The Korean Alphabet Day is a celebration about the creation and proclamation of the Korean alphabet. It’s a national commemorative day in Korea, commemorating the invention and the proclamation of the alphabet for the Korean language by the 15th-century Korean monarch Sejong the Great.
Korean Alphabet Day is celebrated in South Korea on October 9th as Hangeul Proclamation Day or Hangeul Day for short. In 2013, Korean Alphabet Day became a national holiday in South Korea as well.
During the fifteenth century, people in Korea (known as Joseon at the time), primarily wrote using Classical Chinese alongside native phonetic writing systems. Before the creation of Hangul, these characters were known as “Hanja.” They predate Hangul by hundreds of years, including idu, hyangchal, gugyeol, and gakpil.
Due to the fundamental differences between the Korean and Chinese languages and their large number of characters that needed to be learned, only the elite in Korea were literate. The lower classes, who often didn’t have the privilege of education, faced a lot of difficulty in learning how to write using Chinese characters.
In 1443, a solution to this problem was proposed. King Sejong decided that it would be good for Korea if the Korean language had its own alphabet. He then created and completed this unique alphabet in 1444. It was then known as Hangul and aimed at promoting literacy among the common people.
King Sejong proclaimed the publication of Hunmin Jeongeum in the ninth month of the lunar calendar in 1446 according to the Sejong Sillok. Hunmin Jeongeum is the document that introduced the newly created alphabet, which was also originally called by the same name.
About The Korean Language Society
The Korean Language Society is an organization whose goal was to preserve the Korean language during the time of rapid force Japanization in 1926. This was important in order to retain the identity of the Korean people. Retaining the language and its alphabet was hence a major goal which they were successful in achieving.
The 480th anniversary of the declaration of Hangeul was celebrated on the last day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar, which is on November 4 of the Gregorian calendar. The Korean Language Society’s members declared it as the first observance of “Gagyanal,” which came from “Gagyageul”, which is an early colloquial name for Hangeul.
Changes in the Holiday Name and Date
After that, the name of the national holiday was changed to “Hangullal” in 1928. Later on, the term “Hangul” was made and became widely accepted as the new name for the alphabet which was originally coined by Ju Si-gyeong. Since then, the day was celebrated according to the lunar calendar.
This holiday was observed according to the calendar in contemporary use in 1931. It was then switched to October 29 of the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar was in use when King Sejong had made his proclamation in the 15th century. After three more years, the date was transferred to October 28 for alignment purposes.
In 1940, an original copy of the Hunmin Jeongeum Haerye was discovered. A volume of commentary to the Hunmin Jeongeum was announced during the first ten days of the ninth month. The tenth day of the 1446 lunar calendar was equivalent to October 9 of that same year’s Julian calendar. The South Korean government thus declared October 9 to be the Hangeul Day in 1945. It was then established as a yearly legal holiday, which excused government employees from work.
Changing the Status
In the 1990s, some major employees pressured the South Korean government to increase the country’s annual number of work days. To balance out the adoption of United Nations Day, the government finally vacated Hangeul Day’s status as a holiday in 1991.
A 6.2-meter-high and 20-ton bronze statue of King Sejong the Great of Joseon was unveiled to the public at Gwanghwamun Plaza in Seoul in 2009. This was in celebration of the 563rd anniversary of the creation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong.
Korean Alphabet Day remained a national commemoration day by law, and the Hangeul Society campaigned for the holiday’s restoration. The Hangeul Society won the campaign on November 1, 2012, when the National Assembly voted 189 with 4 abstaining in favor of a resolution that called for the return of the Hangeul Day as a national holiday.
The Unique Place of the Korean Alphabet
Not many countries or cultures have a special day set aside especially for celebrating their alphabets, so why does the Korean one get this honor? The answer to this question is that most alphabets have unknown, inexplicable, and untraceable origins. They evolve from pictures, then become symbols, and finally the letters that we know so well. On the contrary, the Korean alphabet is a proper creation by the Emperor of that time.
It’s also proper to note here that the Korean alphabet was created in order to give the poorer classes a chance at literacy. This meant giving them more space to branch out and gain success on their own terms. Since this was a step in the right direction for equality and justice, celebrating the Korean alphabet is quite logical.
The Ease of the Korean Alphabet
Chinese characters were and are a bit difficult to learn, especially if one is a complete novice. Hangul, on the other hand, is deliberately very easy to grasp. There’s even a saying that goes “A wise man can learn it in a morning, and a stupid man can learn it in the space of ten days”.
If we use the best possible techniques, it is believed that we might learn Hangul within two hours. This is a revolutionary concept even by modern terms, so imagine how amazing a feat it was back then!
Adaptations of the Korean Alphabet
Hangul is a phonetic alphabet, much like most of the alphabets the world over. However, it has undergone several adaptations over the years that make it a suitable choice for the Korean language. The letters of this alphabet are written in a square shape rather than a straight line. This shape is good for matching with the previously-used Chinese characters.
Another adaption worth mentioning here is that the consonants in this alphabet are based on the mouth’s shape while sounding them out. This is directly linked to the fact that the alphabet was actively planned, and makes Hangul all the more easy to grasp.
As for the vowels, they have about three elements; a dot for the sun, a vertical line for a man, and a horizontal line to represent the earth or land.
Every vowel sound has its own separate letter, which cannot be said of the English alphabet. Again, this makes a lot of difference when one is trying to sound out new words in the language.
These facts about the Korean alphabet are instrumental in understanding why it’s such a unique achievement. It might be the ease and flow of these letters that have allowed the alphabet to survive even when at risk of being stamped out.
In the present time, Hangul is the national alphabet of Korea. However, the oldest Korean alphabet, Hanja, can still be seen on occasion, particularly in the Korean calendar.
It might seem strange for people to get a day off from work just to celebrate the national alphabet. Still, South Korea’s history of Hangul is definitely of vast importance to Korea and Korean culture. Since the alphabet came about as a definite effort and was stolidly preserved in the face of danger, having a holiday for it makes sense. The history of the Korean language is an interesting one in itself, so it might be worth reading about it to better understand this alphabet’s importance.