Korean Writing System

Korean Writing System


a phonetic letter-syllable script used by the Koreans. The writing system was formerly called onmun (”vulgar writing”); it is now known as kunmun (national script) or hangul (great script). In the seventh century Sol Chon created idu (official script) and simplified the complex system of transcribing Korean words and inflectional endings by specially selected and simplified Chinese characters. The invention of the Korean alphabet is attributed to King Sejon (1419-50) and his court scholars and is dated January 1444. In 1446 the king promulgated the edict Hunminjongum (Precept to the People on Proper Pronunciation), in which a phonetic alphabet of 28 letters was introduced for the standardization of Chinese character readings and the transcription of Korean speech. Until the late 19th century, however, Chinese remained the official writing system in Korea. A mixed Chinese-Korean writing system was introduced in 1894.

The letters of the Korean alphabet are grouped together in syllables, forming a type of ligature. The minimal graphic syllable is a silent letter, written as a small circle, and a letter for the vowel. The direction of writing is downward and from right to left, although at present there is an increasing tendency to write horizontally from left to right. The mixed Chinese-Korean writing system is used in South Korea; in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea only the Korean alphabet has been used since June 1949. There are 40 graphemes in the modern Korean alphabet (the order of the graphemes differs in the People’s Democratic Republic and in South Korea). Morphological principles are predominant in the orthography.


Kontsevich, L. R. “Pervyi pamiatnik koreiskoi pis’mennosti.” Narody Azii i Afriki, 1965, no. 4.
Choe Hyon-bae. Hangul kal Seoul, 1942.
Kim Min-su. Chuhae Hunmin chonum. Seoul, 1957.


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