Learning Korean is as easy as A, B, C’s!

Ever wondered what those K-Pop bands are singing about? Or what the actors in your favorite K-dramas are crying about? Well, wonder no more because this post of Glocal Notes is for you!  Needless to say, you are not the only one because a study by The Modern Language Association found that university students taking Korean language classes increased by 45 percent between 2009 and 2013, despite the overall decrease in language learning by 7 percent. According to Rosemary Feal, the executive director of the Modern Language Association, this increase could be a result of young people’s interest with Korean media and culture. Before going into learning Korean, let’s find out about Korean language itself.

The Korean alphabet was invented!

The Korean alphabet was invented in 1444 and proclaimed by King Sejong the Great in 1446. The original alphabet is called Hunmin chŏngŭm which means “The correct sounds for the instruction of the people.” As you can see from the name of the alphabet, King Sejong cared about all of his people.

Before the Korean alphabet was invented, Korean people used Chinese characters along with other native writing systems as a means of documentation. As stated in the preface of Hunmin chŏngŭm below, because of inherent differences in Korean and Chinese and due to the fact that memorizing characters takes a lot of time, the majority of the lower classes were illiterate. This was used against them by aristocrats to put themselves in a higher position of power. As expected, the new system of writing faced intense resistance by the elites who perhaps thought it was a threat to their status and to China. However, King Sejong pushed through his opposition and promulgated the alphabet in 1446.

Below is the paraphrased translation of the preface of Hunmin chŏngŭm.

The language of [our] people is different from that of the nation of China and thus cannot be expressed by the written language of Chinese people. Because of this reason, the cries of illiterate peasants are not properly understood by the many [in the position of privilege]. I [feel the plight of the peasants and the difficulties faced by the public servants and] am saddened by the situation.

Therefore, twenty eight [written] characters have been newly created. [My desire is] such that, each [Korean] person may become familiar [with the newly created written language of Korean] and use them daily in an intuitive way.

A page from the Hunmin Jeong-eum Eonhae

A page from the Hunmin Jeong-eum Eonhae, a partial translation of Hunminjeongeum, the original promulgation of the Korean alphabet. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hunmin_jeong-eum.jpg

Korean is simple.

The construct of the system is simple. Because King Sejong knew that peasants did not have hours and hours to spend on learning how to write, he invented a system in which “a wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.” The modern-day script has evolved into 24 characters and is called Hangul (한글) in South Korea and Chosŏn’gul (조선글) in North Korea. Due to its simplicity, both Koreas boast exceptionally high literacy rates, more than 99% in South and North Korea.

Fourteen consonants in Hangul

Fourteen consonants in Hangul http://www.antiquealive.com/Blogs/Hangeul_Korean_Alphabet.html

Ten vowels in Hangul

Ten vowels in Hangul http://www.antiquealive.com/Blogs/Hangeul_Korean_Alphabet.html

Consonants: What you see is what you write.

The shapes of consonants, ㄱ(g/k),ㄴ(n),ㅅ(s),ㅁ(m) andㅇ(ng), are based on how your speech organs look like when you pronounce these sounds. Other consonants were derived from the above letters by adding extra lines for aspirated sounds and by doubling the consonant for tense consonants.  

Shapes of consonants in Hangul

Shapes of consonants in Hangul
http://www.wright-house.com/korean/korean-linguistics-origins.html

Vowels: Three strokes encompass the world.

Various combinations of three strokes make up vowels in Hangul. A horizontal line (ㅡ) represents the Earth (Yin), a vertical line for the standing human (ㅣ), and a point (ㆍ) for heaven (Yang). This concept is derived from Eastern philosophy where heaven, Earth and human are one.

Vowel combinations in Hangul

Vowel combinations in Hangul
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHangul_Taegeuk.png
By Jatlas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

1 Block = 1 Syllable

The Korean alphabet consists of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Unlike English, where letters are written in sequential order, Korean letters are combined into syllable blocks. Each block produces 1 syllable. A syllable block contains a combination of consonant/s and vowel/s. For example, since the word 한글 (Hangul) has two syllables, it has two blocks. Pretty easy, right?

Syllable Blocks for the word 한글 (Hangul)

Syllable Blocks for the word 한글 (Hangul)
http://allthingslinguistic.com/post/66133111314/why-the-korean-alphabet-is-brilliant

Learn Korean

If you have made it this far, you may want to check out some ways you can actually learn the language yourself. There are numerous resources and classes that will fit your learning style.

Take classes:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers twelve Korean language courses throughout the academic year with varying levels. There are multiple scholarship opportunities for learning Korean! Check out Foreign Languages and Area Studies, Critical Language Scholarship Program, Middlebury Language Schools’ Summer Intensive Program Fellowship, and many more.    

Self-study tools:

Strapped for time during the semester? There are many self-study tools that will let you learn the language in your own time, location and pace.

Print resources:

  • Integrated Korean Series – Want to take a peek at what students are learning in Korean classes? This is the current textbook used by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Korean Language Program.
  • 서강 한국어 (Sŏgang Han’gugŏ) – Series of textbooks published by Sŏgang University in Korea and used by many Korean programs in American Universities.
  • 재미있는 한국어 (Chaemi innŭn Han’gugo) – Korean textbook series published by Korea University. Volumes 4-6 are available through the University Library.
  • Everyday Korean Idiomatic Expressions: 100 Expressions you can’t live without – Have you ever wondered about some Korean expressions from K-drama that just did not do it justice with word-for-word translations? Well, this book is for you! This book lists 100 idiomatic expressions with literal and actual meanings and usages with detailed explanations so you can be a Korean language expert. Here is the book intro.

  • 외국인을 위한 한국어 읽기 (Korean Graded Readers) – Want to read Korean novels and short stories but afraid that those may be too hard for you?  Here is a set of 100 books where Korean novels and short stories are divided into levels of difficulty.
  • Korean with Chinese Characters – Want to find out how Hancha (Chinese characters in Korea) is used in a Korean context? Here is a book that lists some common Hancha words used in Korean contexts.

Language through media:

Sometimes, learning a language may be less stressful if you follow a storyline. Here are some resources for you to explore Korean movies and dramas.

  • Media Collection at Undergraduate Library – Korean movies from diverse time periods are available through the Media collection at Undergraduate library.
  • Asian Educational Media Service (AEMS) – AEMS is a program of the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that offers multimedia resources to promote awareness and understanding of Asian cultures and people.
  • Asian Film Online – Asian Film Online offers a view of Asian culture as seen through the lens of the independent Asian filmmaker. Through a selection of narrative feature films, documentaries and shorts curated by film scholars and critics, the collection offers perspectives and insights on themes highly relevant across Asia, including modernity, globalization, female agency, social and political unrest, and cultural and sexual identity.
  • Ondemandkorea.com – Watch Korean drama and variety shows, for free. Many of the episodes provide subtitles in English and Chinese.

Other Resources:

  • Korean Language Program -The Korean Language Program at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign offers Korean and accelerated Korean language course tracks for non-heritage and heritage learners. These language courses are augmented with cultural instruction introducing students to both Korean culture and society using authentic texts and audio-visual materials including newspaper articles, dramas, films, documentaries, etc. Weekly events such as the Korean Conversation Table (KCT) are available during the semester to help you practice speaking in Korean.
  • Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies (CEAPS) – The Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies provides lectures, seminars, programs and events on East and Southeast Asia.  
  • Korean Cultural Center (KCC) Facebook Page – The Korean Cultural Center is a registered student organization and a non-profit organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The group works to promote Korean culture through various events and programs. Visit their Facebook page to check out the latest event!

If you are interested in finding out more about learning Korean language or its culture, feel free to contact the International and Areas Studies Library at internationalref@library.illinois.edu. Also, don’t forget to follow our Facebook page for instant updates on cultural events and posts like this one.

Author: Audrey Chun

References

Algi Shwipke Pʻurŏ Ssŭn Hunmin Chŏngŭm. Sŏul : Saenggak ŭi Namu, 2008.

The Background of the invention of Hangeul”. The National Academy of the Korean Language. January 2004.

Hunmin Jeongeum Haerye, postface of Jeong Inji, p. 27a, translation from Gari K. Ledyard, The Korean Language Reform of 1446, p. 258.

Korea. [Seoul : Korean Culture And Information Service], 2008.                    

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“The Organic Globalizer: Hip Hop, Political Development, and Movement Culture”

Screenshot (191)

The Organic Globalizer: Hip Hop, Political Development, and Movement Culture,” edited by Christopher Malone and George Martinez, Jr., is a compilation of essays that explore the ways in which hip hop culture serves as an “organic globalizer.” In the opening chapter, Malone and Martinez define organic globalizer as a movement which “builds a network of grassroots institutions geared toward social justice and political participation both locally and globally” (Malone and Martinez, Jr., 5). Hip hop developed during the early 1970s “among African Americans and immigrant populations in the urban United States” (Flaherty, 131) and has ever since traveled throughout the world, giving other marginalized communities a voice to raise social awareness and promote change.

The authors explore hip hop as a “means of expression for groups that are historically marginalized and outside of traditional political, institutional access to power” (Flaherty, 131-32) from America’s inner-cities and industrial prison complex to the colonized lands of Palestine, Australia, Africa, and Latin America. From the socio-economic disparities and injustices endured by these transnational communities, the authors propose that “hip hop, rooted in a movement culture, has been an artistic medium used to foster awareness, build and transform social institutions, and/or encourage political activism in local communities that have largely found themselves marginalized” (Malone and Martinez, Jr., 15). Therefore, hip hop unites the struggles of international peoples and serves as a force for political engagement, cultural awareness, and social justice on a global scale.

In May 16, 2001, the United Nations sponsored and recognized hip hop as an international culture through the Hip Hop Declaration of Peace. This declaration lists 18 principles which “seek to maintain the dignity and respect of individuals, cultures, tribes, and peoples of the globe . . . [and to promote hip hop] as a veritable source of conflict resolution” (Malone and Martinez, Jr., 11). To honor the message of “The Organic Globalizer” and the forthcoming Hip Hop Awareness Week, I encourage you to visit the International and Area Studies Library to check out “The Organic Globalizer” and the rest of our collection and resources. And, make sure you watch the following videos by artists I consider organic globalizers: Aisha Fukushima, DAM, and Nomadic Massive.

Aisha Fukushima

Vocalist, speaker, RAPtivist, instructor and international artist Aisha Fukushima hails from Seattle, Washington/ Yokohama, Japan. She navigates and explores the intersections between hip hop and social justice through her project RAPtivism, public performances, and speeches. The following video further elaborates on her accomplishments and the work that she has done.

“Hip Hop Lives–Raptivism Around the World: Aisha Fukushima at TEDxSitka”

DAM

Da Arabian MC’s (Suhell Nafar, Tamer Nafar, Mahmoud Jreri) are known as the first Palestinian hip hop group from a neighborhood called Lyd/Lod. Their work speaks to the struggles of the Palestinian people living under occupation, challenging ethnic and cultural stereotypes, and raising social awareness. Recently, DAM added a new member to the group, Maysa Daw, and they have worked on a new project through a joint effort with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which addresses the oppression of patriarchal structures. Here is the group’s new video for their single “Who R You?”:

“#Who_You_R (Official Video)”

Nomadic Massive

Nomadic Massive a Montreal-based hip hop group composed of 8 members: Vox Sambou, Nantali Indongo, Lou Piensa, Waahli, Ali Sepu, Meryem Saci, Rawgged MC, and Butta Beats. This super, multicultural and multilingual group of artists conveys their messages in French, English, Creole, Arabic, and Spanish. They have given workshops and worked with international communities, like Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, etc. The following video speaks about the origins of the group and their work to empower and build sustainable communities through hip hop culture.

“TEDxConcordia – Nomadic Massive”

If you are interested in learning more, the following links will direct you to University of Illinois professors, and their curriculum vitas (CVs), for a list of interdisciplinary presentations and publications on hip hop culture.

Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown

Dr. Karen Flynn

Dr. Adam J. Kruse

Dr. Samir Meghelli

Love. Peace. & Hip Hop.

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The Japanese Rare Books Collection at Illinois

The Japanese rare books collection is an important part of the Asian rare books collection at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The great majority of Japanese rare books came from the library of Joseph K. Yamagiwa (1906-1968).  Professor Yamagiwa was a leading scholar and professor of Japanese at the University of Michigan. His collection was purchased by our university in 1969. This collection contained 1800 volumes, which was later divided between the Asian Library and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The current Japanese rare book collection was built upon it.

Horai

With some later purchases and donation, our university library is currently 200 volumes of Japanese rare books. The subjects cover a variety of fields from literature (including Nara Ehon), theater, history, maps, scrolls, to dictionaries and encyclopedias. Most of these books and manuscripts are printed between the 17th to the 19th centuries.

Nara Ehon

This summer the Japanese rare book collection gained a new piece, Ise Monogatari. It also marked the 13-millionth book of the university and maintains our status as the largest public university library in America.  This edition of the Ise Monogatari was published in 1608 and is the first printed illustrated edition of the popular Ise Monogatari or Tales of Ise).  This book is one of the earliest Japanese books printed with moveable type, a technique newly imported from Korea. The elegant type and delicate woodcuts of the Saga-bon Tales of Ise appear on five different hand-made colored papers.[1]

Ise Monogatari

Besides their historical and scholarly value, this collection also serves as a communication bridge to visiting scholars from Japan. Despite their high value, our Rare Book and Manuscript Library pleasantly welcomes people to come in and use these materials. If you are interested in them, come to the library.

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Mo Yan — 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature Winner

Literary history holds many examples of writers who were formerly soldiers — Norman Mailer, Ernest Hemingway, Tim O’Brian, Stephen Crane, and T. E. Lawrence to name a few, but few of them can ever hope to be called such things as “[…] famous, oft-banned and widely pirated […] (Feb 15, 2005. Donald Morrison, “Holding Up Half the Sky”, Time Magazine, read more) Even fewer of these soldiers ever become Nobel Prize winners.

Mo Yan (莫言), a pen name, meaning “don’t speak,” for Guan Moye (管谟业), is the first resident of mainland China to be awarded the Nobel prize in Literature. He was a solider in the People’s Liberation Army after the Cultural Revolution. The only two other Chinese recipients of Nobel prizes are Liu Xiaobo (2010 Nobel Prize for Peace), who is currently imprisoned, and Gao Xingjian (2000 Nobel Prize for Literature), who gave up his Chinese citizenship in 1996. (Oct 16, 2012. Benjamin Carlson, “China Scrambles to Censor Discussion of Mo Yan”, Salon. Read more)

Mo Yan and his works have a complicated relationship with the Chinese government. While his books are often interpreted as critical of the government, he is a Chinese Communist Party member and the vice-chairman of the party’s Writers’ Association. He has been criticized for his compliance with the government, but some have argued that by his doing so, his books have been able to reach more people. (Oct 16, 2012. Benjamin Carlson, “China Scrambles to Censor Discussion of Mo Yan”, Salon. Read more)

Mo Yan is reportedly currently avoiding the media and working on his next book. (Oct 11, 2012. Sui-Lee Wee. “China’s Mo Yan feeds off suffering to win Nobel literature prize”, Reuters. Read more.)

The UIUC collection holds many of Mo Yan’s works, both in the original Chinese and in English translations. The International and Area Studies Library has pulled a selection of his titles for display, and they are available for checkout. You can also view his works available in our online catalog.

Mo Yan's works on display at the IAS

Mo Yan’s works on display at the IAS. Photography by Elizabeth Svoboda.

Those wishing to learn more about Mo Yan and his work should come visit the IAS and check out our display and selection of his titles, and also check out these suggested library resources:

Interviews and Articles:

Literary Criticism and Interpretation  

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