Hangul (the Korean alphabet)

Erin and I have started taking the free Korean class offered in town.  It seems like it will be helpful, but the textbook and handouts are printed completely in the Korean alphabet, Hangul.  This is forcing us to actually learn the alphabet, something we’ve both been putting off.  I don’t have to teach today (standardized test day), so I’m studying.  It’s actually a very simple alphabet, with an interesting history.

Hangul was invented in the mid-1400s by King Sejong, who seems to be pretty darn famous here (considering that he’d dead).  Prior to it’s invention, Koreans used Chinese characters (hanja), and only the elites knew how to read and write.

Sejong sat down and planned out a written language that the commoner could use.  One of the ancient texts says:  “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.”  I must be stupid, because it’s taking me more than one morning.  Still pretty darn easy, though.  Hangul is fairly unique in that it was invented at a specific time, by one party.  It didn’t evolve over time.  Because of this, it’s very logical.  Unlike Chinese, it’s very easy to type on a keyboard or cellphone.  My students certainly have no problems text-messaging under their desks in class.

There are 14 basic consonants, 5 double consonants, 10 vowels (or semi-vowels) and 11 diphthongs (combined vowels).  These letters, or jamo, are combined into syllable blocks.  Each block contains two or three jamo.  It seems pretty strange at first, but it’s really quite logical.

Here is a sample word.  (I’ve made the text larger so the letters are easier to see.  Note:  Some users may have trouble seeing this.  You might need a language pack of some sort.  I don’t know for sure.)

컴퓨터  =  Computer

The Korean pronounciation is slightly different, sort of like “come pew taw”

1.  The first character block consists of three jamo.

2.  The second block consists of 2 jamo.

3.  The third block has 2 jamo.

It’s really not as complicated as it seems, and once you know it, the rules are constant.  Not like English, with hundreds of difficult exceptions.

(Note:  I pulled the quote and some of the information from the wikipedia page on Hangul.)


8 Responses to “Hangul (the Korean alphabet)”

  1. erin on September 24th, 2008 7:59 pm

    I think you’re getting more out of this than I am. I’m still memorizing vowels and translating to IPA…


  2. Lois on September 24th, 2008 9:41 pm

    I received an email from Korea. It came with the “computer” word in Korean, just like your example. Now I know what it means! No wonder you are a teacher:)


  3. Bob on September 25th, 2008 11:26 am

    So that word sounds out the english word “computer” but does it mean a computer?


  4. mike.sapak on September 25th, 2008 3:43 pm

    @Bob: Yep, that means computer. A lot of words are basically the same in Korean and English, but they’re written in Hangul. Learning the alphabet should be helpful, even if I don’t really learn the language.


  5. Mom on September 25th, 2008 7:02 pm

    Any ideas on how I can get the Koraen jamo to come up on our computer when I open your web page? All we see are ??? instead of Korean characters.


  6. Sasha on September 25th, 2008 10:17 pm

    holy crap. i don’t care how often you repeat that it’s logical and easy – i do not envy you the task of learning korean. I feel like I have the communication skill of a 5 year old here and we at least have the same alphabet. Erin sent me your address and when i looked at the names of the province, city, whatever else region, i was grateful that Spanish is the most of my worries. Good luck, my friends. Let me know how the communication improvements come along. (i think i’m forgetting english) xoxo


  7. Ashley on September 28th, 2008 2:33 pm

    Haha, Damn kids and their texting. It’s the same all over the world. Good luck with the language, how sweet would it be to end up nearly bilingual after this is all done.


  8. jean niedzielski on October 8th, 2008 5:32 am

    What a language! I can’t imagine the poor kid who is dyslexic in Hangul!??! Sounds like your are having a great experience & taking advantage of all you can.
    FYI we paddled the Little Manistee with your mom and dad on Sunday & went for an unexpected swim – near a place where they said you and JD did the same. Only wish we’d done it in July instead of Oct. – BRRR.
    We brought Mr. Z home last Friday and he and his new kidney are doing great.
    Happy Fall!! Do you have fall weather there?


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