Korean Alphabet Day: Worthy of a Public Holiday?

King Sejong, Inventor of the Korean Script

A few years ago, the South Korean government trimmed down on holiday time by removing several memorial days from the official list of public holidays including Arbor Day, Constitution Day and Hangul Day (aka Hangul Proclamation Day or Korean Alphabet Day).

Furthermore, even on the remaining few holidays such as the recently celebrated International Workers’ Day, employers still tend to force their slightly less celebrated employees to come back to the office work, rendering such red days pretty black in the eyes of some. Meanwhile, one of the many commercial surfboards to have benefitted from the high tide of the Korean Wave has been much-loved K-Drama A Deep Rooted Tree starring old time favourite actor Han Suk-kyu as King Sejong an equally old time favourite king, fondly remembered for inventing Hangul, the easy-to-master Korean writing system (so easy to master in fact that the 20th Century literay snobs would refer to it as ‘Ach’imgul’ [아침글] meaning ‘a script you can learn in one morning’). And you really can master it in a morning –– any English speaker who has dabbled with anything more squiggly than the roman alphabet will agree that Hangul is a beautifully accessible writing system.

Therefore, a combination of a rekindled love for King Sizzle’s ingenuity, a serious need of a holiday and rising anti-religious sentiment against the gaedok has kick-started a debate about having a few more days off, starting with Hangul Proclamation day that celebrates the creation of the Korean alphabet.

Nancy Lang posing in front of a statue of King Sejong the Great

From Yonhap News:

Google's logo for Hangul Day

83.6% of Korean people surveyed agree that Hangul Proclamation Day should become a public holiday

83.6% of the population agreed with the idea of making the Hangul Proclamation Day [October 9th, the day celebrating the invention of Hangul, the Korean letters] a public holiday.

On the 14th of May the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism carried out a public survey in which 83.6% of the public replied that they agree that Hangul Proclamation Day should be made a public holiday. This value is higher than previous survey results, increasing by 14.8% compared to 68.8% in agreement in 2009 and by 7.3% compared to 76.3% in agreement in 2011.

57.5% of the public also thought that the Hangul Day should be preferentially designated a public holiday before any other national days or memorial days, such as Constitution Day (15.4% showed preference), Arbor Day (12.2%) and Armed Forces Day (8.1%).

However, the number of people who know the date of the Hangul Proclamation Day has fallen gradually. In this year’s survey, 64% knew when it is, decreased by 24.1% compared to 88.1% in 2009.

The survey was a telephone survey targeted at 1000+ people aged 19 or above, from the 13th to 15th of April, in celebration of 615th birthday of King Sejong [the great king who initiated and completed the study into developing Korean letters, with scholars at the Hall of Worthies], amidst increasing interests in Korean language and learning of it at overseas Sejong Schools. The maximum margin of allowable error of the results is plus or minus 3.1% from the 95% confidence level.

Comments from Daum:

권상덕:

Absolutely agree.

최효선:

May foreign linguists from all over the world praise the superiority of Hangul [Korean letters] very highly… In no other country do they use a language that was artificially, systematically and scientifically developed. While other languages may be scientific, King Sejong the Great is the only person who (or was recorded to have) created a language artificially. He invented a scientific language in early 15th Century, taking into consideration the separation of syllables and consonants, construction of new letters and juxtaposing of consonants, among others. Hangul seems to be undervalued in Korea.. We should not only celebrate it but also let the world know of its excellence by holding a festival on the Hangul Proclamation Day. I hope Hangul is disseminated to countries without a language so that many more people would use it!

이용국:

Let’s vote ‘up’ for this article!! People who voted against should watch the drama series “A Deep-rooted Tree”………. While we take for granted something that we have, it is often the case that we look back at how precious it is only when we lose it and become unable to use it any more. This drama series did a really good job at giving us a meaningful and persuasive message that someone had to risk their life for something that we now take for granted and use without thinking. This is probably why we look forward to Wednesdays and Thursdays [when the drama series is aired] so much, isn’t it? [To realise] how wonderful Hangul, which I use, is… makes me feel wonderful.

배승환:

We are not just agreeing so that we can have more days off. Hangul Day should seriously be a public holiday, even if Children’s Day [May 5th, currently a public holiday celebrating the importance and rights of children] has to become a business day instead.

정찬익:

Squad of public holidays – IN: Hangul Proclamation Day, Parents’ Day [May 8th, currently not a public holiday and a fixed day thanking one’s parents, a little like a combination of Mother’s day and Father’s day in some countries] OUT: Buddha’s birthday, Jesus’ birthday

강민석:

Honestly speaking, Hangul Proclamation Day is much more meaningful than Christmas or Buddha’s birthday. What’s with making public holidays of someone else’s birthday, when it is meaningless for us…

김지영:

Let the religious crowd do the religious events on their own and include more days as national holidays ㅡㅡ This is nothing but putting the cart in front of the horse

박대안:

Hangul – a beautiful culture of ours that is used by all the Korean people and recognised by the world… Religion – something that only a part of the population believes in, and a suspicious organisation that has been corrupted and commercialised… They pay respects every weekend for Buddhism and Christianity so why don’t we give fewer holidays for them, and instead make the Hangul Day or Parents’ Day public holidays… I think it’s right to do that because only some people have a religious belief but Hangul and parents are common to all of us and we all must be grateful for them.

박종혁:

Who was the dick that excluded the Hangul Day from public holidays?? So pathetic

임혜정:

Honestly it seems right to spend Hangul Day meaningfully, let alone other days, not just being happy about having one more public day off.. People these days often get final consonants and grammar wrong, including myself –– I sometimes get confused and get it wrong too. I hope we look back on our knowledge of Hangul while celebrating the day…

김창훈:

Why do we have a day off on Christmas Day when Jesus was born, but not on Hangul Day which is a national memorial day? The priority doesn’t seem right.. And that’s not because I’m single!

한지연:

I hope we can think of Hangul’s excellence, which is already internationally recognised!!^^I agree!!!! huh huh

신형민:

ke ke ke ke oh dear if you really love Hangul please don’t mention Hangul Day while you thoughtlessly keep on using your crappy English. It’s difficult to see Hangul in lyrics, names of singers and things in the street but you use some shitty words from nowhere – pathetic how you ramble on about excellence of Hangul and King Sejong the Great. I ask you to please use Hangul correctly and shake off that disgusting hypocrisy;;

박장희:

I feel so sorry to King Sejong the Great for the fact that you have to do the TOEIC rather than a [test of] Korean in order to make a living in this country.

조연신:

Right….. I really don’t see what sacrifice Jesus Christ and Buddha have made to Korea;;;; When we don’t even remember the day that the national language was made;;;;

송지수:

Did anyone notice the rate of homes with raised flags on March 1st? [Raising of flags outside one’s house is an act of remembrance on memorial days like March 1st, the day of the anti-Japanese movement during the Japanese colonial period] There were loads of apartment buildings with no Korean flags at all.. It’s creepy how some people would do that just to have a day off, making excuses on the Hangul Day.

신웅식:

Hangul is good enough to be a universal language.

최황원:

It was great of King Sejong to make Hangul to serve as the national language, but it was Dr Sikyeong Ju who studied and developed it further, making it easier and more convenient for us to use.. I hope we don’t forget him as well……. I wonder how many people actually know about Dr Ju… And I also wonder how many people know how much he studied it and tried to let the public know Hangul…

김상래:

UNESCO didn’t name the King Sejong Prize, given to the person with the greatest achievement in fighting illiteracy, for no reason. [Hangul is] a set of characters, scientific in the very principles of its making. If we were using Chinese characters instead of Hangul we wouldn’t have established the kind of development that we see now. Hangul is the language that has made the highest and most wonderful contribution to the development of our country.

권오상:

To be frank, this situation isn’t even funny.. Is there anyone who thought about Hangul even once more when the Hangul Day used to be a public holiday? On the contrary, is there anyone who thinks there isn’t time to think about Hangul because the Day is not a public holiday? I’m all for more days off, but it’s real 병맛 [glossary for this?] to see those people who make up some great-sounding reasons to hypnotize themselves..

우다혜:

I think it would be appropriate to exclude Buddha’s birthday and Christmas Day from the public holidays, and instead include the Hangul Day and Constitution Day.

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  • asswiper

    yes it looks nice but what would you do on the holiday?

    i dont think its a worthy holiday.. it can be a special day but they should still go to work…

  • Ami

    Mostly unrelated and asking out of curiosity, since theres china smack and now korea bang will there ever be a Japan pop or something alike?

    • Ami

      Pondering on my sofa

      • Ami

        3 days later and no sofa or responses~

        • 2 years later and you’ve finally received your response. :P

    • Xio Gen

      There is. It’s called japancrush.

  • k

    when i was in korea, i always felt like that koreans reallllllllllllllllllly need more time off or lower working hours…..they stay at work way to long and most look miserable. men hardly get to see their children and they all stay so stressed which is probably why they drink so much. my friends and i always joked that koreans would benefit alot from smoking pot.

  • Matt

    “Hangul is good enough to be a universal language.”

    “I hope Hangul is disseminated to countries without a language.”

    Oh God, these comments are so utterly stupid, I can barely contain my disgust.

    I hope most Koreans aren’t this ridiculously linguistically ignorant. Then again, they probably are…

    Not to mention, Hangul is NOT the only written system invented by a single individual. Saint Mesrop Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet about 1,037 years before Hangul.

    • Falls

      Have you at least tried it or learned to pronounce it before tossing it out the window like this?

      Hangul always makes the sound for the character shown (ᄀ is ALWAYS a ‘guh’ sound, whether in 고 or 강). Whereas English has very little trouble making the same sounds with different letters (their, they’re, there). Or more often making different sounds with the same letters (the ‘e’ in ‘like’ as opposed to the ‘e’ in ‘keep’).

      I agree that I wouldn’t want a world where where Hangul is used as default; and those comments noted are clearly a bit egotistical, but I think we could do better than English or possibly Chinese with regards to ease of spelling and reading.

      • Matt

        Where did I ever say I can’t read Hangul? I can read it perfectly well, thank you very much.

        To you, Raphael, and Brett Sanbon:

        Unfortunately, all three of you completely misread my comment. My annoyance was not with exalting Hangul for what it is—an alphabet used to express that Korean language. For that purpose, Hangul works fabulously.

        My problem with the first quote was that Hangul is not a “language”. Not sure how you could have missed something as simple as that…

        My problems with the second quote were:

        1. There are no countries “without languages”. I couldn’t even begin to fathom this, though I hope that maybe it’s just an subtle error in translation.

        2. Hangul is NOT universally applicable to all languages. What would happen if you applied Hangul to the English language? Well, you’d obviously get a language that sounds like the accent Koreans have when speaking English, and the same is true of every other language that has more phonemes than Korean (i.e., almost all of them), as well as every other language that doesn’t require a vowel sound after every consonant (i.e., almost all of them).

        The only languages I can think of that could fit within the limits of Hangul are the Japonic and Austronesian languages (basically: Japanese, Tagalog/Filipino, and Indonesian/Malay). Of these languages, the Austronesian languages already work perfectly well with the Roman alphabet (orthography is absolutely NO barrier to literacy), and Japanese already has TWO perfectly sufficient phonetic writing systems, not to mention, again, a perfectly phonetic romanization system.

        So THOSE are my beefs with those comments. Had nothing to do with me “disliking” Hangul.

        • Wang that!

          ahhh… I now get what you were trying to say…

          This response would not have been necessary if articulated your point clear as you just did…

          To be honest I had the same thought as Falls, Raphel and Brett when I initially read your post…

          • Matt

            I figured the ridiculousness of the comments I quoted would be self-evident…

        • Brett Sanbon

          Right, we read too far into what you were saying. My mistake. You never compared hangul to the English use of Latin script, although I think a couple of us thought you did.

          • Justin_C

            im amazed at the general level of civility here

          • Matt

            @ Justin_C:

            We here at KoreaBANG are highly sophisticated folk.

          • Justin_C

            haha, im still doubtful :p
            but good to see people trying to engage with each other :)

        • Xio Gen

          I think they meant “writing language”. Koreans have tried to get some tribes in Indonesia with no written version of their language to adopt hangul. It… didn’t work, suffice to say. It pretty much only works for Korean. That, and it doesn’t cover a lot of common sounds in other languages, like F and Z. I’m pretty sure that guy was just waxing nationalistic.

      • Matt

        Oh, and one more thing:

        “Hangul always makes the sound for the character shown”

        That’s simply not true. Maybe you should read up on the pat’chim…

        And in addition to the pat’chim (whereby certain syllable-ending consonants change their sounds to aid ease of pronunciation), there are also two syllables in which ㅅ changes to a “sh” sound, solely due to the vowel that follows it.

        Not to mention, several Sino-Korean roots that start with ㄹ or ㄴ undergo changes in pronunciation and spelling in South Korean when placed at the front of a word. Examples: are 녀 > 여 (소녀 vs 여자), 리 > 이 (as seen in the family name Lee), 년 > 연 (작년 vs 연말).

        Completely phonetic, Hangul is not.

        • Vince

          If Hangul really did have the same sound for every character block then why would there be a need for a separate Phonetic Hangul in dictionaries? Hangul is morphophonemic, not phonetic…

      • Ruaraidh

        English orthographical confusion isn’t the fault of Latin script. The Welsh language uses Latin script and from what I hear from my friend (I don’t speak it) the orthography is very consistent.

        Secondly where there is a sound missing in the Latin script you can just create a digraph, such as in Gàidhlig with dh. I don’t see how you can do that in Hangul short of creating a whole new letter. Also continuing with Gaelic languages, I think lenition would be a problem in Hangul. You’d probably have to do it phonetically like in Manx, which funnily enough has a real mess of an orthography.

        The point I’m trying to make is that whilst an excellent writing system, Hangul is probably not as broadly adaptable as Latin script, and would likely struggle without major modification outside of a few select languages.

      • Johannes

        Do you speak Korean? Are you not aware of the pretty blatant fact that all consonants change their phonological value
        Take your example ㄱ. It is aspirated as [k’] as an initial, voiced as [g] in between consonants & swallowed [-k] as a final consonant.
        That means ᄀ is NEVER “ALWAYS a ‘guh’ sound”.
        Most Korean dialects, and definitely official Seoul speech, will pronounced the initial ᄀ aspirated, thus the romanization of KIMCHI and the family name KIM.
        After a vowel, for instance, if you want to say: “Cucumber Kimchi”, it’s OOI-GIMCHI.

        Same sounds with different spellings?
        에 애 의

        Matt below has given further examples of patch’s & weird Sino-Korean spellings. There are further highly complex sound changes in MODERN KOREAN that makes the Hangul system NOT completely phonetic.
        (perhaps back in the day when it was created by King Sejong it mapped the Korean language perfectly — or as perfect as possible to Middle Korean)

    • Raphael

      Nothing wrong with a bit of patriotism towards a home-grown writing system that brought literacy to millions ;) And Hangul is now being used by people without a writing system of their own http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2009/08/07/2009080700325.html

    • Brett Sanbon

      I think that hangul is one of the most logical writing systems I have encountered. As Falls already wrote, with only a few rules, the components that make a word always have the same sound. It makes learning, reading, and writing very easy.

      Aside from the fact that it does not contain every vocal sound humans use, it is almost perfect. If there were symbols for every sound, I see no reason why it couldnt replace the phonetic readings in any modern dictionary.

      • Brett Sanbon

        Forgot to mention… I think Taiwan uses a system to teach character pronunciation to kids that was inspired by hangul. Bopomofo….. I could be wrong but I swear Ive heard that. Any Taiwanese here that can help?

        • Li Yan

          Bopomofo is probably inspired by Japanese Kana (as China attempted to model Japan’s modernization). It was invented in 1913. That time, Taiwan, under the rule of Japanese, used Taiwanese Kana (derived from Katakana).

          Hangul wasn’t widespread all over Korea until the Office of Governor-General attempted to do so through textbooks and newspapers (mixed Hanja-Hangul script) after Japanese annexed Korea.

          • Brett Sanbon

            Thanks Li Yan. I must have mixed up my Asian history.

    • daniel

      matt’s comments seem pretty clear to me, though he is assuming some basic knowledge of linguistics and phonetics in particular.

      you can learn about the inconsistencies and non-phonetic aspects of 한글 in any korean linguistics textbook, or just wikipedia for a start. the fact that english words transcribed into 한글 and spoken by a native korean speaker don’t sound the same as they do when an english speaker says them should be evidence enough. if you need more, note that the IPA has over 80 consonants and 28 vowels (not including diphthongs or triphthongs), plus diacritics for noting tone, voicing, stress, vowel length that no natural writing system incorporates in it’s entirety.

      matt: didn’t know you have a linguistic background. i would have guess you were a history major given the typical topics on your blog.

      • Matt

        Erm, I don’t have a blog. Maybe you’re confusing me with some other Matt here? o.O

        As for my background, degree-wise, it’s neither linguistics nor history, but rather economics (unfortunately) and accounting (less unfortunately).

        • daniel

          ah, i must be. from your writing style i thought you were someone else.
          #comment-edit

          • Matt

            I’ll be on the lookout for my doppelgänger, though. Thanks!

  • bultak

    Somehow I doubt that Drogön Chögyal Phagpa and Kublai Khan will be honored for their contribution to the development of Hangul.

    • aggie

      that damn tibetan monk! he must have copied his script from the Koreans,

  • Jang

    Hangul = Scientific? LOL, it’s already a holiday for students/teachers. Isn’t that an all day drawing day or some stupid thing to give Korean teachers another day off?

  • Paul M

    I’m all for another day off and I can think of no better reason than to celebrate Hangul. It is truly a remarkable and accessible writing system. Having said that though I am a bit perplexed by the comments left by Korean netizens. You get the impression that they seem to think the invention of Hangul was humanity’s single greatest scientific achievement.

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