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How Korea crafted a better alphabet – History of Writing Systems #11 (Featural Alphabet)

You guys love reliving the invention of the
Greek and Roman alphabets, like it’s some climax in the history of writing. But real
language nerds drool over Korean, and here’s why. Another time, another king. This time in a
Korean palace. He presents himself as King Sejong. As you get a grip on your surroundings,
you begin to tell him of your journeys. Yet, with a sweeping gaze, the king looks right
past you. You’ve been out for a very long time, over
1000 years. The world has come so far, and the scripts you once knew have, too. He reminds
you of the old Chinese logographs and sound-meaning combinations. Those are still useful to his
court, to a point. You see, Chinese has these nice word units, one after another. But Korean,
he boasts, has these elegantly complex words with different pieces and endings. Fitting
Chinese writing to Korean grammar hasn’t been easy. He tells you of a people across the sea who’ve
gone through a similar struggle. The Japanese simplified Chinese characters by turning them
into a fixed syllabary, which they now use alongside the Chinese characters. So they
have these syllable characters and these thousands of Han characters. They use the Han characters
for the meaning-heavy components, the vocabulary terms. Then they use the syllabary to write
little grammatical words and word pieces or new vocabulary words that don’t historically
have their own Chinese logograph. (Such a complicated system, gentlemen!) The king has an almost puzzled look, like
he’s holding back a punchline. He recounts how, in Old Japan, women wrote entire books
using only the syllable characters, because writing with the traditional Han characters
was seen as the masculine thing to do. But he knows of another land. He’s heard
exotic tales of the West, where people write out all of their sounds logically. He pauses.
He can’t quite grasp this himself. You snicker as you think back on how you saw the alphabet
develop with your own eyes in your journeys. You would know. So you sit down and show him
how to write every vowel and consonant with the alphabet. A couple dozen shapes and you
can write any sound! You smile and think, so simple! But he lets out an unimpressed
sigh. Why do all the characters look so different,
so haphazard? I mean, you make “f” and “v” by putting your bottom lip against
your top teeth, the only difference is that your throat vibrates when you say “v”.
He quizzes you – why do you write “f” and “v”? And he goes on interrogating
you – what about “b”? Why does it look that way, when it’s just taking the “v”
sound and saying it through smacked lips? Seems you underestimated the king. He doesn’t
want any old alphabet. He wants a writing system that shows the various features of
sounds – that the sound is made in your throat, against your teeth, made with your lips, and
so on. He puts his brightest scholars to work, giving them the humble name of the Hall of
Worthies. In go the experts, and out comes another “Major Moments in the History of
Writing”! They develop Korean Hangul, a featural alphabet.
Every syllable gets separated out into its own block. The syllable’s consonants and
vowels will be written side-by-side within that block. Each consonant and vowel letter
inside that block will be shaped according to its features. So here are the consonants
that get pronounced with the lips. See the similar lip shape? Here’s /g/, and here’s
/k/. Again, similar sounds, similar shape. The featural alphabet was so simple and straightforward
that one of the king’s historians almost dared people to learn it: “if you’re smart,
you can learn it in one morning. If you’re a fool, it’ll take you ten days.” Not everyone’s jumping on the Hangul easytrain.
Community-accessible writing bothers traditionalists, who skip out on the innovation and keep using
Chinese characters fitted to Korean, Hanja or Han characters, even into the 1900s. Still,
for the rest, writing is easier than ever. It has its first rockstar. It even gets its
own holiday! Oh, writing! You’ve come a long, long way
from pictographs in a cave.

100 Replies to “How Korea crafted a better alphabet – History of Writing Systems #11 (Featural Alphabet)”

  • ㅸ- This is 'light ㅂ', smiliar to 'v'. not used nowadays. most ㅸhas changed to vowel ㅜ and ㅂ. ex)경상도 사투리 '추ㅸㅓ라' –> '추워라', '울ㅸㅗ' –> '울보'
    ㆄ- light ㅍ, smiliar to 'f'. disappeared a long time ago.
    ㅿ- It was changed to 'ㅇ' or 'ㅅ' since the late 15th century. The original sound is presumed to be the middle pronunciation of 'ㅅ' and 'ㅈ'. 제주도에 지금도 아직 남아있음.

  • 한국사람으로서 이 영상에서 한글이 어떤 창제원리와 중요성을 가지고 있는 지 간략히 설명해주셔서 감사를 표합니다.

    As a Korean person, I would like to express my gratitude for briefly explaining the origins and importance of Hangul in this video.

  • In fact, Hangul was not developed by scholars but was developed by Saejong and his children. Sejong himself was one of the best linguists of his time.

  • 3:30 ㅂ (written using IPA narrow transcription) is [p⁽ʰ⁾], not [b]. Similarly, ㄱ (written using IPA narrow transcription) is [k⁽ʰ⁾], not [g]. Although I understand why you used b and g instead of p⁽ʰ⁾ and k⁽ʰ⁾ (as not everyone watching this would know the IPA and all), some clarification could've been nice considering this is still a language channel.


    3:21 is wrong
    P = ㅍ
    B = ㅂ
    M = ㅁ
    I'm not talking about font. Just the sound in general
    Also the G sound is not ㄱ its ㄲ
    Also I wouldnt say ㅂㅍㅁ are related more like ㅍㅂㅃ

  • Man the comments are so cringe. So much fighting over Hangul , Chiense , Japanese , ect. It is quite frustrating as a Korean learner to read the comments. Simply because I know a lot of the comments are stupid or wrong. People just don't understand the basic rules of Hangul or basic History. Vice versa Chinese is cool , has a ton of culture…. but is not a practical writing system. I would abolish it personally. The Koreans are really smart for what they did.

  • China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam. All of them tried to creat their own character, and only Korea successed. If I am a Koean president, I would save my salary to build a Statue of Liberty follow Sejong the Great already. His work, we don't have any word to explain how great he is.

    I feel shame about my Vietnamese scholars who is pro-Han character. Even in the end of 20th century, they still ask everyone return with Han character – although our ancestor cost 2000 years with that, and literacy rate still very low ( they have to study a foreign language, while don't have even a dictionary, because we didn't have any character to write our native language during that period.).

    It is more shame when they try to lied everyone that in Korean, people still use Hanja as their main character, and don't have any trouble, and tell Vietnamese should study Korean. During 1994, no Vietnamese knew that they were lying.

  • In Korea we still use Chinese writing system and korean (Hangul) Hangul is for general public but Chinese characters is for more learned people

  • This may be a dumb question but did King Sejong just develop Hangul to better express the Korean language or did he actually created the korean language they speak today? Were they just using hanja to try to spell the sounds of Korean?

  • Korea: why do I have to use these characters?
    China: because you need them
    Korea: no I don’t, this is dumb, I mean look at what you did to japan
    Japan: yeah, we didn’t have to learn these stupid characters. NOW LOOK AT US
    Korea: screw this, I’m making my own alphabet.
    Japan: same.
    China*points gun at head. You better keep using em, or die.
    Korea: seriously fuck you china
    Japan yeah fuck you china… ya fucker.

  • depends on your goals. if the goal is efficiency, every kind of shorthand is better, as it can be written faster and more information can be condensed in less space.


    According to Bob Lazar who claimed he saw UFO craft in AREA 51,

    the writing on the inside wall of UFO looks very similar to Korean writing.

  • I think when she wrote down "p b m" and she transposed the korean characters she wrote ㅁ ㅂ ㅍ instead of p for ㅍ b forㅂ and m for ㅁ

  • I think there is a copy of your video here: . Is that copy a ripoff? It was uploaded much after yours.

  • I'm very happy that Koreans are no longer writing Chinese characters because they are not Chinese ( except those Chinese Koreans).

  • This video was about the most efficient language writing system but most of you have gone off topic since it did not emphasis in no way that it was an easy language nor did it say it was the best foreign language out there…xD btw i'm Korean so chill 😉

  • Finally… an alphabet that makes some sort of actual sense – as opposed to being a kind of haphazard accident of history. Of course, it's only 1 alphabet in approximately 500 trillion (as far as I can tell), so everybody else (including me) happily goes on being insane. tavi.

  • The Korean ancestors in ancient times of the ice age survived by escaping from the cold living inside caves.

    They constantly made a fire to avoid the cold and drive wild animals out and they happened to find the copper(CU, bronze).

    The Korean term Copper means caves and bronze.

    In addition, the tribe who had discovered the copper (called copper tribe) created letters originated by the characters like clessi, clethi, cle, glishi and so on..

    Afterwards, they constructed a civilized country Go(古)joseon(chosen)based on the bronze era.

    Eventually, King Sejong not only systemized the letters of Go chosen and but also restored and compiled a language that contained sound(Pronunciation sound, 發音) for the purpose of establishing the identity of chosen(joseon) Dynasty.

    But this historical fact was distorted during the colonization by Japan.

    In addition, many cultural assets and the history of Korea were incorporated into Japan.

    Japan erased four characters such as
    《ㆍ, ㆁ , ㆆ ,ㅿ》 among 28 letters.

    The reason why Japan damaged Korean history is that everyone may be able to realize easily that the owner of the pyramid was the Copper tribe and that Joseon people are the descendants of them if we Koreans still have those four letters.

    The first 《●》 means an initial life particle, the second 《ㆁ》 means the combination of yin and yang initial particles.

    The third 《ㆆ》 means the combined life particles coming down to the horizontal lines.

    The fourth 《ㅿ》 means the life particles are wrapped and protected.

    And 《ㅿ》 is three meaning mountain, pyramid and womb.

    In ancient times people around the world used Korean language. Hangul is a term distorted in the Japanese colonial era. The original term is "CLESSI". This is the roots of languages ​​and characters around the world.

    Koreans are mostly brainwashed in colonial times and do not know history.

    《It is the nation that started rice farming for the first time in the world.》

    In ancient times people around the world used Korean language. Hangul is a term distorted in the Japanese colonial era. The original term is "CLESSI". This is the roots of languages ​​and characters around the world.

    《The history of Baekjae is not Korean history. It distorted Japanese history in colonial times. It is a false history of Korea.》

    The history of Korea is "Buyeo, Goguryeo, Silas".
    This is called "Han".

    These three countries are called "the Three《 han=khan》Kingdoms."

  • I don't understand, how is this history when it's putting me in the story? Is this fact or fiction? I found it hard to concentrate on the content because I kept being confused by whether this is real history or a simplified story… =

  • hellow.hi=anyunghaseyo
    Don't blabla=hajimaseyo
    excuse me=silehamnida
    what is your name?=sunghami uttukedweseyo?
    I'm hungry=ju begopayo
    angry=ju hwanatsuyo
    tired=ju pigonheyo
    happy=ju hengbokheyo

  • Sejong did not order scholars to make Hangul. Rather, most scholars opposed the making of Hangul, and they also held a large-scale rally to stop Sejong from making Hangul. Hangul is a character created by Sejong alone. He only had a few helpers who were in agreement with him, and the idea of the system and shape of the letter stemmed from his ingenuity of Sejong's creativity and phonetics.

  • Korea crafted a better alphabet? how? If the Alphabet was already made how can they make something better and still call it the same name even though they aren't even similar at all in anyway.

    I think you meant script… not alphabet

  • Lived in KOREA for 3 years. What a sick culture. No sir no ma'am. Not for me. Even ashamed I lasted that long in such a place.

  • I don't understand why while listening to this I really want to smash my computer. Even though I really want to know how this king invented this language.

  • 고맙시미다!!! As a person learning korea I think this DOES explain very much of the words and the culture.

  • I first thank you to make this video. However, there is an error in your video about how hangul is created. Hangul is created by only King Sejong. No other scholars helped him. Only he himself made it secretly. It sounds so impossible that even a lot of Koreans don't know correct history. However, cross validations of the references clearly prove that he himself made it alone. It could be possible that some princes and princesses helped him but AT LEAST 95% of work is done only by King Sejong alone. A lot of wrong facts are spread.

    If you need references, "Hunminjeongeum/훈민정음 해례본" and "Sejong Annals/세종 실록" clearly write that King Sejong himself made it. Someone might say I don't believe those books because the king might change the true history. But "Sejong Annals/세종 실록" is very credible source. It is record of every work of each king in Joseon Dynasty. It even records "the king twisted his ankle. Since he was ashamed, he told me to not record this story". Seriously, even kings couldn't stop them recording those facts. Kings were not allowed to even read those records because it might affect the recording. Therefore, the references are really credible.

  • Already know how to pronounce hangul, but suffering to memorize what it means? It's because Hangul letters express the 'sound', not the 'meaning'.

  • Hangul was created by King Sejong himself. It is possible that his sons helped create Hangul. Therefore, it is wrong to say that King Sejong ordered his subjects to make Hangul.

  • Uh, this video is incorrect…. At 3:24 You show P = ㅁ, B = ㅂ, and M = ㅍ. However, it should be P = ㅍ, and M = ㅁ.

  • I know about many writing systems and probably learned Korean faster than anything else, but cannot speak that language almost, except few dozens words when I visited Korea. Very space saving efficient writing methods, if I could put it that way, and very easy on eyes as I understood.

  • Who-…

    Who thinks of their mouth's outline when talking–
    Y'know, I've admitted to myself that I can't learn Korean, I don't get it, i don't get the writing system, it's fine- exhales in relief

  • China: "Let's make everything fancy and complex."

    Japan: "Here, let me mix my language in haphazardly and make it even MORE of a hodgepodge."

    Korea: "Nah fuck that shit."

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