On Oct. 9, South Korea celebrated Hangul Day, which pays tribute to King Sejong the Great, the inventor of the Korean alphabet. Hangul Day is a national holiday in South Korea.
I am embarrassed to admit that when I first came to South Korea and saw the statue of King Sejong the Great in Gwanghwamun Plaza, I did not recognize him. I also did not understand why South Korean people admired him so much.
When I was a student in North Korea, I remember that my history teacher briefly mentioned that our alphabet was created during King Sejong’s reign. It was in South Korea, however, where I realized that he was directly involved in creating hangul.
In South Korea, there are many organizations that promote the Korean language and, recently, there was even a movie that was released about Korean patriots fought to protect the Korean language during Japanese colonial rule.
NORTH KOREA’S FALSE PROPAGANDA
North Korea is telling North Koreans, however, that the Kim family invented and developed the Korean alphabet.
An article published in Rodong Sinmun on Apr. 29, 2018, claimed that the world praises the Korean language and that “Linguists from many different countries of the world say that the Korean writing has a unique system that cannot be compared to the writing systems of other countries.”
The article goes on to say that if cultures are measured by spoken and written languages, the Korean people and culture would be considered as number one in the world. It ends by stating that the Korean writing system is easy to learn and very expressive.
What is interesting about the article, however, is the following.
The article claims that the Korean language’s superiority and unique ethnic characteristics were made even greater under the wise leadership of our history’s greatest leaders. “The Great Marshall [Kim Il Sung] get rid of Japan’s barbarous colonial rule, which had set out to completely destroy our people’s language. He gave us back our language,” the article claims.
The article also emphasized that “[Kim Il Sung] cleansed the remnants of flunkeyism and dogmatism that had existed in the Korean language and allowed it to blossom into a language representing the [Korean] revolution and culture.”
The article further claimed that Kim Il Sung taught Koreans that they can protect the purity of their language by using only native Korean words and avoiding the use of foreign loan words and words based off of Chinese characters.
The article goes on to extol the role of “great patriots” in ensuring the Korean language could reach new heights in its development and that “Today, the Korean language is becoming even more refined and enriched because of the Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un].”
North Korean propaganda has ultimately created ambiguity about who actually created Hangul and is allowing them to believe that the Kim family created the writing system.
UNIFYING THE KOREAN LANGUAGE
In the world today, there are around 7,000 different languages used by around 3,000 different groups of people. There are only 28 writing systems, however, and among them, Hangul is the only one where it is clear who made it, when it was created and why.
It is heartbreaking to see that even the Korean language is being divided after almost 70 years of division between the two Koreas.
The two Koreas agreed to create a single Korean language dictionary in 2005. Work on this dictionary, however, has not begun because of North Korea’s uncooperative attitude.
Both Koreas must now come together to create a single dictionary that can unite our language once again.
*Translated by Yongmin Lee
Thae Yong Ho’s most recent column on North Korea’s SLBM launch can be found here.