I’ve been meaning to write about this guy for a while. This is Sejong the Great (세 종대왕), pronounced ‘say-jong dae-wong). He ruled Korea from September 18, 1418 to May 18, 1450. He is the creator of Hangul (한글). In my humble opinion, Hangul is the greatest written language ever. It works like this… every word is divided into syllables, so each character represents one syllable. Example: 마이클. That’s my name… Michael. But in Hangul, it’s divided into 3 syllables: ma – ee – kul. Each part of each character is like a letter in the Roman alphabet. Here’s the Korean alphabet:
It looks kind of intimidating at first glance, but once you know the basic alphabet, you can read pretty much any Korean. I can read Korean pretty fluently, but I have no idea what it means most of the time. It’s very useful for ordering food, getting directions, you know… the basic stuff. Having a Korean girlfriend has proven very useful for common phrases such as “I’m hungry” (배고바) and “I’m cold” (초어)
One thing us English speakers have trouble with is ‘rieul’, or ㄹ. It’s pronounced something like a cross between R and L. This explains why Koreans will often mispronounce words like ‘lonely’ as ‘ronery’.
Korean is much easier to learn in comparison to Chinese. I haven’t studied Chinese extensively, but I’ve had a Chinese girlfriend in the past who taught me a bit of it. The reason why Chinese is so difficult isn’t because of the complicated characters that (in my eyes) aren’t really intuitive, because you can’t really tell one ‘letter’ from another. It’s difficult because each word can possibly have 4 tones. Kind of like this: ー, /, \, and ^. The long dash represents saying a word steadily, with no intonation up or down. The second is the tone rising, as we English speakers do when asking a question. The third is the tone moving downwards, as we do at the end of sentences. The last one is going up and then down, all in the same character. This is why the Chinese language doesn’t use upward intonation to ask a question. Instead, they have a word they say at the end of the sentence to indicate that it’s a question. That character is ‘ma’, or 吗. The phrase 你好吗, literally translated, means “you good (question indicator)”.
Korean doesn’t have these tones, so we can use tone and inflection in our voice to convey emotion, whereas the Chinese rely on speaking their feelings. Pretty neat eh?
I’m not saying one is better than the other. I love the sound of Chinese speech. In this video you can clearly hear the up and down intonations of each word:
Before Sejong, Koreans used Chinese characters, called Hanja. Hanja doesn’t use the tones that Chinese does, but it’s still pretty difficult to read. Hanja is now antiquated, but is still used sometimes in advertising and such to promote a more ‘prestigious’ image.
So there you have it… a bit of history on Sejong and Hangul. It’s little things like this that we don’t appreciate until we research it for ourselves.