March 14, 2010 | Korean

A “Scientifically Designed” Writing System

In which I finish Korean Pimsleur Level I (finally!) and practice the alphabet.

Today I finished Level I of Korean Pimsleur. It took me 42 days, the longest by far it has taken me to get through a single level of Pimsleur. Following on the heels of Italian, where I finished all three levels in 19 days, the experience is a little shocking. It’s only partly about the difficulty of the language, however; it has been an unusually busy month and a half, and I simply didn’t get as much studying done (though I still never missed a day!).

Anyway, tomorrow I begin Level II, which I intend to finish no matter what by the end of this month. I will have to pick up the pace. A lot. (There is no Level III for Korean.)

My ability to recognize Korean letters on a page is improving. I have had to read the same sections of my books over and over, and practice the same letters over and over, but I am now finally starting to get somewhere.

My Elementary Korean textbook, by Ross King and Jaehoon Yeon, describes Hangeul, the Korean writing system, as “one of the most scientifically designed and efficient scripts in the world.” It says it was “promulgated in 1446 by the sage King Sejong” under a title meaning “The Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People,” and that it was the “product of deliberate, linguistically informed planning.”

The book continues, “The Korean script is remarkably original and has resisted all attempts to prove its relationship to this or that other system of writing.”

Some Korean Syllables

I find Korean visually fascinating. Each syllable in a word has to be roughly the same size, but syllables can consist of two, three, or four letters. That means you have to plan ahead: if a syllable has four letters, you need to make those letters smaller or they won’t fit in the allotted space. A two-letter syllable is generally roomier than one with more letters. A four-letter syllable, on the other hand, often resembles a Manhattan hotel room.

I keep copying over Korean words and phrases to try to make the writing more second-nature. It is slow going, but fun. Included here are some syllable samples; any defects in form are my own.

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