Understanding Korea materials - Hangeul: 4.1 Changes in the Name: From Hunminjeongeum to Hangeul
Hangeul: 4. Changes of Hangeul > 1) Changes in the Name: From Hunminjeongeum to Hangeul
When King Sejong first created the Korean alphabet system, its name was Hunminjeongeum. The meaning of it is described in the commentary section of the preface of Hunminjeongeum written by King Sejong in Hunminjeongeum eonhae:
Hunminjeongeum is the proper sound for the education of the people.
At around the same period, another name for the new script invented by King Sejong, Jeongeum (Proper Sounds), can be found, confirmed in Jeong Inji’s preface included in Hunminjeongeum haerye. This can be found in the fourth entry of Sejongsillok Volume 113 recorded on Lunar September 29, 1446 as well:
In the winter of the Year of the Rooster , our King created 28 letters, explained them with simple examples and meanings and named them Hunminjeongeum.
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<Figure 9> Hunminjeoneum eonhae
Jeongeum is presumed to be a contracted form of Hunminjeongeum, and the meaning can be found in the preface of Seokbosangjeol at the beginning of Chapter One of Worin seokbo.
Jeongeum means proper sound, since this script transcribes our language correctly and exactly, it is called Jeongeum.
Besides Hunminjeongeum and Jeongeum, King Sejong’s new script was called Eonmun (Vernacular Script). Eonmun is often misunderstood as a derogatory term for Hunminjeongeum created by King Sejong, but the following records in Sejongsillok prove otherwise:
This month the King created 28 Eonmun letters personally. (in Sejongsillok Volume 102, dated Lunar December 30, 1443)
Isn’t this Eonmun for the convenience of the people? (in Sejongsillok Volume 103, dated Lunar December 30, 1444)
In the first example, the output created by King Sejong was called Eonmun. If Eonmun was a derogatory term for Hunminjeongeum, it could not be used. The second example is the rebuttal of King Sejong to Choe Manri, who appealed against the usage of Hunmingeongeum after the king invented it. It also does not make sense that the king would use the term Eonmun to disparage his own invention. Therefore, Eonmun can simply be used to distinguish it from Classical Chinese.
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<Figure 10> The Preface of Seokbosangjeol
In short, the official title given at the time of King Sejong’s creation was Hunminjeongeum, and it was sometimes written as Jeongeum. Eonmun was not an official name and should be regarded as a type of colloquial expression, indicating the script itself was used as a counterpart to define Classical Chinese. However, later on Eonmun became the most popular term.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Joseon’s national identity grew as the country underwent its modernization process. The Joseon Dynasty carried out various reforms and modernized the country. A new term, Gukmun (national script), emerged at this time. Examples of this term’s use are found in Gojongsillok (The Veritable Records of King Gojong).
For the General Exam, all subjects including Gukmun, Classical Chinese, Calligraphy, Mathematics, National Political Affairs, International Affairs, National Affairs and Foreign Relations will be tested. (in Gojongsillok Volume 32, dated Lunar July 12, 1894)
Article 14: All Laws and Decrees are to be primarily written in Gukmun, and Classical Chinese translation can be added or Gukmun and Classical Chinese can be written together. (in Gojongsillok Volume 32, dated Lunar November 21, 1894)
Gukmun can here be understood literally as “national script.” So this term implies Joseon’s pride as an independent country with a native script. But the term Gukmun did not survive long after that. With the demise of the Korean Empire in 1910 after Japan’s attack, the word ‘Guk’ (nation) came to represent ‘Japan’. Evidently, Gukeo (national language) and Gukmun also became representative of the Japanese language and Japanese scripts, not the Korean language and Korean scripts.
With this historical backdrop, a new name, ‘Hangeul’, surfaced. Hangeul is a word made up of two words, ‘Han’ meaning either “Great” or “One” and ‘geul’ meaning “writing.” Unlike the names used in past, Hunminjeongeum, Jeongeum, Eonmun, and Gukmun, which were all Sino-Korean word, Hangeul is purely native Korean words. Ju Sigyeong (1876~1914), the first known Korean linguist, and his students are credited for coining the term Hangeul. Hangeulmo Jukbogi, the minutes of the foundation meeting of their research group, Joseon Eonmun Society, introduces the term Hangeul.
1:00 PM, March 13, 1913 … the name of our group will be changed to ‘Hangeulmo’ (Hangeul Society)
After this, the term Hangeul gradually disseminated until the name of Korean native script became Hangeul.