Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hangul for Languages Without Writing System

Excerpt from Wikipedia:
In 2009, Cia-Cia language gained international media attention as the town of Bau-Bau was teaching children to read and write Cia-Cia in Korean Hangul (Korean Alphabet), and the mayor consulted with the Indonesian government on the possibility of making the writing system official. However, in 2012 it was reported that hangul adoption seems to hit a snag.

There were a few more occasions where people with their own spoken language without writing system tried to adopt Hangul (Korean Alphabet). It seems we don't have a success story yet, but this kind of news makes Koreans very proud.

Koreans themselves didn't have good writing system either until Great King Sejong invented Hangul in 1443. So how did we write our spoken language before then?

We borrowed Chinese letters. There were various ways but all used Chinese letters.

  1. Sometimes Chinese letters meant the same thing as it would mean in China, and are read as-is, with, let's say, Korean accent.
  2. Sometimes we used Chinese letters to borrow its meanings only and read as Korean word for the meaning. And that letter can be also used in #1 way. So one letter could be read in two ways. You go by context.
  3. Sometimes we used Chinese letters to borrow its sound only. And that letter can be also used in #1 way, so one letter could mean two different things. You go by context.

On top of that, each Chinese letter has to be taught to know how to read them. I am just glad I was not born back then. This is a lot of challenge to communicate in written form.

To all the people who try to use Hangul for their writing system - I hope it works out!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Typing Korean Using Computer Keyboard

Just like we have QWERTY and DVORAK in English keyboard, there are two types of Korean keyboard mappings. One is called 2-bulsik, and the other is called 3-bulsik.

And just like QWERTY is way more popular than DVORAK, 2-bulsik is a lot more widely used than 3-bulsik. 2-bulsik is more user friendly whereas 3-bulsik is for power users. Unless typing Korean is your full day job, you would be happy with 2-bulsik.

2-bulsik is simulated on this website.

Left hand for consonants and right hand for vowels.

You know Korean consonants can be placed as the beginning sound of the letter, or the ending sound of the letter. Using 2-bulsik, you just keep pressing the consonants and vowels of the words and the input system will automatically figure out whether to make the consonant as ending sound of current letter or beginning sound of the next letter. For example,

You type ㄱ + ㅏ => you get 가
You type ㄱ + ㅏ + ㄱ => you get 각
You type ㄱ + ㅏ + ㄱ + ㅏ => you get 가가

You type ㄱ + ㅏ + ㄱ + ㄱ + ㅏ => you get 각가

* You do Shift + ㄱ to type ㄲ. 

The difference with 3-bulsik is that it assigns different keys for the beginning consonant and ending consonant. It increases the number of keys we need to memorize, but you might be able to type a little bit faster since you don't have bottleneck on your left hand. Think about typing 각각각각각 in 2-bulsik: 10 times R key and 5 times K key.

Still, 2 bulsik is not bad at all. Personally I can type in both layouts.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Same Korean Alphabet in Different Styles

Some consonants can be written differently. You might think they are different consonants, but they are just different writing style of the same consonant.

Here is the full list of them. (Please forgive my bad handwriting.)

And thank you Steve, for being the very first person giving me a nice feedback about my application. I am so glad that I could help somebody learning how to read Korean.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Korean Letters into Pictures

Have you watched WordWorld from PBS Kids?

There is Korean designer's weekly blog that converts Korean letters into beautiful pictures. Check it out and see if you can make Korean letters out of the pictures.

Here, 한글 is illustrated as a dragon: 

(the copyright doesn't allow anything other than link distribution.)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

애/에: Koreans Can't Tell The Difference Either

In case you mastered how to read Korean letters, you might have found these letters sound extremely similar.

에 - 애
예 - 얘
왜 - 웨 - 외

The truth is, even Koreans have trouble differentiating them. Some say they do, but it is close enough that it becomes waste of time to learn how to pronounce them correctly.

Don't worry. Everybody knows it is so close, so when you say something Koreans will rely on the context to get what you mean, rather than your pronunciation. Here are some talks among Koreans saying "I can't differentiate them. Can you?" (Sorry, discussion is all in Korean. :) )

Monday, February 6, 2012

Typing Korean Using Phone Keypad

In America, you have only one way to type alphabet using telephone. 2 for ABC, 3 for DEF, etc.

In Korea, there was no national standard until last year so each mobile company came up with their own versions. Some of them were total nonsense in early days, but this is one of the few brilliant ones. No wonder it became the standard.

All the vowels are inputted using the three symbols on 1, 2 and 3. Just like how vowel shapes are designed after. If you don’t know what I mean, check my previous post.

For example,

가 = 412
거 = 421
갸 = 4122
겨 = 4221

The vowel disassembly is very easy, and fun.

It is called Ch’eon-Ji-In keypad, which means heaven-earth-human, the three elements of vowel shape modeling.

* image source:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Korean Alphabet Shapes Mean Something

Unlike English alphabet, Korean alphabet is invented. When Korean alphabet was invented, there was some thought behind the shape of them. – Vowels Design – Consonants Design

Consonant shapes are designed after the shape of human’s speech organs when you make the sound. Vowel shapes are designed after the symbols for heaven, earth and human.

So all the 11,172 Korean letters are made from 24 alphabets, and 24 alphabets are made from just 8 basis shapes!