October 9 – Hangul (Alphabet) Day in Korea

Posted on October 9, 2013

Some kids in Korea don't have classes today...

...But they still go to school – to participate in calligraphy contests! Even adults often compete today, Alphabet Day, a day to celebrate the Korean alphabet!

On this date in 1446, King Sejong the Great issued a proclamation to his kingdom, establishing a new alphabet that his linguists had created.

Before this date, Koreans had used Chinese characters called hanja—but they didn't match up perfectly with the sounds of the Korean language. Hangul was a new, simpler alphabet of just 24 letters. King Sejong explained that the better sound-character match and the simpler system would allow even commoners to learn to read and write. He wanted everyone to be literate instead of just the elite.

Apparently, many of the literary elite didn't like this idea. I suppose they felt threatened by the concept that everyone would be able to read and write, and so they would no longer be special. But Hangul did take off in popularity, being used especially by women and writers of popular fiction.

Several later kings decided that they didn't like the “riffraff” being so educated, and several made the study and use of Hangul illegal.

Since that early, rocky start, the Korean alphabet has waxed and waned in both popular use and governmental approval. In other words, it was “in,” and then it was “out,” in and out.

During the 1600's revival of Hangul, literature flourished. When Koreans were striving to be an independent nation, use of Hangul became a matter of national pride. When Japan colonized Korea in the early 1900s, Hangul and even the Korean language itself were at times banned from schools and official events. When Korea became independent in 1946, an official modern Hangul alphabet was published.

Nowadays most people use Hangul or mixed Hangul, and hanja is becoming more rare.

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