What if the United States had a national holiday dedicated to honoring the alphabet?
Well, in South Korea, this holiday is a reality. Every year, on October 9th, Koreans celebrate the Korean alphabet, or Hangul (한글), for Hangul Day. The history of Hangul is a very beloved aspect of Korean culture, as it did not naturally evolve and was instead born from a desire to increase the quality of life of Korean people. As such, Koreans honor the alphabet every year to remember the important contribution to their culture. However, this begs the question- how did Korean people read and write before Hangul was created?
Hangul has only been around for the last 577 years. Before that, Koreans used phonetic writing systems, such as idu, hyangchal, gugyeol, and gakpil; but these systems were not standardized nor universally taught. The only other widely taught written language was Classical Chinese, which only the upper class had the privilege of learning. Poorer Koreans had almost no chance of learning to read and write. As a result, King Sejong the Great commissioned a group of scholars to create a simplified writing system so that anyone could become literate. As of 2013, South Korea reported a 97.9% literacy rate amongst its population—showing the successful achievement of King Sejong’s vision for his nation’s people.
- Conflict over Hangul
Hangul also faced a lot of contention in the early years after its invention. After the death of King Sejong, the elites of the Joseon Dynasty wanted to preserve their status by being the only literate Koreans. This resulted in the study and publication of Hangul and government institutions dedicated to Hangul research being banned.
Interestingly, Hangul became more commonly used again in the 19th century, especially due to its role in Korean nationalism during the era of Japanese occupation. Beginning in the 1970’s, the use of Chinese characters declined, and now almost all Korean is written in Hangul. Hangul as a language has also evolved since the time of King Sejong, with some letters becoming obsolete; such as the double ㅎ sound, which is no longer used. Other aspects of the original alphabet that are no longer used include marks to show the pitch of words and the dots that were used in the vowel sounds. The dots are now exclusively drawn as short lines.
- How We Celebrate Hangul Day
As a brand that celebrates Korean culture, we incorporate Hangul into most of our designs. This is an aspect of our brand that has been appreciated by our consumers, whether or not they could understand the words. Though some of our customers know how to read Korean, others embraced the design through the translation of the messages.
We have also showcased the importance of Hangul in our Korean School design. With this design, we wanted to pay tribute to Hangul and how it has enabled Koreans to achieve a preservation of ethnic roots and language until today.
This is just a small selection of our releases showcasing Hangul. Make sure to keep checking back for more designs featuring the Korean alphabet.