ㅡ, the flatness of the outline is a depiction of Earth.
- With ㅣ, the uprightness of the outline is a depiction of Man.
The hieroglyphics of vowels are illustrated in <Figure 8>, below:
The remaining letters were derived from basic letters. The process of deriving different consonants from the basic consonants is adding strokes in accordance with the sound. The five principal consonants ㄱ, ㄴ, ㅁ, ㅅ, and ㅇ represent the weakest sounds within each specific homorganic group. Consequently, adding strokes to these letters means the sound is becoming more severe. According to this principle of adding strokes, nine consonants belonging to the same homorganic groups, with more severe sounds, were derived from the basic consonants.
|Basic||1st stroke||2nd stroke|
Besides, there are three letters of which form is altered: molar sound ㆁ[ŋ], semi-lingual sound ㄹ[l], and semi-incisor sound ㅿ[z]. These letters are also derived from basic letters by adding strokes, but the addition of strokes does not make them more severe.
Like the consonants, eight different vowel letters were derived from the basic ones,ㆍ, ㅡ, and ㅣ. They are complex symbols, created by combining two different letters, in two stages. The first stage is deriving ㅗ [o], ㅏ[a], ㅜ [u], and ㅓ[ə] from ㆍ, ㅡ, and ㅣ. In the second stage, ㅛ [yo], ㅑ[ya], ㅠ [yu], ㅕ[yə] are created by adding one more dot ㆍto ㅗ, ㅏ, ㅜ, ㅓ.
|The first stage||The second stage|
|ㆍ + ㅡ → ㅗ||ㆍ + ㅗ → ㅛ|
|ㆍ + ㅣ → ㅏ||ㆍ + ㅏ → ㅑ|
|ㆍ + ㅡ → ㅜ||ㆍ + ㅜ → ㅠ|
|ㆍ + ㅣ → ㅓ||ㆍ + ㅓ → ㅕ|
- Translation adapted Ledyard (1966: 229).
- Translation adapted Lee Iksop and Ramsey (2000: 37).
|Understanding Korea Series No.1 Hangeul|
3. The Creation of Hunminjeongeum · 3.1 King Sejong and Hunminjeongeum · Appendix: King Sejong and Jiphyeonjeon(The Academy of Worthies) · 3.2 The Design Principles of Hunminjeongeum Letters · Appendix: Various Hypotheses on the Creation of Hunminjeongeum · Appendix: Special Features of the Korean Alphabet(called Hunminjeoneum or Hangeul) · 3.3 The Phonological Features of the 28 Letters of Hunminjeongeum · Appendix: The Philosophical Background of Hunminjeongeum · 3.4 Letter Usage
4. Changes of Hangeul · 4.1 Changes in the Name: From Hunminjeongeum to Hangeul · 4.2 Changes of Letters
5. History of Hangeul Usage · 5.1 Records Written in Hangeul · 5.2 Establishment of Korean Orthography · Appendix: Korean Romanization · 5.3 The Script Reform: Mixed Script to Hangeul-only Script