Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Introduction to Korean Language and Korean alphabet Hangeul

General Info

Korea has its own language and alphabet. This simple fact stands as one of the strong contributing factors that hold this nation's people together under shared roots and national identity. Linguistic and ethnological studies reveal that the Korean language belongs to the Altaic language family that includes Turkic, Mongolic and Tungus-Manchu languages.
The Korean alphabet Hangeul, in which each character represents one syllable, was invented solely by the scholar-king Sejong the Great (1397-1450) for the convenience of the ordinary people. Modern Hangeul consists of 10 vowels and 14 basic consonants that can be combined into numerous syllables. Noted as the world's most scientific writing system, it was designated by UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme as a global documentary heritage in 1997.

Introduction to Korean Language
All Koreans speak and write the same language, which has been a decisive factor in forging their strong national identity. Korean has several different dialects in addition to the standard variety used in Seoul. Only the dialect of Jeju-do Province, however, is so different that it is difficult for others to understand.
Linguistic and ethnological studies have classified the Korean language in the Altaic language family, which includes the Turkic, Mongolic and Tungus-Manchu languages.
King Sejong the Great (1397-1450) of Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) commissioned a research team of scholars and helped create "Hunminjeongeum" the Korean alphabet in 1443 and proclaimed in 1446. The term literally means the Correct Sounds for the Instruction of People.

Before its creation, only a relatively small percentage of the population was literate; few could master the difficult Chinese characters in Korea known as "Hanja" used only by the upper class.

Hunminjeongeum, meaning "The Correct Sound to instruct people" was the first book to introduce Hangeul, the Korean alphabet system.Before developing a Korean writing system, King Sejong studied several writing systems known at the time, such as Uighur and Mongolian scripts and old Chinese seal characters. The system that Joseon scholars came up with, however, is predominantly based upon phonology. Above all, they developed and followed a theory that divided each syllable into initial, medial and final phonemes, as opposed to the bipartite division of traditional Chinese phonology.

During the Japanese colonial times (1910-1945) when Japan took control over the nation and forced its language upon people, many Korean intellects gathered together to refurbish Hunminjeongeum for the public.

Ju Si-gyeong (1876-1914), one of the modern linguists who played a main role in standardizing Hunminjeongeum, coined a new name for King Sejong's alphabet:"Hangeul"
The newly re-organized Hangeul, with 14 consonants and 10 vowels is simple, yet systematic and comprehensive, thus considered one of the most scientific writing systems in the world. As it is easy to learn and write, the system has greatly contributed to Korea's high literacy rate and advanced publication industry.

The Korean language belongs to the Altaic language family like Mongolian and Japanese. There are about 75 million people in the world who speak Korean, and according to a statistical ranking done in 2002, Korean is the 13th most spoken language in the world.

Hangeul is the Korean writing system. It is similar to the Latin alphabet, inasmuch as each individual symbol represents a single sound, not an idea.

As with many languages, Hangeul is written left to right. However, instead of each individual symbol being written next to each other on the same horizontal line, the symbols are grouped into characters, and each character consists of at least one consonant and one vowel symbol, representing a syllable. Thus a word of three syllables is written in Hangeul with three characters, each one composed of individual consonant and vowel symbols.

Hangeul was devised by King Sejong the Great (r. 1418-1450), who wanted his people to have a writing system of their own. At that time, the learned and noble people wrote in classical Chinese.

Korean Vowels and Consonants
Hangeul (한글, the Korean alphabet) consists of symbols representing 14 basic consonants and 10 basic vowels, which can be combined to make all the sounds used in the Korean language.
* Vowels:

Click here to learn the vowels in more detail
  * Consonants:

Click here to learn the consonants in more detail
How to write Hangeul characters

When we write Hangeul in a syllabic unit, there are six different ways to combine the vowel and consonant symbols. As illustrated in the following diagram, the individual Hangeul are arranged and proportioned to fit neatly into a square box, and are always read left to right, then top to bottom

         (where C = consonant and V = vowel)

For more information, follow the links below:


1.Basic Principles of Romanization
   (1) Romanization is based on standard Korean pronunciation.
   (2) Symbols other than Roman letters are avoided to the greatest extent possible.

2.Summary of the Romanization System
    (1) Vowels are transcribed as follows :
   *simple vowels


Note 1: ㅢ is transcribed as ui, even when pronounced as ㅣ.
Note 2: Long vowels are not reflected in Romanization.

(2) Consonants are transcribed as follows:

Note 1 : The sounds ㄱ, ㄷ, and ㅂ are transcribed respectively as g, d, and b when they appear before a vowel; they are transcribed as k, t, and p when followed by another consonant or form the final sound of a word.

(They are Romanized as pronunciation in [ ].)

Note 2 : ㄹ is transcribed as r when followed by a vowel, and as l when followed by a consonant or when appearing at the end of a word. ㄹㄹ is transcribed as ll.
(e.g.) 구 리 Guri / 설 악 Seorak / 칠 곡 Chilgok / 임 실 Imsil / 울 릉 Ulleung / 대관령[대괄령] Daegwallyeong

3.Special Provisions for Romanization
(1) When Korean sound values change as in the following cases, the results of those changes are Romanized as follows:

① The case of assimilation of adjacent consonants

백마[뱅마] Baengma, 신문로[신문노] sinmunno, 종로[종노] Jongno
왕십리[왕심니]Wangsimni , 별내[별래] Byeollae , 신라[실라] Silla

② The case of the epenthetic ㄴ and ㄹ
      학여울[항녀울] Hangnyeoul 알약[알략] allyak

③ Cases of palatalization
     해돋이[해도지] haedoji , 같이[가치] gachi , 맞히다[마치다] machida

④ Cases where ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ are adjacent to ㅎ
       좋고[조코] joko, 놓다[노타] nota,잡혀[자펴] japyeo, 낳지[나치] nachi

However, aspirated sounds are not reflected in case of nouns where ㅎ follows ㄱ, ㄷ, and ㅂ, as in the examples below.
묵호 Mukho, 집현전Jiphyeonjeon

Note: Tense (or glottalized) sounds are not reflected in cases where morphemes are compounded, as in the examples below.
압구정 Apgujeong , 낙동강 Nakdonggang, 죽 변 Jukbyeon, 낙성대 Nakseongdae
합 정Hapjeong, 팔 당Paldang, 샛 별 saetbyeo, 울 산Ulsan
(2) When there is the possibility of confusion in pronunciation, a hyphen '-' may be used.
    중앙 Jung-ang, 반구대 Ban-gudae, 세운 Se-un,  해운대 Hae-undae

(3) The first letter is capitalized in proper names.
        부산 Busan 세종 Sejong

(4) Personal names are written by family name first, followed by a space and the given name. In principle, syllables in given names are not separated by hyphen, but the use of a hyphen between syllables is permitted.
       민용하 Min Yongha (Min Yong-ha) 송나리 Song Nari (Song Na-ri)

① Assimilated sound changes between syllables in given names are not transcribed
       한복남 Han Boknam (Han Bok-nam) 홍빛나 Hong Bitna (Hong Bit-na)

② Romanization of family names will be determined separately.

(5) Administrative units such as 도, 시, 군, 구, 읍, 면, 리, 동, and 가 are transcribed respectively as do, si, gun, gu, eup, myeon, ri, dong, and ga, and are preceded by a hyphen. Assimilated sound changes before and after the hyphen are not reflected in Romanization.
충청북도 Chungcheongbuk-do 제주도 Jeju-do 의정부시 Uijeongbu-si
양주군 Yangju-gun 도봉구 Dobong-gu 신창읍 Sinchang-eup
삼죽면 Samjuk-myeon 인왕리 Inwang-ri 당산동 Dangsan-dong
봉천1동 Bongcheon 1(il)-dong 종로 2가 Jongno 2(i)-ga 퇴계로 3가 Toegyero 3(sam)-ga

Note: Terms for administrative units such as 시, 군, 읍 may be omitted.
청주시 Cheongju 함평군 Hampyeong 순창읍 Sunchang
(6) Names of geographic features, cultural properties, and man-made structures may be written without hyphens.
남산 Namsan 속리산 Songnisan 금강 Geumgang
독도 Dokdo 경복궁 Gyeongbokgung 무량수전 Muryangsujeon
연화교 Yeonhwagyo 극락전 Geungnakjeon 안압지 Anapji
남한산성 Namhansanseong 화랑대 Hwarangdae 불국사 Bulguksa
현충사 Hyeonchungsa 독립문 Dongnimmun 오죽헌 Ojukheon
촉석루 Chokseongnu 종묘 Jongmyo 다보탑 Dabotap

(7) Proper names such as personal names and those of companies may continue to be written as they have been previously.

(8) When it is necessary to convert Romanized Korean back to Hangeul in special cases such as in academic articles, Romanization is done according to Hangeul spelling and not pronunciation. Each Hangeul letter is Romanized as explained in section 2 except that ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㄹ are always written as g, d, b, l. When ㅇ has no sound value, it is replaced by a hyphen may also be used when it is necessary to distinguish between syllables.

l. When ㅇ has no sound value, it is replaced by a hyphen may also be used when it is necessary to distinguish between syllables.

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