한글

한글, or Hangul, is the Korean alphabet. I’ve been spending a little time learning it while I’m here, and while it looks complicated and difficult, with some practice I found it pretty straightforward.

Hangul is an invented script, as compared to most other writing systems which evolved organically over time. It was designed with the express purpose of being easy to learn, replacing Chinese characters which took lots of time and training to master. It’s phonetic like Latin or Arabic, as opposed to pictographic like Chinese.

The script consists of 6 basic vowels and 10 basic consonants. The shapes of the letters match up with how you move your mouth to say them. Each of those can be modified in certain ways (adding a y to the start of a vowel, for example). These are combined into syllable blocks, each of which has a starting consonant, a vowel, and an optional ending consonant. Add in a few rules to make things easier to pronounce, and you’re pretty much there.

With just a couple hours study, I’m to the point where I can slowly sound out what I see on signs and menus. My Japanese knowledge has been very useful in figuring out pronunciations, since many sounds are transliterated in the same way. The next level would be to get to the point where I’ve chunked all of the possible blocks and don’t have to read individual letters, similar how to you don’t think about letters when you read an English word, but I doubt I’ll get enough practice in my one week here to make much progress there.

The skill isn’t quite practically useful yet, but it makes the world feel a little less inscrutable. It’s especially fun when I discover a transliteration of an English word and can actually understand what I’ve read.

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