The thought or hypotheses that Language is a partner to empire, empire to me is synonymous with power, therefore if language is the partner of empire, then language itself is powerful. Korean is one of the world’s oldest living languages. Korea a dynastic country with a royal family and a hierarchy founded in Confucianism, until its colonization by the Japanese in 1910. The most notable and most revered king throughout Korean history is King Sejong the Great.
King Sejong, the Great of the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), is known for facilitating the creation of Hangul the written language of Korea. While many other languages are not considered inventions, the Korean language, however, was created through the work of scholars. (Kim-Renaud 19) Despite this Koreans celebrate King Sejong as its creator.
“In the 15th century, King Sejong of Korea appointed a committee to assist him in designing a new script that would be well-suited to the country’s language, and usable by ordinary people. The committee did its work brilliantly, and produced the script that is known today as Hangul.” (Burling 1992, 404)
People not only call Sejong the great for founding the written language of Korea but for think of the people as well. Korea at the time like many other nations ruled by a monarchy is that there was a mass amount of commoners who were illiterate. At the time Korea had no written language of its own it used Hanja as its written language which was only accessible to the wealthy who could afford to educate themselves and their children, in the hierarchy rooted in Confucianism only those of a certain class and gender were able to go to schools and become educated. Seeing this Sejong wanted to make the written language of Korea a language that the ordinary people could use.
In the 25th year of Sejong rule, the Korean alphabet was complete by 1443, The new written language that had 28 letters. At the time was called by the king “the correct sounds for the instruction of the people” (Kim-Renaud 15) Hangul as it is known today has 24 letters, 14 consonants, and 10 vowels.
By ordering the creation of a language the king help to unify the country under one language, strengthening its power and place in society, in Asia as it no longer borrowed China’s characters. It helps to solidify and legitimize the rule and power of Korea. In unity there is power.
Korea went through a long struggle with language throughout history, first using a borrowed language which “King Sejong noted that using Chinese characters for Korean was “like trying to fit a square handle into a round hole.”(economist) Secondly, the Korean language being banned under Chinese rule and then later Japanese rule. Because of the problematic past, the Korean language has had the Korean people are very proud of their language because of creation and meaning behind it. On October 9th South Korea celebrates the birth of Hangul, with a day off. South Korea known for its booming entertainment industry has even shown their appreciation and pride for the Korean language and Hangul in the form of using music to convey history. In a collaboration with comedians and artists, one that I would like to share that was a beautiful song but still had a more profound meaning behind it.
Burling, Robbins. Patterns of Language: Structure, Variation, Change. Acad. P, 1992.
“How Was Hangul Invented?” The Economist, 8 Oct. 2013, http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/10/economist-explains-7.
Kim-Renaud, Young-Key, editor. The Korean Alphabet: Its History and Structure. U of Hawai’i P, 1997.
Lewis, Jayne. ““Call me X”: Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest (1969).” Humanities Core, 15 Feb. 2018, University of California, Irvine. HIB 100. Lecture.