Hangul is the alphabet used in conjunction with the Korean spoken language, and has existed for only around five centuries, making it one of the youngest alphabets in the world. It is widely praised as one of the most scientifically marvelous languages in the world because of it’s easy readability and learnability. It consists of only a handful of possible “pieces” that make up syllables and eventually words.
In 1446, the first official name was created for the Korean alphabet: “hunmin chong-um”, which means “the correct sounds for the instruction of the people.” Hangul is different from many written languages in that it did not develop slowly from pictographs into a written language, but was created purposefully in a short period of time by King Sejong. King Sejong invented Hangul after realizing the frustrations of attempting to communicate with his subjects who spoke Korean but were largely illiterate. Prior to the invention of Hangul, the only way to record Korean in writing was through approximating the meaning with Chinese characters, which was available only to those wealthy enough to learn Chinese. And, although some question whether or not King Sejong indeed created Hangul independently without help from linguists, he is still recognized as the sole creator today.
Hangul consists of only 24 characters (there were originally 28, but 4 of them are now obsolete), and yet these 24 make up over 12,000 phonemes. The characters consist entirely of a series of circles and lines that are used in conjunction to make syllables. Also, Hangul is unique in that it is one a select few languages worldwide to have characters based on the position of the tongue in the mouth. Hangul characters are meant to directly correspond, for the most part, to the way one’s tongue looks when saying them.
Because of the design of Hangul, the literacy rate in Korea is nearly nonexistent. Most school-aged children enter elementary school having already mastered the use of Hangul, since many children begin learning how to write in Korea around age two or three. Hangul even has it’s own day of recognition, or “birthday”, which is celebrated annually on October 9th. Today, it is even accessible for foreigners to learn Hangul, and there are countless videos, websites, and infographics dedicated to the quick and easy learning of the Korean alphabet.