Today, Don, an excellent Korean translator and search engine specialist, writes about Hangul (Korean characters) – how its scientific design affects Korean society and its technological advance in this age of the Internet and computers.
A Korean syllable is divided into three parts – choseong (initial consonant), jungseong (peak vowel), and jongseong (final consonant). Jongseong was not separately created and was a repetition of the choseong. This is the basic framework that King Sejong and the Jiphyeonjeon scholars adhered to when creating the characters. As the chart on the previous page clearly shows, Hangul, with only 14 consonants and 10 vowels, is capable of expressing many sounds.
Due to its scientific design, it is quite easy to approximate the sounds of foreign words by using Hangeul. (See examples below.) In particular, because of its simplicity and the rather small number of characters, Hangeul is very easy for children or speakers of other languages to learn.
It is ironic that one of the greatest merits of the alphabet was once used by its critics as a reason to ban its use. Some scholars vehemently voiced their views against the “new” alphabet because of its learnability, and in derision, they called it Achimgeul (morning characters) or Amgeul (women’s characters). Achimgeul derisively implied it could be learned in one morning. For those scholars who had spent years in learning the complicated ideographs of the Chinese language, Hangul(Korean alphabet) did not appear to be worthy of learning.
Amgeul meant that even women who had no academic training or background could easily learn the alphabet. In the Joseon era, there were those who considered the pursuit of academic studies and the subject of reading and writing to be the sole domain of a few privileged scholars.
Such misconceptions were the result of confusing simple linguistic learning with more advanced academic studies. Without learning the basic alphabet, reading and writing would be impossible, let alone the study of more advanced subjects. Without being able to read and write, there can be no indirect communication of one’s feelings and thoughts. Surely, King Sejong’s intent was to enrich the lives of the people by introducing Hangul, and not to make scholars out of all his subjects. In subsequent history, Hangeul has been a mainstay of Korean culture, helping preserve the country’s national identity and independence.
Illiteracy is virtually nonexistent in Korea. This is another fact that attests to the easy learnability of Hangul. It is not uncommon for a foreigner to gain a working knowledge of Hangul after one or two hours of intensive studying. In addition, because of its scientific design, Hangul lends itself to easy mechanization. In this age of computers, many people now are able to incorporate computers into their lives without difficulties, thanks to a large number of programs written in Hangul. Because of this the IT sector of Korea is very advanced, let alone mobile and other consumer electronics. Maybe it is one of the reasons why Google cannot penetrate Korean search engine market.