January 31, 2012 13:21
King Sejong the Great, who is credited with inventing the Korean alphabet or Hangeul, is getting attention from linguists around the world. In its "Fifty Key Thinkers" series, British publisher Routledge devotes a chapter to the Korean monarch in the "Fifty Key Thinkers on Language and Linguistics."
The book also covers Plato, Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Saussure and Noam Chomsky. There are only three non-Western figures, the other two being Panini, who laid out the grammar of Classical Sanskrit around the 4th century B.C., and Sibawayh of Persia, a grammarian of Arabic in the 8th century.
"Hangeul has been acclaimed for its succinctness, accuracy, and segmentalized phonological features," explains Prof. Lee Jung-min from the linguistics department of Seoul National University. "The inclusion of King Sejong is an important step."
Western scholars usually divide major writing systems into alphabetical and non-alphabetical letters, with the former placed above examples of the latter such as hieroglyphics and ideograms. But Hangeul is in a way neither, and instead formulates more segmentalized sets of phonetic elements beyond the simple combination of consonants and vowels.
Study of Hangeul has been intensifying overseas. Last March, the Cambridge University Press published "A History of the Korean Language," which sheds light on Hangeul at the linguistic level, while Japanese linguist Hideki Noma cited Hangeul as a "script that gave rise to a revolution in knowledge" in his recently-published book, "The Birth of Hangeul."
Pulitzer Prize winner Jered Diamond, a professor of UCLA, wrote in his best-selling "Guns, Germs and Steel" that Hangeul is seen by the world's linguists as the one of the best-designed alphabets. Prof. Lee said, "As a growing number of foreigners are trying to learn Korean, academic study of Hangeul and its creator is expected to grow."
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