Understanding Korea materials - Hangeul: 6. Hangeul Now

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Understanding Korea Series No.1
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3) The Script Reform: Mixed Script to Hangeul-only Script 6. Hangeul Now Reference

6. Hangeul Now

The native script of Korean language, Hangeul, has been in use since its invention in the 15th century, and now it is used by anyone who speaks Korean. Because Hangeul is a phonetic alphabet with separate consonants and vowels, there are only 24 letters and the script is easy to learn. This helps lower the illiteracy rate tremendously. The National Institute of the Korean Language under Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism conducted a basic literacy survey on 12,137 adults (from age 19 to 79) in 2008, and the result indicated that 98.3% of the adults between 19 and 79 year olds were literate. According to data published by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) in UIS Fact Sheet (September 2013, No. 26), the literacy rate in Korea is so high, the country is indicated as ‘no data’, which translates as no further investigation needed.

This may be the result of excessive education fever in Korea, but it may also be proof that the script is easy to learn. If Sejong intended Hunminjeongeum “to be learned easily and used conveniently by people everyday,” his goal has been achieved. This line of thought extends to the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize, created in 1989. The Prize honors the outstanding contribution made by King Sejong to literacy over 500 years ago. The Prize rewards the activities of governments or governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) displaying merit and achieving effective results in the fight for literacy. It gives special consideration to the creation, development and dissemination of mother-tongue languages in developing countries.

Hangeul, an alphabet easy to learn and easy to use, along with Korean, has been gaining more fame outside Korea in recent days. On top of the improved economic power of Korea, Hangeul has been largely credited with the expansion and popularity of Korean culture, the so-called ‘Hallyu (Korean Wave)’. Korean themselves are shocked by the immense popularity of Korean dramas, movies and music worldwide.

One quantitative barometer that illustrates the increased interest in Hangeul and Korean is the number of people taking TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) administered by a Korean government institute. Since the first test in 1997, a total 27 tests have been conducted as of July, 2012. Until 2006, the tests were given annually, but since 2010 four tests are administered per year. As of 2012, the tests are conducted in 178 areas of 53 countries. The number of people who took the first test was 2,274; for the 20th test conducted in 2010, the number surged to 11,795 according to the data collected from 1997 to 2010. As more people take an interest in learning Korean and Hangeul, as well as knowing more about Korean culture and history, Korean studies courses offered in colleges abroad are increasing. Institutions that teach Korean and introduce Korean culture like the Sejong Hakdang (King Sejong Institute) and the Sejong Gyosil (King Sejong Class) are increasing in number. Up to 2010, there were only 22 branches of Sejong Hakdang and Sejong Gyosil in operation, but as of 2012, they have branched out to number 16 in 10 European countries, 56 in 19 Asian countries, seven in three North American countries, four in four African countries, five in five South American countries, and two in two Oceanic countries.

Since the interest in Hangeul and Korean has exploded in the past few years, many Korean text books in foreign languages other than English are being published, and the quality has increased as well. Numerous books devoted to explaining Korean phonology and grammar written in languages besides Korean are published, and more widespread research on Korean seems to be ensuing in academia.

One other noteworthy development is that some Koreans have begun noticing the structural beauty of Hangeul more, breaking away from viewing it simply as the letter transcription of Korean. In the past, Korean fonts that can be utilized on computer keyboards were fairly limited, but now, diverse forms of Hangeul fonts are in development, and art works using Hangeul as a motif are on the rise. These phenomena can be interpreted as showing that Hangeul has the potential to be utilized as a communication tool in other media.

Understanding Korea Series No.1 Hangeul

Foreword · Acknowledgments

1. Korean Language and Hangeul in East Asia · Appendix: Korean and the Altaic Family

2. Transcription of Korean Using Chinese Characters

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

6. Hangeul Now

Reference · Glossary · Sources · About the Author