On Hangul Supremacy & Exclusivity – Mixed Script Predates the Japanese Colonial Period

Yongbieocheonga

Songs of Dragons Flying to Heaven (龍飛御天歌, 용비어천가) was one of the first works to use Hangul. Note that it is in mixed script.

This is one post in series on Hangul Supremacy and Hangul Exclusivity. Hangul Supremacy (–優秀主義, 한글우수주의) is the widespread belief that Hangul is superior, especially in opposition to Chinese characters. Hangul Exclusivity (–專用, 한글전용) is closely related and refers to writing exclusively in Hangul. The purpose of these posts is to introduce Anglophone readers to the Korean debate over Hangul and Hanja. 

Mixed Script Predates the Japanese Colonial Period

Claim: Hangul-Hanja Mixed Script (國漢文混用, 국한문혼용) is a Japanese creation, and was imposed upon the Korean people during the Japanese colonial period. Late 19th century works in mixed script already show Japan’s influence upon Korea.

Rebuttal: While its use did increase in the late 19th century, Hangul-Hanja Mixed Script has been in continual existence since the promulgation of Hangul in the 15th century.

Mixed Script’s Continual Existence Since the 15th Century

Works in Mixed Script

Works in mixed script from the 15th century to the 19th century. From left to right and top to bottom, Seokbosangjeol (釋譜祥節, 석보상절), Queen Soheon’s Naehun (昭憲王后 內訓, 소현왕후 내훈), Songgang Gasa (松江歌辭, 송강가사), Haeho Byeolgok (海湖別曲, 해호별곡), Cheongguyeong’eon (靑丘永言, 청구영언), and Damrakga (湛樂歌, 담락가).

Hangul-Hanja Mixed Script has been in continual use since the inception of Hangul. Some of the very first works using Hangul were in mixed script. Some of these were written by the Chosun Court. The Songs of Dragons Flying to Heaven (龍飛御天歌, 용비어천가) was written by King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1379-1450, r. 1418-1450) in 1447. Three other works, all Buddhist, the Seokbosangjeol  (釋譜祥節, 석보상절) in 1446, the Weol’inseokbo (月印釋譜, 월인석보) in 1459, and the A Vernacular Translation of the Lotus Sutra (法華經諺解, 법경화언해) in 1463 were written by King Sejo (世祖, 세조, 1417-1468, r. 1455-1468) himself.

In the proceeding centuries, many Buddhist and Confucian works and Gasa (歌辭, 가사), a form of Korean poetry, were written in mixed script. To name just a few: A Vernacular Translation of the Minor Learning (小學諺解, 소학언해), a Confucian catechism, in 1588; Childaemanbeop (七大萬法, 칠대만법), a Buddhist catechism, in 1569; Akjang Gasa (樂章歌詞, 악장가사), the oldest collection of Gasa, sometime during the 16th century; Haeho Byeolgok (海湖別曲, 해호별곡), a Gasa, in 1625; A Vernacular Translation of the Classic of Histories (書經諺解, 서경언해), a Confucian work, in 1695; Cheongguyeong’eon (靑丘永言, 청구영언), a Gasa, in 1728; and Damrakga (湛樂歌, 담락가), a Gasa, in the early 19th century. Kim Satgat (金笠, 김삿갓, 1807-1863), one of the most famous Korean poet from the Chosun dynasty who primarily wrote Classical Chinese poetry, himself wrote a few poems in mixed script. 

The Concept of Mixed Script Prior to Hangul

Gugyeol

Gugyeol (句結, 구결) in a Buddhist text.

As an aside, the concept of “mixed script” in Korea even predates Hangul. Prior and even after to the promulgation of Hangul, Koreans used two writing systems known as Idu (吏讀, 이두) and Gugyeol (句結, 구결) to transcribe Korean grammatical particles to aid in reading in Classical Chinese texts. Both these were mixed script. Idu used either the pronunciation or the Korean native reading of the character to transcribe the grammatical particle. Gugyeol used specialized marking based on simplifications of Hanja for the same purpose. Both of these systems were gradually superseded by Hyeonto (懸吐, 현토), which uses Hangul to transcribe Korean grammatical particles in Classical Chinese texts. Many Korean books today with side-by-side Classical Chinese text plus Korean translation use Hyeonto.

2 comments
  1. This post makes a very good point; especially mixed script predating hangul!

    I don’t know about the other texts mentioned, but I would note that “Songs of Dragons Flying to Heaven” was not personally written by King Sejong. It was first composed in Chinese by Gwonje (權踶), Jeong Inji (鄭麟趾) and An Ji (安止); revised by Yu Uison (柳義孫), Yi Sacheol (李思哲) and Jeong Changson (鄭昌孫), and finally rendered into mixed script by Choe Hang (崔恒), Bak Paengnyeon (朴彭年), Gang Hui-an (姜希顔), Sin Sukju (申叔舟), Yi Hyeon-ro (李賢老), Seong Sammun (成三問), Yi Gae (李塏) and Sin Yeongson (辛永孫). Naturally though this occurred under Sejong’s orders and would unlikely have been realized without his active support.

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