Understanding Korea materials - Hangeul: 5.3 The Script Reform: Mixed Script to Hangeul-only Script
|Understanding Korea Series No.1|
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5. History of Hangeul Usage
3) The Script Reform: Mixed Script to Hangeul-only Script
Since the invention of Hunminjeongeum, Hangeul has been used in diverse contexts, yet Hangeul has always been used along with Chinese characters, Hanja. In Chapter 5.1, books and documents published in Hangeul were examined, and it is true that there are more materials written concurrently in Hangeul and Hanja than Hangeul-only materials. The change in this convention began towards the end of 19th century as the consciousness of Gukmun (national scripts) spread. As discussed in Chapter 4.1, King Gojong commanded Gukmun to be the foundation and for Chinese characters’ translation to be added as an option, or for a mixture of Hangeul and Hanja to be used. The motivation behind this command was the movement for the “unification of the written and spoken language.”
Yu Giljun’s Seoyugyeonmun (西遊見聞) is usually considered as the first publication to use the Hangeul-Hanja mixed script. Published in 1895, the book is a type of travel log: he introduced the civilizations new to him and recorded his impression of them as he traveled Europe and the United States. He used Hangeul-Hanja mixed script in this book by using Hanja for Chinese words and recording the rest in Hangeul. This style of Hangeul-Hanja mixed script can be also seen in Yongbieocheonga, published in 1447. In a broader sense, the Hangeul-Hanja mixture script first used by Yu Giljun was based on the tradition from long ago.
Dongnip sinmun (The Independent) is the most famous publication known to be written solely in Hangeul at the end of the 19th century. It was the first modern newspaper published in Korea, launched to foster an independent spirit in Korean people. In their inaugural statement, the founders clearly declared that the purpose of publishing the newspaper solely in Hangeul was for the enlightenment of people. However, the Hangeul-only style script rested on a tradition handed down from the 15th century onwards. Just like Hangeul-Hanja mixed script, materials written solely in Hangeul were already discussed in Chapter 5.1, even though they were not as common as the publications using Hangeul and Hanja concurrently.
The national identity of Joseon and the recognition of Gukmun were shaped towards the end of 19th century. Naturally, the concurrent use of Hangeul and Hanja emerged as an issue, but both Hangeul-Hanja mixed script and Hangeul-only script had been ingrained in the Koran transcription tradition from the 15th century onwards.
In the early 20th century, Hangeul-Hanja mixed script and Hangeul-only script were used in various ways depending on the genre or medium. Hangeul-only script was preferred in popular genre like novels. In more professional writing such as newspapers, Hangeul-Hanja mixed script was preferred, except in a few special cases. This trend was maintained for a relatively long time. After 1945, Hangeul writing systems took different path in South Korea and North Korea. Hanja was abolished in North Korea in 1949 and is no longer used. In South Korea, it was conventional to use Hangeul-Hanja mixed script in publications such as newspapers, academic papers, various statutes and official announcements until the 1980s. Hangeul-only script reappeared in newspapers for the first time in 1988 when The Hangyeore was launched. Through the 1990s, the use of Hangeul-only script steadily diffused, and now Hangeul-only script has become the norm. When Hanja and Hangeul are used concurrently, only a few people are able to decode it. As the number of people who can decode Hanja decreased, the understanding of Sino-Korean words with Hanja also dropped. As a result, those Sino-Korean words are not used as often, and even if a word has a Chinese root, its origin is not recognized in many cases. This tendency is on the rise, especially among the younger generation.