Full Text

Korean writing

Subject Linguistics

Place Eastern Asia » Korea

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


The Koreans first learned the art of writing from China. From the first to the seventh centuries ce the Chinese written language was the official medium of written communication on the Korean peninsula. Once the Koreans started to use Chinese characters, called hanja in Korean, for writing their own language, they employed two adaptation strategies, one based on pronunciation, one on meaning. In the first, a hanja was used to represent a syllable irrespective of its meaning in Chinese. For example, Chinese kû ‘old’ was used to write the Korean syllable ko . In the second, a hanja was used to represent a Korean word which corresponded in meaning to the Chinese word/morpheme written with it. For example, Chinese shûi ‘water’ was given the reading mul , the Korean word for ‘water’. The next step was to write hanja in Korean word order, a practice which led to the development of an extremely contrived written language called ido . Hanja were used in both of the above functions side by side, that is semantically adapted characters for lexical stems and phonetically adapted characters for suffixes and all other grammatical morphemes. This made for difficult reading since the functional difference was not visible. One way of facilitating reading was to graphically distinguish the hanja used as phonograms. Accordingly, in the thirteenth century some of the grammatical ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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