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Tracing the historic roots of Hangeul

The 2011 smash-hit drama Deep-Rooted Tree tells the fictional story of mysterious serial murders that take place in Gyeongbokgung Palace a week before Hunminjeongeum, or the official Korean phonetic system, is introduced by King Sejong. Actor Jang Hyuk was cast as a former slave who became a royal guard of King Sejong. Actress Shin Se-kyung played the role of a court lady who could not speak due to a childhood trauma but was useful in the creation of the Korean language because of her photographic memory. One year after the drama's end, the two main actors have reunited to spread their love of Hangeul to wider scopes of society.

Two of the main actors in the popular Korean drama Deep-Rooted Tree, Shin Se-kyung (middle) and Jang Hyuk (right), were recently appointed as ambassadors for Hangeul. They will participate in a variety of Hangeul-themed events during this year's Hangeul Week (photo: Yonhap News).

During Hangeul Week from October 5 to 11, the two famous stars will participate in a wide array of cultural events and offerings to encourage a love of Hangeul. There will be a variety of Hangeul-themed events offered in Seoul welcoming people of all ages, before and after Hangeul Proclamation Day on October 9, a national commemorative day marking the invention and proclamation of the Korean native alphabet.

One of the highlights of the festivities will be a parody performance of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” in Gwanghwamun Plaza on October 7, designed to emphasize the true value of the Korean language. The plaza will be full of other cultural offerings during the week, including a calligraphic performance and the projection of a 3D video about the scientific superiority and the aesthetic appeal of Hangeul on and around the statue of King Sejong. Yonsei University and Sookmyung Women’s University will also hold a Korean language writing and speech competition for foreigners.

Hangeul fonts designed for North Korea, part of a special exhibit at the Hangeul Gallery (photo courtesy of Sejong Center of Performing Arts)

Several Hangeul-focused exhibitions are planned too. The Hangeul Gallery in the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts is holding a special exhibit that tells the life story of King Sejong and displays the development of modern Korean alphabet fonts since the 1980s. Visitors to the exhibit can browse through character fonts designed to reflect the personalities of popular cartoon characters like Pororo the Little Penguin as well as a special font designed for North Korea. The gallery also offers a rare and interesting chance to produce customized fonts.

Visitors to the Hangeul Gallery at the Sejong Performing Arts Center can explore a variety of Korean fonts (photo: KOCIS).

Gyeongbokgung Palace will also unveil a special exhibition revealing how writing tools have developed from woodblock printing and metal type to the typewriter. The educational robot Hangeulbot will also open to the public, helping people to learn the Korean writing system in three minutes.

This October will see more than 120 kinds of Hangeul events, designed to celebrate the 615th birthday of King Sejong and the 566th anniversary of the official proclamation of the Korean alphabet. Sejong the Great and scholars invented the Korean writing system in 1446 for the purpose of raising literacy everywhere in Korea but the value was not recognized until 400 years later. The ruling class and the intellectuals of the Joseon Kingdom looked down on the new alphabet system and insisted on using Chinese characters.

However, Koreans began to acquire a stronger attachment to their writing system under the Japanese colonial period. Since then, the Korean script has started to spread out, be widely loved, and finally receive its own official Hangeul day.

The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts unveiled a performance based on Sejong’s Hangeul creation story to commemorate the 615th birthday of King Sejong (photo: Yonhap News).

The scientific superiority of Hangeul has long been recognized worldwide. In 1997, Hangeul, as an alphabet, was uniquely registered in Memory of the World by UNESCO, and the organization gives the King Sejong Literacy Prize to great literary contributors on International Literacy Day every year.

This year’s awards were given to the Improving Quality of Literacy Education through Entrepreneurship Literacy, Reading, Culture and Tutor Training Program created by Indonesia’s Directorate of Community Education Development and the Pentecostal Church’s National Adult Literacy Program of Rwanda.

The Sejong Prize winners are invited to Korea for five days during Hangeul Week to share their experiences at various international conferences and have a taste of Korean life.

By Lee Seung-ah Staff Writer

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