Treasure of Korean Nation—Hunminjongum
Hunminjongum is one of the cultural heritages created and successively developed by the Korean nation in its protracted historical course.
Choe Song Jun, a staff reporter, had a talk with the philologists of the Linguistics Institute of the Academy of Social Sciences.
Reporter: I am told that Hunminjongum is the most developed letters produced by the Korean ancestors on the basis of their long life experience. Please tell me about it.
Pang Jong Ho, head of the institute: From ancient times, the Koreans had used Sinji letters. Later, they used Ridu alphabet with Chinese characters as primary means. But it was hard for everyone to write them easily and fully express his/her ideas. In January 1444, a number of scholars, under the personal supervision of Sejong, fourth king of the feudal Joson dynasty, invented Hunminjongum, which literally means “Correct Sounds to Educate the People.” It is a valuable mental and cultural heritage of the Korean nation which has been used as the basics to hand down the history and traditions of the nation as well as the means of writing life for hundreds of years up to now. In October Juche 106 (2017), the principle of creating Hunminjongum was registered as a national intangible cultural heritage.
Reporter: I want to know the principle in detail.
Dr. & Associate Prof. An Kyong Sang (a section chief): Five basic letters (ㄱ, ㄴ, ㅁ, ㅅ, ㅇ) of consonants (initial and final phonemes) were made on the basis of a unique principle of modelling after the shape of such speech organs as the tongue, lips, teeth and throat, and their derivative letters were made by applying a method of adding strokes to the basic letters. Twin and composite letters were made by combining the main letters (17 consonants made of basic and derivative letters) with each other.
Three basic letters (•, ㅡ, ㅣ) of vowels (medium sound) were made after the shape of sky, ground and human and, based on them, other letters. The main letters (11 vowels made of basic and derivative letters) were combined by twos in the same category to form merged letters.
Hunminjongum had been created with 28 letters on the basis of a scientific principle, but the present Korean alphabet includes 40 letters as some of them have become extinct or supplemented.
Reporter: What is the excellence of Hunminjongum?
Candidate academician, Prof. and Dr. Jong Sun Gi: First, as an individual phonemic alphabet on the most developed stage in the types of letters, it can fully express not only the rich Korean syllables but also any syllables of foreign languages.
Next, it can denote most of individual phonemes by means of the basic letters.
It is also easy to learn and write. The number of letters is relatively small, and its strokes are simple and connected with each other. The shapes of letters are well-balanced and elegant with no complication.
Reporter: I was told that the world linguists have a growing interest in Hunminjongum, the most developed and excellent alphabet.
Prof. and Dr. Kwon Jong Song: UNESCO instituted a world prize against illiteracy in 1990 and estimated Hunminjongum as the most suitable alphabet for an anti-illiteracy campaign among over 2 900 characters now in use around the world.
The college of linguistics of Oxford University put it in the first place when deciding the rankings of all alphabets of the world on the basis of their individual rationality, scientific accuracy and originality.
In 1979, a Russian philologist published a book, titled, Hunminjongum, which read as follows:
Hunminjongum created in the mid-15th century is the origin of linguistic history which takes an important position in the medieval culture of Korea and the groundwork for its native language. Such an alphabetic system of Korea which has many related books can hardly be found in the world.
Reporter: The invention of Hunminjongum played a big role in developing the linguistic life and culture of the Korean people. This valuable treasure and heritage, a pride of time-honoured history of the nation, will be handed down through generations to come, thanks to the policy of the Workers’ Party of Korea on conserving the national heritage.