Today is Hangeul Day (aka Korean Alphabet Day) in South Korea. The Korean alphabet, or Hangeul (한글), was devised by King Sejong the Great (1397–1450) and first revealed to the world in 1446. To mark the anniversary of momentous occasion the Hangeul Society established Hangeul Day in 1926. The date of this celebration has varied a bit over the years, but was fixed as 9th October in 1945 and has been celebrated on this day ever since. It was also a public holiday in 1991. The Koreans are the only people who have a special day to celebrate their alphabet, and not surprisingly they are very proud of Hangeul.
Before the invention of Hangeul the Korean language was rarely written, and the few aristocrats who could write it used Chinese characters. King Sejong realised that Chinese characters were unsuitable for writing Korean as the sound systems of the two languages were quite different, and because the characters were very difficult to learn. As a alternative he proposed a simple alphabet consisting of 28 letters which was easy to learn, and to read and write. King Sejong believed that all his subjects, including men woman and children, should be taught to read and write, and Hangeul made this possible. At this time the idea of universal literacy was generally not considered necessary or even desirable, as a result King Sejong is considered a wise and benevolent ruler who longed to bring literacy to all his subjects. While there was opposition to the new alphabet from the elite, the common people took to it with enthusiasm.
The Hangeul alphabet in current use has been slightly modified since King Sejong’s time and consists of 24 letters – 14 consonants and 10 vowels. The letters are written in syllable blocks, as the image on the left demonstrates, and can be written from right to left in vertical columns, or from left to right in horizontal lines. It represents all the sounds of Korean and is easy to learn.