Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hurray for Hangul

Indonesian Tribe adopts Hangul

This has got to be the most interesting development for Hangul, the Korean written alphabet ever:

"For the first time ever, the Korean alphabet has been adopted as the official script of a small tribe in a foreign country. The Hunminjeongeum Research Institute on Thursday said that the Cia-Cia tribe of Bau-Bau city on Buton Island, located in the southeastern Indonesian province of Sulawesi, has adopted Korean or Hangul to transcribe its aboriginal language" ("Hangul Adopted as Alphabet of Small Indonesian Tribe" : The Chosun Ilbo).

I mean it makes sense and it's been long overdue (But, something about this story strikes me as a bit perverse, more on that later). As I'd like to just come out and venture that Hangul is probably one of the easiest langauges to pick up (it's written aspect). Perhaps, it'll make for a more meaningful and exciting Hangul Day next year.

My younger brother writes Happy Birthday wishes to our grandmother in Hangeul each year and he does so in this systematic process where he just spells the words out as he thinks it should be heard or spoken -- phonetically that is.

Of course, the fact that he never went to a Korean language school his whole life doesn't hinder him from doing this. He just simply picked it up from our mother; I'm telling you, it's got to be one of the easiest languages to pick up. But, definitely not one very easy to master though (Oh this does bring up that debate about how certain people feel that grammatically Korean has two faces, educated Korean and regular Korean).

Anyways, I get this feeling that the South Korean government -- you see, South Korea lies at the heart of super autocratic and centralized Northeast Asia, so I would venture to guess that in all likelihood language would also be regulated by the government (proper spelling -- imagine that in the states).

Oh, and of small government?

Though despite how pervasively the central governments step on individual liberty, rights, and property in that part of the world (all Northeast Asian countries included), it's amazing how small income (and consumption) taxes are as a share of total income in that part of the world (of course, North Korea would have to be excluded here). For example, I think a recent election pledge in Japan by both parties is to not raise the, of course, national sales tax above the current five percent for the forseeable future.

But of that small share, how much South Korean taxpayer money do you thinking is going into this? I know I just wrote that it makes sense in that Hangul is easy to pick up, but somehow, this story gives me this weird feeling that South Korea is taking advantage of this Indonesian tribe that lacks a written language out of their own vanitybut, something about this story strikes me as a bit perverse as if the South Korean government is somehow taking advantage of this poor innocent Indonesian tribe -- caring more about how this demonstrates what a great written language Hangul is than of the welfare of this poor tribe (somewhat akin to the Recognize Taiwan effect).


  1. I just do see what is so perverse, if this tribe does not adopt an alphabet their native language will likely die in the next few generations and along with it huge swaths of their history and culture.

    As an Anglo that took the time to try and lean Korean I can tell you the alphabet is cake. Its about the only thing I remember.

    It will be interesting to see how this tribe handles sounds that don't exist in Korean...

  2. It does make sense and I agree I think it will be interesting to see how they adapt new sounds to the alphabet (and if they even come up with new characters -- i'm thinking not, considering how the shapes were constructed in the first place), but on another level it seems as if the Koreans are doing it more for their vanity than because they genuinely care about the welfare about this tribe.

    The article in the Chosun Ilbo states "the institute was founded in 2007 to study languages of the world, and to propagate Hangul among tribes whose native languages are on the brink of extinction due to their lack of writing systems."

    So, this institute was founded to first and foremost "propagate Hangul." This is what feels strange. I think it makes much sense as in Hangul was one of the few languages that was invented for the "common" person to become literate. Imagine the same setup in the Western World. I can't imagine institutes being founded "to propagate English among tribes whose languages face extinction" or "propagate English" that is.

    But, by all means, I'm all for it and this unnatural feeling I get is just mere commentary about what I find to be, I guess you can say, the "Korean"-ness of this story -- an institute "to propagate" the Korean written language (by helping tribes whose languages are at risk of extinction).