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Gansong Art Museum, Seoul, South Korea
The first page of the foreward written by King Sejong the Great
Also known asThe Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People
DateOctober 9, 1446 (government of Joeson)
Place of originSeoul, Joseon
Scribe(s)Hall of Worthies
ScriptClassical Chinese
ContentsIntroduction of the native Korean writing system Hangul
Korean name
Revised RomanizationHunminjeongeum
Korean name
Revised RomanizationHunminjeongeum

Hunminjeongeum (Korean훈민정음; Hanja訓民正音; lit. The Correct/Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People) is (1) an old name for Hangul, and it is also (2) the name of a 15th-century historical document/book that introduced the principle of the creation and usage of the Hunminjeongeum.

Hunminjeongeum was commissioned and supervised by Sejong the Great based on a writing system (Hunminjeongeum) he invented in 1443 and was published in 1446.[1]

Hunminjeongeum was intended to be a simpler alternative to the incumbent Chinese-based Hanja, in order to promote literacy among the general populace. It originally included 28 letters , but over time, four of those (ㆆ, ㆁ, ㅿ, ·) were abandoned,[2] leading to the current 24 letters of Hangul.

Sejong the Great ordered the Hall of Worthies to publish a book called Hunminjeongeum Haerye, which is an explanatory book for Hunminjeongeum.[1] A copy of the Hunminjeongeum Haerye was discovered in Andong, Gyeongsang Province, in 1940 after 500 years.[1] An original copy of the document is currently located at the Gansong Art Museum in Seoul, South Korea.[1]

In 1962, Hunminjeongeum Haerye was designated a National Treasure in South Korea[1] and was registered by UNESCO in the Memory of the World Programme in 1997.[3]

Gwanghwamun(palace) Geunjeongjeon(hall) where ‘Sejong the Great’ did his enthronement


Before Hangul, the Korean alphabet, was created, Koreans used Chinese characters to record their words.[4] Since Chinese language and Korean language share few similarities, borrowing Chinese characters proved to be inefficient to reflect the spoken language.[4] In addition, at the time when Sejong the Great was inventing Hangul the Ming dynasty had just come to power in China, which changed the pronunciation of Chinese characters, making it harder for Koreans to learn the new standard pronunciation to record their words.[5] The illiteracy level also stayed high since reading and learning Chinese characters was restricted among the ordinary people. They were generally used in official documents by the ruling class.[4][6] The ruling class took advantage of this and learning the Chinese characters became a symbol of power and privilege.[4] In order to make written language more accessible for common people, Sejong the Great started creating Hangul secretly, since the ruling class would be appalled by the news.[4]

Hangul was personally created by Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty, and revealed by him in 1443.[7][8][1][9] Although it is widely assumed that Sejong the Great ordered the Hall of Worthies to invent Hangul, contemporary records such as the Veritable Records of King Sejong and Jeong Inji's preface to the Hunminjeongeum Haerye emphasize that he invented it himself.[4] This is stated in Book 113 of The Annals of King Sejong (Sejongsillok) on the 9th month and the 28th year of reign of King Sejong and at the end of An Illustrated Explanation of Hunminjeongeum (Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon; Hunminjeongeum Haerye).[5] Afterward, King Sejong wrote the preface to the Hunminjeongeum, explaining the origin and purpose of Hangul and providing brief examples and explanations, and then tasked the Hall of Worthies to write detailed examples and explanations.[1] The head of the Hall of Worthies, Jeong In-ji, was responsible for compiling the Hunminjeongeum.[9] The Hunminjeongeum was published and promulgated to the public in 1446.[1] The writing system is referred to as Hangul today but was originally named as Hunminjeongeum by King Sejong. "Hunmin" and "Jeongeum" are respective words that each indicate "to teach the people" and "proper sounds."[5] Together Hunminjeongeum means "correct sounds for the instruction of the people."[10]

Versions and Content[edit]

There are three versions of Hunminjeongeum.

Hunminjeongeum Yeui is written in Classical Chinese/Hanja and contains a preface, the alphabet letters, and brief descriptions of their corresponding sounds.[12]

The first paragraph of the document reveals Sejong the Great's motivation for creating Hangul:

Classical Chinese/Hanja[14] 國之語音
故愚民 有所欲言
Transliteration Kwúyk ci ngě qum / Í hhwo tyung kwúyk / Yě mwun ccó pwúlq syang lyuw thwong / Kwó ngwu min wǔw swǒ ywók ngen / Zi cyung pwúlq túk sin kkuy ccyeng cyǎ ta ngǔy / Ye wúy chǒ mǐn zyen / Sin cyéy zí ssíp pálq ccó / Ywók sǒ zin zin í ssíp ppyen qe zílq ywóng zǐ.

The Classical Chinese (Hanja) of the Hunminjeongeum has been partly translated into Middle Korean. This translation is found together with Worinseokbo: an annotated Buddhist scripture and is called the Hunminjeongeum Eonhae.[15]

Worinseokbo / Hunminjeongeum Eonhae
Preface of Hunminjeongeum
Hanja + Hangul[16] 귁〮ᅌᅥᆼ〯ᅙᅳᆷ이〮
Transliteration Kwúyk ci ngě qum í / Í hhwo tyung kwúyk hó yá / Yě mwun ccó lwó pwúlq syang lyuw thwong hol ssóy / Kwó lwó ngwu min í wǔw swǒ ywók ngen hó ya dwó / Zi cyung pwúlq túk sin kkuy ccyeng cyǎ y ta ngǔy lá / Ye y wúy chǒ mǐn zyen hó yá / Sin cyéy zí ssíp pálq ccó hó nwo ní / Ywók sǒ zin zin ó lwó í ssíp hó yá ppyen qe zílq ywóng zǐ ni lá.
Middle Korean[16] 나랏〮말〯ᄊᆞ미〮
Transliteration Na lás mǎl sso mí / Tyung kwúyk éy tal á / Mwun ccó wá lwó se lu so mos tí a ní hol ssóy / Í len cyen chó lwó e lín póyk syéng í ni lu kwó cyé hwólq páy i syé twó / Mo chóm nǎy cey ptú túl si lé phye tí mwǒt holq nwó mí ha ní lá / Náy í lól wúy hó yá ě yes pí ne kyé / Sáy lwó sú múl ye túlp ccó lól moyng kó nwo ní / Sǎ lom mǎ tá hǒi GGyé sǔ Wí ni kyé nál lwó pswú méy ppyen qan khúy ho kwó cyé holq sto lo mí ni lá.

Because the speech of this country is different from that of China, it [the spoken language] does not match the [Chinese] letters. Therefore, even if the ignorant want to communicate, many of them, in the end, cannot successfully express themselves. Saddened by this, I have [had] 28 letters newly made. It is my wish that all the people may easily learn these letters and that [they] be convenient for daily use.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Hunminjeongeum Manuscript". Cultural Heritage Administration. Cultural Heritage Administration. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  2. ^ "한글". Encyclopedia of Korean Culture (in Korean). Retrieved February 17, 2024.
  3. ^ "Hunminjeongum Manuscript". UNESCO. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "알고 싶은 한글". National Institute of Korean Language. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Lee, Sang Gyu (Autumn 2007). "The World's Preeminent Writing System: Hangeul". Koreana. 21 (3): 8–15.
  6. ^ Pae, Hye K.; Bae, Sungbong; Yi, Kwangoh (2019). "More than an alphabet". Written Language & Literacy. 22 (2): 223–246. doi:10.1075/wll.00027.pae. S2CID 216548163.
  7. ^ Kim-Renaud, Young-Key (1997). The Korean Alphabet: Its History and Structure. University of Hawaii Press. p. 15. ISBN 9780824817237. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
  8. ^ "알고 싶은 한글". National Institute of Korean Language. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  9. ^ a b Paik, Syeung-gil (Winter 1997). "Preserving Korea's Documents: UNESCO's 'Memory of the World Register'". Koreana. The Korea Foundation. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  10. ^ Lee, Ji-young (December 2013). "Hangeul" (PDF). The Understanding Korea Series. Academy of Korean Studies Press. Archived from the original on March 9, 2021.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  11. ^ "우리역사넷". Retrieved February 17, 2024.
  12. ^ a b "훈민정음(訓民正音)". Encyclopedia of Korean Culture (in Korean). Retrieved February 17, 2024.
  13. ^ "훈민정음(訓民正音)". Encyclopedia of Korean Culture (in Korean). Retrieved February 17, 2024.
  14. ^ "한국고전원문자료관". Retrieved February 17, 2024.
  15. ^ "보물 월인석보 권1~2 (月印釋譜 卷一~二) : 국가문화유산포털 - 문화재청". Heritage Portal : CULTURAL HERITAGE ADMINISTRATION (in Korean). Retrieved February 17, 2024.
  16. ^ a b "StreamDocs". Retrieved February 17, 2024.

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