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Scientific, Beautiful and Easy to Learn: Hangul, the Language of the Korean People

2011/11/30 | 1175 views |  | Permalink | Source

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ㅂthat is derived fromㅁ, picture ofㅂ, ㅍ

Intuitive Hangul (Korean alphabet) that anyone can learn and write easily

Right now, a Korean drama Deeply Rooted Tree , whose main character is the forth king of Joseon Dynasty, King Sejong, is currently airing and is quite popular. There had been many historical dramas with King Sejong as the main character, but this drama focused on the invention of Hangul that is among King Sejong's many accomplishments. This drama is recording high audience ratings each day, becoming a hot topic among many people, and this is also a meaningful story for me, as a font designer of Hangul and creator of Hangul fonts.

The recent episode of Deeply Rooted Tree shows the process of the invention and testing of Hangul. There is a scene where even a liege, who objects to the invention and distribution of Hangul, is surprised by the marvelous principle behind the invention of Hangul. It is because he witnesses an illiterate person learn Hangul; being able to read and write words within the only 6 hours.

From the early days, Hangul was universally recognized as an excellent writing system. It could be easily confirmed by looking at the cases that great scholars recognizing Hangul.

"Korean Hangul was the long-awaited perfect script". -John Man, English historian

"It is not too much to say that Hangul is the best work among the creations Korean culture . -R. Dormels, from University Vienne

"Hangul is the finest phonemic writing and more upgraded nature character than the Roman alphabet". -Hiroyuki Umeda, former professor of Tokyo University


The Scientific and Original Hangul 

The reason why Hangul is an excellent alphabet is that it is easy to learn and write. It is so easy that it took a quarter of a day (6 hours) for an illiterate person to learn!

When King Sejong invented Hangul, he aimed to record all sounds of nature in alphabets as well as what people spoke. Therefore, he designed the character blocks (jaso) based on the shapes of voice production organs (vocal cords, lips, and etc). Since the shapes of Hangul jaso match the sound, it has an 'intuitive' principal of the character combination, and learners can approach it easily. For example, Hangul consonant 'ㅁ' is supposed to be the image of a person's lips; 'ㅂ' is supposed to be the image of lips being pushed together while air leaks through the upper lip; 'ㅍ' is supposed to be image of how lips bumping each other and air leaking sideways.

Hangul is scientific but still easy to learn, but I want to also tell you that its principle is fun and original. Words like "love, bright, warm", what kind of images do they remind you of? Interestingly, words with vowel 'ㅏ[a]' have bright and cheerful images, and words with vowel 'ㅓ[uh]' have dark and calm images. This is because Hangul has the principle of utilizing the negative and positive components of the universe, and bright sounds and dark sounds are divided according to the shape of vowels through Hangul's principle of character combination. This principle demonstrates the excellence of Hangul that is original and easy to learn.

Example of bright and dark sounds

Hangul can make 11,172 syllables with 24 vowels and consonants. Compared to about 400 English syllables and 300 Japanese and Chinese syllables, we can see how many syllables are there for Hangul to produce. Hangul is composed of initial, medial, and final sounds. In producing digital font, I think that Hangul can present all the pronunciations in the world just by looking at the words that are included in UNICODE standard Hangul (8,822 words), which included all of Hangul that it can represent except KS standard (2,350 words).

 

Hangul image of KS Hangul and UNICODE

Hangul and Font design

Since alphabet makes all words based on 26 letters, there are many pronunciations according to the word, though it is the same alphabet, so it indicates the pronunciation with phonetic symbols. Whereas Hangul creates words more intuitively by combining 24 vowels and consonants, so in this aspect, it can express various designs.

Of course, its formative construction is more complicated than the alphabet, and there are many strokes, but it is less complicated than Chinese characters, so the expression factors for design become diverse with formative factors that are more than English and less than Chinese, very attractive to me who makes words by font design.

As for English font, its history of font design is long, and since the number of words are relatively fewer than Hangul or Chinese and construction much simpler, numerous fonts were created by graphic designers or artists who are interested in typography, without having to be considered an "expert" in the English language. Thus creating a new font itself is the very obstacle in creating a new font.

But as for Hangul font design, the number of words is not too many or too little, so it is at the right point for production that can be professionally approached. Also, there are many Hangul fonts that have been developed, but the numbers are fewer than English fonts, and since there are not many usable Hangul fonts for body text, there's definitely room for development.

People began to feel the need of more interest and necessity of Hangul digital font as Hangul software (it's similar to Microsoft Word) that all Koreans use became popularized in PC and smartphone, and many Hangul fonts are developed and used in many places according to the needs of these people.

Especially, as Korean companies reorganized CI in order to have their company identities, they actively sought the development of company oriented fonts that suit their image, creating many their own company fonts, and the companies are introducing their own fonts to their company as well as the public for free, so Hangul fonts are becoming abundant.

As a font designer who designs Hangul, I am sometimes marveled by the beauty of Hangul. The curve ofㅅ, straight line of vowel, and when I think of the scientific and original excellence of Hangul, I am proud to be a designer who develops Hangul fonts. I hope that many people would feel the beauty of Hangul as I think of King Sejong's hope that many people would easily use it when he created Hangul.

References: [Hangul, bursts] Geum Ho Seok Font designer, CEO of Sandoll Communication [Hangul Design and Consonance] Sang Soo An Visual Designer, Professor at Visual Design Department, Hongik University

About the authorby Hyung Hwan Choi

Typeface Designer at Sandoll Communications

- Follow @hyunghwan Twitter
- fb.me/hyunghwan

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