Jules Does

Jules Does K-Pop Academy: Week 3!

Posted on: October 9, 2014

Fun with Hangul!

This week, I was a dummy and forgot my memory card at home, so all photos are from the KCCUK. Thank you!

Professor Jaehoon Yeon from SOAS gives us the basics on Korean and Hangul.

On the 9th of October, South Korea (the North celebrates it at a slightly different time) celebrates Hangul Day, a day where they commemorate the invention of the Korean writing system, called Hangul. As a result, this week’s K-Pop Academy was centered around learning all about the history of Hangul and having a go at writing some hangul ourselves.

Several people there already knew how to read and write Korean, which made the introductory ‘game’ a little more challenging – the KCCUK had replaced our English nametags with ones showing our names in Hangul! Luckily the friendly KCCUK staff were on hand to help us out when we got stuck.

The Korean alphabet.

After we figured out our names, we had the privilege of hearing a lecture on the history of Korean and Hangul from Professor Jaehoon Yeon of SOAS. The first thing to know is that Korean and Hangul are NOT the same. Korean is the language and Hangul is the writing system. If you know the letters in Hangul, that does not necessarily mean that you can read Korean.

Professor Yeon told us that no one really knows where Korean comes from, linguistically speaking. It’s been lumped into the Altaic family of languages, along with Turkic, Mongolian and Manchu, but it actually has very few connections with any of those languages. This actually seems remarkably in keeping with the Korean foundation myth, which was remembered by Koreans on National Foundation Day on 3 October. According to the story, ‘Old Joseon’, the precursor of Korea, was founded by Tangun, the son of a god who had come to earth, founded a city and married a woman (who used to be a bear). It’s kind of fitting, then, that a country which started when a deity came down from heaven should have a language which is almost totally isolated from the languages around it, and from every other language ever.

Why are you mad at me Kae??

We also learned about the origin of Hangul. Hangul was developed by King Sejong the Great in 1444 AD and promulgated in a publication for the people in 1446 AD. Prior to this, only the rich and well-educated could read and write, as Korean used Chinese characters – Chinese characters are, of course, pictograms, so you have to learn a great number of symbols in order to express yourself. This in contrast to Hangul, which is an alphabet. Alphabets are the best because you only have to learn a certain number of letters, which can then be arranged and re-arranged however you want. Alphabets are also handy if you’re just learning how to read, because they allow you to sound a word out. Basically we love alphabets, alphabets are the best.

Hangul is a fascinating writing system because it is so sensible. The shapes of the consonants are derived from the shapes made by your tongue, lips and teeth as you make the appropriate sounds. For example, the first letter in Hangul is ㄱ, which is pronounced like ‘g/k’. If you say the letter out loud, you can feel the back of your tongue rising to meet your palate at the back of your mouth – your tongue then forms the shape of the letter! More complex letters can be made from taking the 5 basic letters ㄱ,ㄴ,ㅁ, ㅇ, and ㅅ and adding lines to them. For example, if you add another line to ㄱ, you get ㅋ, which has a strong ‘k’ sound.

Both North and South Korea speak Korean, but they’re diverging and have been since the division in the 1950s. This is partially down to the division, naturally, but also because of political choices. South Korean has many more loan words from English, whereas North Korean has more loan words from Russia, for obvious reasons. In addition, North Korea started a Language Purification Movement which seeks to root out words with an English or Chinese root and replace them with home-grown Korean words – a notion which is in keeping with the North Korean doctrine of juche, or self-sufficiency.

We were told many more interesting things about the history of Korean and the various dialects, but I won’t go into detail here!

I have a go at dipping my brush.

After the lecture was over and we had a little snack (I love snacktime, it’s brilliant), we went downstairs again to do some writing of our own. To write traditionally, you need Moon-Bang-Sa-Gu, or the 4 traditional materials: the meok (ink stick), hwaseonji (paper), but (brush) and byeoru (ink stone). The KCCUK staff had kindly set up tables for all of us with the four traditional materials and gave us beautiful versions of our names in Korean for us to practice.

We started off with writing our names, but then branched into other words – the names of our friends, family and (of course) idols, as well as other words – the picture at the top shows me with the Korean for ‘Republic of Korea’, ‘Korean Cultural Centre’ and the names of two fellow students.

Our table with our excellent penmanship.

There’s an excellent comic by Ryan Estrada which can help you learn Hangul in just 15 minutes! One of our homework assignments is to create a guide to teach people Hangul, so you may see lots of helpful guides by my fellow students popping up soon. All the homework challenges this week were really, um, challenging, so hopefully I’ll sort out what I want to do soon! As always the results will be posted here as well.

Happy Hangul Day!

To close, please enjoy this song by the highly underrated GI called ㄱ(gieuk), the first letter in the Hangul alphabet.


2 Responses to "Jules Does K-Pop Academy: Week 3!"

This is great! learning so much from this blog. Glad you’re enjoying the course x

[…] literally means ‘Korean clothing’. I suppose they thought that the word hanbok was influenced by the Chinese language and tried to purify it. Just one more barrier between SK and […]

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