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The Origins of Korean


									                      Origins of the Korean Language
                                  Presentation on April 29, 2011

     Hi all! I focused most of my research on and included many excerpts from the book below.
                                               - Agustin

    Call Number    PL 918 K67 1997
           Title   The Korean alphabet : its history and structure / edited by Young-Key
      Publisher    Honolulu : University of Hawai'i Press, c1997

    Description    xii, 317 p. ; 24 cm
   Bibliography    Includes bibliographical references and index
Subject Heading    Korean language -- Alphabet
                   Korean language -- Alphabet -- History
Alternate Author   Kim-Renaud, Young-Key
           ISBN    0824817230 (alk. paper)
The Origins of Korean
Where does the Korean language come from? Like the ancestry of the Korean people themselves, the
origins of the Korean language have never been definitively established. But there are two widely
accepted and interconnected theories about its genetic affinities.

The first is that Korean is related to Japanese. The second, which perhaps subsumes the first, is that
Korean is related to Altaic – Turkic, Mongolian, and Manchu-Tungus.

The hypothesis that Korean is related to Altaic reinforces the widespread belief that the Korean people
originated in central Asia. Many believe that their ancestors were nomads somewhere around Mongolia
who subsequently migrated east and south into their final homeland in the Korean peninsula. However,
this is just a theory and some linguists doubt this possibility.

Anyway, it is important to remember that Korean is not generically related to Chinese. From very early
on, Koreans used Chinese writing and consequently borrowed an enormous amount of vocabulary from
Literary Chinese, but this borrowing did not change where the language had come from.

The Korean Alphabet
The Korean alphabet stands out as “one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind” (Sampson
1985:144). It is the only alphabet completely native to East Asia.

Although the alphabet was invented in the fifteenth century, it was only in 1940 that linguists and
scholars became interested in the scientific foundations and features of Hang’ul.

The invention of the Korean alphabet, originally called Hunmin chong’um (Correct Sounds for the
Instruction of the People) was suddenly announced at the end of the lunar year in late 1443. The new
script was promulgated in 1446 by King Sejong, the fourth monarch of the Choson kingdom or Yi dynasty
(1392-1910). The alphabet consisted of 28 letters at the time of its invention, of which twenty-four
remain today.

Another document, the Hunmin chong’um haerye, or simply Haerye, (Explanations and Examples of
Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People) was compiled in 1446 by Chong In-ji, Sin Suk-chu, and
others. This invaluable document, long missing before 1940, gives the linguistic and philosophical
principles behind the invention of the alphabet and its usage, enabling scholars to study them

                                     The Hunmin chong’um haerye,
More on the "Explanations and Examples of the Correct/Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People"
It was written by scholars from the Jiphyeonjeon (Hall of Worthies), commissioned by King Sejong the Great. In
addition to an introduction by Sejong (excerpted from the beginning of Hunminjeongeum) and a colophon by the
scholar Jeong Inji (鄭麟趾), it contains the following chapters:
    1. "An Explanation of the Design of the Letters" (制字解)
    2. "An Explanation of the Initials" (初聲解)
    3. "An Explanation of the Medials" (中聲解)
    4. "An Explanation of the Finals" (終聲解)
    5. "An Explanation of the Combination of the Letters" (合字解)
    6. "Examples of the Uses of the Letters" (用字例)

The name Hangul is believed to have been coined in 1910 by Chu Si-gyong, a linguist-patriot and a
member of the enlightenment movement. Until then, it had been pejoratively called onmun (vernacular
writing), and Chinese writing still enjoyed prestige among all intellectual and societal elites. In North
Korea, people refer to the alphabet by the name of Choson’gul (“script of Choson - DPRK”).

*…+ It was clumsy, even painful to use Chinese characters to write down Korean, a polysyllabic (vs
monosyllabic), agglutinative (vs analytic/isolating) language with many grammatical suffixes, so unlike
Chinese. Various efforts were made to overcome the difficulty, out of which at least three different but
related systems, called (1) hyangch’al (local letters), (2) kugyol (oral formulate)and idu (clerk readings),
emerged. In these writings, existing Chinese characters were applied phonetically to represent Korean
sounds, particularly grammatical particles and phrases but also for some lexical terms. *…+ According to
Sasse (?), Koreans even invented more than 150 “Chinese” characters, mainly for writing native words
including personal and place names.

Purpose of Hangul
The first and foremost goal of King Sejong was thus to devise something that would be easy for Koreans
to learn and to use. This intention is manifest in Sejong’s preface to Hunmin chong’um: “The sounds of
our country’s language are different from those of the Middle Kingdom, i.e. China, and are not confluent
[the innunciants of] with characters. Therefore, among the ignorant people, there have been many who,
having something to put into words, have in the end been unable to express their feelings. I have been
distressed because of this, and have newly designed twenty-eight letters, which I wish to have everyone
practice at their ease and make convenient for their daily use” (translated in Ledyard 1966:224).

However, Sejong was also eager and confident that the new system should be made universally
applicable. “Even the sounds of the winds, the cry of the crane, the crackle of fowl and the barking of
dogs – all may be written” (translated by Ledyard 1966:258-259).

The Korean script is, technically, an alphabet. However, the Korean alphabet does not consist of symbols
that are arbitrarily selected to signify specific sounds, as is the case with nearly all other alphabets, but
there is an iconic relationship between the letters and the sounds they represent. The system is also
peculiar in that a known creator one day decided to carefully to invent what was needed - a feat rarely
achieved in ancient times.

The letters reflect various articulatory traits and phonological alternations, and the underlying principles
behind the design are explained with articulatory descriptions of sounds represented by letterforms and
philosophical reasoning easily understandable to 15th century Koreans. *…+ Furthermore, it is not written
in a linear fashion. Rather, the letters are put together into a syllable block.
The Inventor
Because the Korean alphabet is unique, it is interesting and reasonable to ask where this ingenious
system may have come from and who the real inventor was.

One of the working assumptions has been that the Korean script was created by King Sejong and his
associates of the Chiphyonjon (Academy of Worthies). Sejong’s personal ability, his theoretical and
linguistic knowledge, his social concern, his self-confidence, and several clear textual records all point to
this conclusion.

Yet, it is likely that the well-educated and studious king made use of his knowledge of and experience
with foreign writing systems and linguistic theories in designing the new script.

Some believe that previous attempts by Mongolian linguists to adapt the Chinese script to their
language – with which Sejong was very familiar – might have played a role in the design of the Korean
letter shapes. *…+ However, the ideas, if they were imported, were used creatively and Hang’ul still has
innovative features of its own.

Chinese Component
Sejong had an extremely sophisticated understanding of Chinese phonological science. In other words,
he was an expert in the theory of language sounds and writing developed in China. Contrary to the
conventional wisdom, the Chinese writing system is not at all aphonetic. Any Chinese character has one
particular pronunciation and can be used strictly as a phonogram in transcribing foreign words or
names. Chinese scholars systematized a procedure for “spelling” the sounds of characters by the
method of “turn and cut” (fǎnqiè 反切, Korean panjol). To show the pronunciation of an unknown
character, one “cut” the initial consonant from a second character and and the rime from a third, and
combined them to show the reading of the first. (p. 36)

*…+ A further important breakthrough was achieved during the tenth century, when “rime tables” were
invented, in which initial consonants and syllabic finals were systematically classified. Since the initials
were the beginning of the syllable, they were dubbed “character mothers”, or zimu. Thirty-six of these
ere identified, named, and grouped according to general articulatory phenomena. *…+ Insofar as the
impact on the Correct Sounds is concerned, the most important legacy of Chinese phonological theory
was the classification of the initial consonants. This system became the bedrock framework for both the
phonetic and the graphic definition of the Korean consonant letters. *…+ All of the seventeen letters that
Sejong invented fit systematically into the table. In addition, he devised special forms of the letters to
accommodate the transcription of Chinese sounds that were not present in Korean.

*…+ Sejong designed the graphic shapes of his letters in accordance with a particular factor of
articulation in each of the respective classes (of the “rime table”). This idea cannot be stated better than
the description in the Hunmin chong’um haerye:

      For the initial consonants there are seventeen letters in all. The molar sound ㄱ [k] depicts the
      outline of the root of the tongue blocking the throat.

      The lingual sound ㄴ [n] depicts the outline of the tongue touching the upper palate.
      The labial sound ㅁ [m] depicts the out line of the mouth.
      The incisor sound ㅅ [s] depicts the outline of the incisor.
      The laryingeal sound ㅇ [h - silent] depicts the outline of the throat.
      The pronunciation of ㅋ *k’+ is a little more severe than that of ㄱ [k]; therefore a stroke is added.

      ㄴ [n] then ㄷ[t] then ㅌ*t’+
      ㅁ [m] then ㅂ[p] then ㅍ *p’+
      ㅅ [s] then ㅈ [c] then ㅊ *c’+
      ㅇ [h] then ㆆ [ʔ] then ㅎ [x];

The Mongolian Component
The earliest references to the Korean alphabet say that it “imitated the old seal *script+”. What does it
mean? Usually, the name Seal Script refers to an ancient style of Chinese letters, however these do not
resemble the Korean letters at all.

However, some researchers found that in some ancient texts the seal script was on several occasions
associated with Mongolian. “Nothing is more gu (古 “old”) than Menggu (蒙古 “Mongolia”).

There were two Mongolian alphabets. First, the Uighur script was quickly domesticated to Mongol and
is still in use today in the Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia, China. But the Uighur script, however,
did not accurately describe the Mongolian language. Khubilai Khan, the fifth Great Khan of the Mongol
Empire, ordered his personal adviser, a Buddhist priest named ‘Phags-pa Lama, to design a new script
that would be used to write the major languages of the Mongolian Empire, and in 1269, the priest
delivered what has come to be called the ‘Phags-pa script.

Both Mongolian scripts were taught in the Language Academy from the beginning of the Choson
dynasty. *…+ There is a question of ‘Phags-pa influence on Korean letter shapes.

In the Hunmin chong’um haerye it is written that the letters of the Korean alphabet had been designed
to depict the outline of speech organs involved in the articulation of the various classes of consonants.
This is what most people today agree on.
Basic Principles
(p.25) The Korean alphabet is a writing system constructed on a foundation of in-depth scholarly
research. The phonological theory that is seen in the structure of the Korean alphabet was based on
theory brought in from China, then developed independently in Korea. In particular, the Chinese division
of the syllable into two parts was changed into a division into three parts.
King Sejong
The great scholar who developed this theory was none other than the inventor of the Korean alphabet.
And there is enough evidence to claim that this was King Sejong. (1) Testimony of the people of his time.
From a young age, Sejong loved scholarship and took great interest in the study of the classics and

A linguist called Sin Sukchu wrote: “Our King Sejong the Great gave his mind over to phonological study
and, having studied it in depth, created a few letters called the Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the
People”. (2)Second of all, there are records written by Sejong that prove his great confidence and
dedication to the study of phonology.

More on King Sejong
Sejong the Great (May 7, 1397 – May 18, 1450, r. 1418–1450) was the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty
of Korea. During his regency, he reinforced Korean Confucian policies and executed major legal
amendments (공법; 貢法). He also used the creation of Hangul and the advancement of technology to
expand his territory. He is the third son of King Taejong and Queen Consort Wonkyeong.
Sejong is one of only two Korean rulers posthumously honored with the appellation "the Great", the
other being Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo.[3]

Sejong was born on May 7, 1397, the third son of King Taejong.[3] When he was twelve, he became
Grand Prince Chungnyeong' (충녕대군; 忠寧大君) and married a daughter of Shim On (심온; 沈溫) of
Cheongsong (청송; 靑松), commonly known as Lady Shim (심씨; 沈氏), who later was given the title
Queen Soheon (소헌왕후; 昭憲王后).

The Importance of the Invention of Hang’ul
Another factor that comes out is that Sejong was stubborn and decisive. He was a man who carried out
the things he advocated and brought them to realization, a person who possessed the ability to combine
theory and practice.

        Considering the political and cultural conditions of Korea at the time, the creation of the Korean
alphabet was no small achievement. The ruling class (privileged male aristocrats called yangban 兩班)
had for a long time enjoyed the special privilege of writing – that is, of writing Korean in Chinese
characters (Hanja) and Classical Chinese (한문,漢文, Hanmun). The creation of a writing different from
Chinese characters at once meant politically the loss of special privilege and culturally the estrangement
from China.

The fact that King Sejong, he himself a representative of the ruling class that feared the collapse of
public order and the overturning of their system of values, created and promulgated the new
“Vernacular Script” for his people, is remarkable.

Hangul Day — also called Hangul Proclamation Day or Korean Alphabet Day — is a Korean national
commemorative day marking the invention and the proclamation of hangul (한글), the native
alphabet of the Korean language, by King Sejong the Great. It is observed on October 9 in South
Korea and on January 15 in North Korea. In North Korea, the day is called Chosungul Day.
  1.   The two widely accepted and not mutually exclusive theories regarding the genetic origins of the Korean people
       suggest that their language is related to which of the following:
           a. Japanese and Mongolian*
           b. Japanese and Vietnamese
           c. Japanese and Chinese
           d. Mongolian and Russian

  2.   In what century was the Korean script invented?
            a. 13 century
            b. 14 century
            c. 15 century*
            d. 16 century

  3.   King Sejong used his sophisticated understanding of Chinese phonology and of previous Chinese attempts at
       classifying syllables according to their initial and final components to divide the syllables of the Korean language into
       how many parts?
            a. Two
            b. Three*
            c. Four
            d. Five

  4.   Among the 28 original letters proposed by King Sejong in his manuscript, how many were consonants?
          a. Eleven
          b. Seventeen*
          c. Nineteen
          d. Twenty-one

  5.   The Korean script belongs to which of the following categories of writing systems?
            a. Alphabet*
            b. Abjad
            c. Syllabary
            d. Logographic

  6.   What is the name of the system invented in China for the classification of characters according to the initial and final
       sounds of the syllables?
           a. “Cut and divide”
           b. “Turn and divide”
           c. “Turn and cut”*
           d. “Cut and paste”

  7.   What script was used during the time of the reign of the Great Khubilai Khan to write the Mongolian language, prior
       to the invention of the ‘Phags-pa script?
            a. The Tibetan script
            b. The Russian script
            c. The Uyghur script*
            d. Chinese characters

  8.   Chu Si-gyong, a linguist-patriot and a member of the enlightenment movement, is believed have coined the name
       Hangul to refer to the Korean letters in the year…
           a. 1810
           b. 1890
           c. 1910*
           d. 1911

  9.   What is the literal translation of Hunminjeongeum , i.e. the name of the document published at the end of the
       lunar year in late 1443. Introducing the script invented by King Sejong ?
            a. The Correct Script for the People
            b. The Correct Letters for the People
            c. The Correct Characters for the Instruction of the People
            d. The Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People*
10. What was the name of the practice enjoyed by the privileged elite of 15        century Korea of writing in Classical
        a. Hanmun*
        b. Hunmin
        c. Hanja
        d. Hangug

11. Which of the following is false about the Korean language?
        a. It is agglutinative
        b. It is polysyllabic
        c. It is analytic*
        d. It is pitch accented
Jamo (자모; 字母) or natsori (낱소리) are the units that make up the Hangul alphabet. Ja means letter
or character, and mo means mother, so the name suggests that the jamo are the building-blocks of the

There are 51 jamo, of which 24 are equivalent to letters of the Latin alphabet. The other 27 jamo are
clusters of two or sometimes three of these letters. Of the 24 simple jamo, fourteen are consonants (ja-
eum 자음, 子音 "child sounds") and ten are vowels (mo-eum 모음, 母音 "mother sounds"). Five of the
simple consonant letters are doubled to form the five "tense" (faucalized) consonants (see below), while
another eleven clusters are formed of two different consonant letters. The ten vowel jamo can be
combined to form eleven diphthongs.

The Original Twenty-Eight Letters
Five of the letters for the initials and three of the letters for the medials (the vowels) were made first;
the rest of the letter shapes were devised based on those first eight shapes. Therefore, there are two
types of letters: the basic letters, and the letters made by adding strokes or combining shapes.

Table 1. Seventeen Initial Letters

               BASIC LATTERS         EXPLANATION OF SHAPE                    ADDING STROKES
               ㄱ(giyeok) k           Root of the tongue closing epiglottis   ㅋ        kh

               ㄴ(nieun)     n        The tongue touching the hard palate     ㄷ       T
                                                                             ㅌ       th
                                                                             ㄹ       r
               ㅁ(mieum)     m        Mouth                                   ㅂ       b
                                                                             ㅍ       ph
               ㅅ(siot)      s        Teeth                                   ㅈ       j
                                                                             ㅊ       ch
                                                                             ㅿ       z
               ㅇ(ieung)     -        throat                                  ㆆ       ʔ
                                                                             ㆁ       ng
                                                                             ㅎ       h

Table 2. Eleven Medial Letters

               BASIC LATTERS         EXPLANATION OF SHAPE                    ADDING STROKES
               ㆍ(area-a)   ə         Heaven/Round                            ㅗo       ㅛ yo
                                                                             ㅏa       ㅑ ya
               ㅡ            u        Earth/Level                             ㅜu       ㅠ yu
                                                                             ㅓ eo     ㅕ yeo
               ㅣ            i        Man/Standing
ㄱ [k]          ㅋ [k’]
ㄴ [n]          ㄷ[t]    ㅌ*t’+
ㅁ [m]          ㅂ[p]    ㅍ *p’+
ㅅ [s]          ㅈ [c] t ㅊ *c’+
ㅇ [h]          ㆆ [ʔ]   ㅎ [x];
Exceptions:   ㄹ[l] and ㅿ[z]
古 gǔ   “old”

蒙古 Měnggǔ Mongolia

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