Thursday, 27 September 2007

Honeyed letters

There's another great story about the simplification of a writing system - it's probably apocryphal, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

Korean used to be written in Chinese characters, until in the fifteenth century King Sejong invented a new, simplified system called Hangul. Hangul is completely phonetic, and was designed to be easier to learn than Chinese characters, to aid the spread of literacy.

Legend has it that King Sejong, knowing that educated people would be resistant to any attempt to replace the system with which they were familiar with a new, "dumbed-down" system, thought hard about how to implement Hangul in a way that they would accept.

In the palace grounds, there was a large tree which was widely believed to have holy or magical properties. Late one night, the king went outside and drew the Hangul in honey on the leaves of this tree.

Overnight, insects ate this honey and the parts of the leaves which it covered, so that in the morning the symbols of the Hangul seemed to have appeared magically on the leaves. The king took the leaves to the kingdom's religious leaders, who declared them to be a sign from Heaven. This led to greater acceptance of Hangul among the people of Korea.

The story may or may not be true, but what is certainly true is that the nation's pride in its writing system is such that 9 October is designated Hangul Day in Korea. Although Hangul Day lost its status as a national holiday in 1991, it remains a national day of commemoration.

Here in the UK, many groups have campaigned over recent years for an increase in the number of bank holidays, since we have fewer public holidays than most other countries. So this is my nomination for a new holiday which would surely be acceptable to all in our multicultural society: Alphabet Day. Now, when shall we have it...?


Mac McLernon said...

Needs to be 26 days in order to be fair to all the letters.

That seems to be every other Monday...

Anonymous said...

Why not?

florart said...

It was a pleasnt surprise to know that you know about Hangul and Hangul day (Assuming you are a British).
your honeyed letter story seems to be more funny and mystical than the story about "Dangun" who was the legendary founder of Gojoseon, the first kingdom of Korea. He is said to be the grandson of the god of heaven, and to have founded the kingdom in BC2333.

There is a menuscript named "Hunminjungeum Haerye" which shows how Hangul was invented, why it was promulgated and how to use it??
In Oct 1st, 1997, it was designated by UNESCO as a International Record Assets.

Inchee Jung, who was one of scholars assisted King Sejong for the invention of Hangul as the member of JipHyeonJeon, wrote that "a smart person could master Hangulin one morning's time and even a silly person could master it within ten days." If you try to learn Hangul, you may find it that he was never exaggerating.

If you have any interest in Hangul just invest few hours or days to learn Hangul. Once you can read Hangul you can navigate, find the place you wish to go and read the menu in Korea.

I would suggest you to visit or simply search "Hangul" from the internet to know more about

Anyway, I join you for a Alphabet Day in England.

newhousenewjob said...

Thank you Florart - that's really interesting, and I will follow that link and learn some more. I studied linguistics at university and did a course on writing systems, which is where I came across Hangul and the honeyed letter myth.

newhousenewjob said...

By the way, I have comment moderation enabled, which means your comment doesn't appear on the blog until after I've read it - that's why it took your comment a little while to come up. I like to be able to see when there's a new comment and read it straight away when I log on. :¬)