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Posted : 2008-10-15 18:33
Updated : 2008-10-15 18:33

Linguistics Scholar Seeks to Globalize Korean Alphabet


Chun Tai-hyun, professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and vice president of the Hunminjeonguem Society

By Michael Ha
Staff Reporter

A group of Korean linguistics scholars are making a concerted effort to help globalize the Korean alphabet.

``We've found that there is a great deal of interest in learning about the Korean writing system," said Chun Tai-hyun, professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and vice president of the academic group, the Hunminjeonguem Society. Seoul National University (SNU) Professor Kim Ju-won serves as president of the group.

Professor Chun explained, ``For instance, when we visited Bau-bau, a city in Buton Island, Indonesia, we realized that the indigenous communities in the region ― communities without their own writing system ― were very receptive to learning the Korean alphabet."

He noted the Korean alphabet could easily be used in conjunction with the local spoken language and that it can actually be used to help preserve and record the indigenous culture and language.

``In Indonesia, ethnic minority communities are losing their own spoken languages. We realized that the Korean alphabet could actually help preserve these endangered local languages."

Chun said, ``In December or January, representatives from Bau-bau will visit us in Korea and learn our writing system. They will then return to Indonesia to teach the Korean writing system in their communities."

The Korean alphabet was created by King Sejong the Great, the fourth monarch of the Joseon Kingdom, in 1443. Hunminjeonguem is the original name of the Korean alphabet, meaning ``proper sounds to instruct the people." It was later renamed ``Hangeul," literally meaning ``the Korean alphabet," during the 20th century.

South Koreans celebrate Oct. 9 as Hangeul Day to commemorate the invention of the national writing system. Perhaps, the best-known trait of this alphabet is its simplicity and ease of use. The current 24-letter alphabet was recognized as a ``Memory of the World" by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1997.

The society held its inaugural international conference on the topic at SNU on Oct. 9-10. The group was founded last year to help promote the Korean letters in the international community. One particular goal for the group is to introduce the alphabet system to ethnic minority communities around the world that lack indigenous writing systems to express their spoken languages.

michaelha@koreatimes.co.kr
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