King Sejong – An Excerpt from the Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People

Hunminjeongeum Summary

Today, Korea commemorates the King Sejong’s (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) promulgation of Hangul in 1446 through the publication of The Proper Sounds to Instruct the People, or Hunminjeongeum (訓民正音, 훈민정음). This blogger has been calling for moderation in Hangul pride, and will continue to do so in his posts on Hangul supremacy and exclusivity. He would also like to point out what is most neglected and under-appreciated today about Hangul: that is, that Hangul was an expression of Neo-Confucian (性理學, 성리학) metaphysics. Indeed, the Hunminjeongeum gives insight on how Korean Neo-Confucian scholars viewed phonology in the context of metaphysics. References to the Yin and Yang (陰陽, 음양, Eumyang) and the Five Elements (五行, 오행) are strewn throughout the Hunminjeongeum. Another interesting fact is that there are a total of five Classical Chinese poems, summarizing: (1) all the consonants and vowels; (2) the initial consonants; (3) the medial vowels; (4) the final consonants; and (5) how the initial consonant, medial vowel, and final consonant assemble to form a syllable. The following is from the first poem, which first starts out with Neo-Confucian metaphysics:

訓民正音 훈민정음

The Proper Sounds to Instruct the People

…訣曰: 결왈:

In Summary

天地之化本一氣 천지지화본일기
陰陽五行相始終 음양오행상시종
物於兩間有形聲 물어량간유형성
元本無二理數通 원본무이리수통
正音制字尙其象 정음제자상기상
因聲之厲每加劃 인성지려매가획

The work of heaven and earth was originally one Ki (氣, 기)
The Ying and Yang and Five Elements are mutually the start and the end.
All things between these two have form and sound.
Originally, they were not two and instead passed through logic and reason.
The proper sounds created letters still in their shapes.
Based on obstacles to sound, a stroke was added each time.

Definitions:

  Heaven • earth • possessive marker • change • originally • one • energy
Yin • yang • five • elements • mutually • start • end
Things • locative marker • two • spaces • to have • form • sound
Originally • originally • to have not • two • logic • reason • to pass
Proper • sound • to create • letters • still • their • shape
Because of • sound • possessive marker • obstacles • each time • to add • strokes

Notes:

  • Five elements (五行, 오행) of Neo-Confucian metaphysics were: wood (木, 목), fire (火, 화), earth (土, 토), metal (金, 금), and water (水, 수).

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