Hangul Proclamation Day, the day to celebrate the Korean alphabet, has been re-designated as a national holiday in 23 years. Many people are simply happy to have one more day marked red in the calendar. How did this day make its way back to the so-called “red days?” Until not so long ago, one would face lots of minor inconveniences in life if she couldn’t read Hanmun, or Chinese characters. We today take Hangul for granted, but it was in fact only possible thanks to the people who put enormous time and effort to promote Hangul as the standard alphabet we use. We have asked these people about the meaning of Hangul Day being designated as a public holiday again.
No One Remembers unless It is a “Red Day”
Being designated as a national holiday can’t mean much if we do not take a day off to celebrate the meaning. We officially take rest on all other imported religious dates such as the birthdays of Buddha or Jesus, and it makes little sense not to celebrate the proclamation of Hangul, which embodies the spirit of our nation and its people. It is important that the whole nation celebrate Hangul and be thankful for having a language for our own. Now Hangul has become more prevalent than Chinese characters in Korea, but we still see many phrases formed entirely with Chinese characters quite frequently, even in major national events. Those are the unwanted vestige of the time when Japanese imperialism plagued Korea. This is more than just an issue of foreign-rooted terms and phrases: this is about the nation’s pride and dignity. While other nations are struggling to use their own language other than imported ones, we are still hearing misguided arguments promoting Chinese characters or English more passionately than Hangul. We need to focus more on replacing these foreign expressions with Korean ones.
-Lee Yunok (Head of the Institute for Harmonizing Korean & Japanese Culture, former member of Korean Language Refinement Committee at the National Institute of the Korean Language)
Information Age, Korea’s Future Depends on Hangul
Hangul is a language that fits perfectly in this information age. Consisting of 24 letters (28 when first created), Korean is easier and faster to type. Since it is a set of phonetic symbols, it is optimal for building voice-recognition software or automatic translation machine. Among all alphabets based on phonetic symbols, Hangul is the only one that beats the Roman alphabet. While there could be 8 different ways to pronounce ‘a’ in English, for example, there is only one pronunciation for each vowel or consonant in Hangul. In terms of language, Korea would be able to easily outshine the conventional powers such as the US, Japan, or China. Hangul deserves more respect for its excellence itself, but the bigger reason why we need to promote Hangul is because it will be one of the strong weapons we can pass down to our future generations. Hangul is the most valuable cultural asset, and that is why some like-minded people are actively utilizing Hangul itself as an important cultural attraction and make the birthplace of King Sejong, the creator of Hangul, a must-see for tourists.
- Lee Daero (Representative of People’s Association for Promoting Korean Language, former representative of Nationwide Support Committee for Hangul Day as a Statutory Holiday)
Globalization of Korean Contributes to Cultural Diversity
Come to think of it, we are lucky to have Hangul as our language. If it weren’t for the creation of Hangul in the early Chosun dynasty, we would have had a very difficult time communicating, having to memorize numerous Chinese characters to express ourselves. King Sejong’s idea behind creating Hangul was to let each and every one in the nation easily learn our own language. But using Hangul can help learning not only Korean but other languages around the world as well. It can be a global alphabet because it can describe every sound. Esperanto was about creating a unified language, but Hangul looks beyond that aim. With Hangul, people who only have spoken language and not a written one can also record and preserve their culture. By spreading Hangul, we can help others express their language in written words and preserve their culture, meaning we would be contributing to cultural diversity.
- Shin Kinam (Lawmaker, former representative of National Assembly Members’ Committee for Hangul Day as a National Holiday)
Fluency in Mother-Tongue Leads to Better Thinking Skills
Today’s parents in Korea are scrambling to teach their children English, without realizing that to be fluent in other languages, you need to first become fluent in your mother tongue. Fluency in your mother tongue can tell a lot about your decency. The decency of a human depends on one’s ability to think, and the ability to think can be developed only when the person has a full command on her native language since it is the tool with which we form our ideas and opinions. A useful analogy here is this: it’s easier to fill a cup with water when the cup is already filled with pebbles. The same goes for learning languages. A person who has an excellent command on her mother tongue will also be faster and more efficient in learning foreign languages. Also, early English education will be in vain if the learner lacks basic thinking skills. Thus, it goes without saying that we need to keep in mind the importance of our own language, Hangul.
- Yoon Jeehee (Representative of No Worry for Private Education, former president of Parent’s Association for True Education)
*History of Hangul Day
Hangul Day was designated in 1926 by Chosun Language Research Association, which was then headed by Ju Sigyeong. The movement to promote Hangul shares its root with the independence movement. Ju Sigyeong, Seo Jaepil, Lee Eunsang, Choi Hyunbae, and many other leading scholars and luminaries of the time strongly believed that language is the soul of a nation and zealously promoted Hangul in an aspiration to set Chosun free. Since the end of 1960s, after surviving the tough times of Japanese annexation and Korean War, people began actively campaigning against mixing Chinese characters and for replacing foreign expressions with Korean ones. In the 1960s, one couldn’t finish reading a single sentence in a newspaper if she didn’t know Chinese characters; by 1990, however, all newspapers began to be published in Hangul only. Changes began to show with the establishment of The Hankyoreh in 1998 rejecting the use of Chinese characters, and Joongang Ilbo followed suit 7 years later. Hangul Day became a national commemoration day only after president Roh Taewoo took office. After Hangul Day’s legal status as a holiday was removed in 1990, Jeon Taekbu and many other guardians of Hangul pushed hard to recover its status. Almost 70 members of the National Assembly including Shin Kinam, Roh Hoechan, Lee Kyejin, and Kim Jaeyoon submitted a bill to make Hangul Day a national holiday, which passed in 2005. Statutory holidays, however, are decided by Presidential Decrees, so Koreans still couldn’t take a day off on Hangul Day. That motivated countless Hangul advocacy groups as well as civic organizations like the Korean Teachers & Education Workers’ Union (KTU), Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), and People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) to establish a support group for reinstating Hangul Day’s status as a statutory holiday and appeal to Korean citizens to join the movement through signature-collection movements. Thanks to such efforts, Hangul Day finally became a statutory holiday again.
*The timeline of Hangul Day
1926: Hangul Day was declared
1949: Hangul Day was designated as a statutory holiday
1990: Hangul Day lost its status as a statutory holiday
2000: A petition and a bill to reinstate Hangul Day’s national holiday status were submitted
2000: A public hearing was held on this issue
2001: A nationwide support committee for Hangul Day as a national holiday was established (Chair: Jeon Taekbu)
2004: A bill to reinstate Hangul Day as a national holiday was submitted once again
2005: The National Assembly passed the bill
2012 March: A nationwide support group to make Hangul Day a statutory holiday was established (Standing Representative: Lee Daero)
2012 September: Hangul Day became a statutory holiday again