•    The Real Korea: Exploring the Native Korean Culture   

    Here, you will learn about three aspects of Native Korean Culture:

    • Family Values and the Concept of Kibun
    • Characteristics of  Korean People
    • Hangul: The Korean Language

    Traditional Korean Family Values

    In Korean culture, the teachings of Confucius are an integral part of Korean life. The philosophies of Confucius play a significant role nearly every aspect of Korean life and the values they practice. It is through these teachings that describe an individual’s position in society. It is a system of behaviors and ethics that emphasize social relationships and obligations and stresses duty, loyalty, sincerity, honor, filial piety, and respect for seniority, age, and position. The five basic relationships are: 1) ruler and subject, 2) husband and wife, 3) parents and children, 4) brothers and sisters, and 5) friend and friend. The most important relationship is that of parent/senior and child. Koreans are raised to believe that they can never repay their debts to their parents and thus the reason for their long-term commitment and deference toward them.

    The Concept of Kibun

    Kibun is a term used to refer to a Korean’s pride. Koreans believe that in building social relationships, there needs to be harmony between the two parties. One way to create this harmony is through respect for others’ pride, as well as their own. Don’t hurt other’s pride because it will cause them to lose their dignity. It is important to know how to judge someone’s kibun and how to avoid hurting it.

    Characteristics of Korean People

    Koreans call themselves “one people,” a term that exist in many cultures but not interpreted the same way Koreans interpret it. Koreans believe that their bloodline has been “pure” for thousands of years and they try to keep it that way for the years to come. It’s not that they don’t want to assimilate to other cultures. Korea is a relatively small peninsula and it is one of the most homogeneous cultures in the world with a very small minority population. Because of this, foreigners in Korea, especially those in smaller villages, are often stared at not out of rudeness, but out of curiosity.

    As a race, Koreans can be “extremely nice” people as long as the relationship is built on mutual respect. Non-Koreans may consider certain actions to be disrespectful but this is generally due to cultural differences so it shouldn’t be taken personally. Koreans are hardworking people and are extremely proud of their nationality and identity as a group. They have great respect for family and friends, for personal and interpersonal relationships are very important in Korean culture. While Korean are generally perceived in a positive manner, they have also been said to be stubborn and independent. Sometimes, their pride as Koreans overwhelms their good judgments toward other cultures, which many people see as offensive.

    The Korean Language (한국어, 조선말)

    The Korean language is a member of the Altaic language family and it is widely spoken throughout North and South Korea. Although there are various dialects from region to region, it is generally understood everywhere.  The language is considered to be one of the most well designed languages in the world by language experts because of the efficiency and simplicity of the alphabet, thus garnering high literacy rates throughout Korea.

    The current alphabet system of the Korean language is known as Hangul (한글). Prior to its formation, Koreans used Hanja (Chinese characters) to write for over a millennium.

    Story of the Alphabet System (Hangul)

    Hangul was first created by King Sejong in 1446 during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The alphabet was proclaimed as Hunminjeongeum, which literally means “the correct sounds for the instruction of people.” King Sejong, considered to be one of the greatest rulers in the history of Korea, was a motivating force in the creation of Hangul. He was a highly respected leader and is best known for his benevolence and devotion toward his people.

    King Sejong had always been ignorant of Hanja because of its complexity and the inability of the commoners to read and write it. It was a language only for the well educated and the royal class. Knowing this, he understood the commoners’ aggravation toward the language because of their inability to express their thoughts and feelings in written words. In addition to its complexity, the Chinese script was also of foreign origin and it could not fully express the meaning of Korean thoughts and the spoken language. Being a strong advocate of national identity and cultural independence, King Sejong sought for solutions.

    [King] Sejong the Great envisioned an alphabet that was “uniquely Korean and easily learnable, rendering it accessible and usable for the common people.” It was through this vision that Hunminjeongeum was born. He said,

    “Being of foreign origin, Chinese characters are incapable of capturing uniquely Korean meanings. Therefore, many common people have no way to express their thoughts and feelings. Out of my sympathy for their difficulties, I have invented a set of 28 letters. The letters are very easy to learn, and it is my fervent hope that they improve the quality of life of all people.”

    The original Korean alphabet consisted of 28 letters. Today, only 24 of the letters are used.

    Consonants:

    (g, k), (n), (d, t), (r or l), (m), (b, p), (s),

    (ng), (j), (ch), (k), (t), (p), (h)

    Vowels:

    (a), (ya), (eo), (yeo), (o), (yo), (u), (yu), (eu), (i)

    The basic letters of the alphabet when Hunminjeongeum was first created numbered eight; they were the consonants ” , , , , ” and the vowels ” ., ,

    The reason consonants and vowels were separated was due to their differing functions when two letters were combined to form a syllable. Hunminjeongeum is basically a type of hieroglyph. Consonants, the initial sound letters, resemble a person’s speech organs. The shape of each letter is based on the form of different sound articulation units.

    (giyeok)”: To pronounce this letter, part of the tongue touches the molar teeth and sticks near the uvula. The shape of the letter is based on the lateral form of this process.

    (nieun)”: To pronounce this letter, the front of the tongue curves and the tip of the tongue sticks to the upper gums. The shape of the letter is based on the lateral form of this process.

    (mieum)”: To pronounce this letter, the upper and lower lips are joined. The shape of the letter is based on the form of the joined lips.

    (siot)”: To pronounce this letter, the tip of the tongue and the upper teeth are brought close together, and sound is created by blowing through the narrowed passage. The shape of the letter is based on the form of the teeth during the process.

    (ieung)”: To pronounce this letter that is created by stimulating the uvula, the throat assumes a round shape, hence the form of the consonant. Nine additional letters were made by adding additional strokes to the five basic consonants based on the strength of the sounds, as follows.

    However, ‘‘ is no longer used.

    The vowels, on the other hand, were created in the image of the sky, land, and man. That is, ” . ” resembles the roundness of the sky, ‘‘ represents the flat land and ‘‘ is the image of a standing man. The other vowels “(a), (ya), (eo), (yeo), (o), (yo), (u), (yu)” are variations of their three basic vowels. ” . ” is not used today.

    Learn Hangul NOW!

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    Sources:

    1. “Characteristics of the Korean People.” GyeongGi-Do. Park Yeon-kyeoung , n.d. Web. <http://eng.gg.go.kr/entry/Characteristics-of-the-Korean>.
    2. “Geography and People.” Korean Cultural Service NY. Korean Cultural Service, New York, n.d. Web.  <http://www.koreanculture.org/06about_korea/geography_people.htm>.
    3. “Korean Culture.” Learn Korean Language. N.P., n.d. Web. <http://www.learnkoreanlanguage.com/Korean-Culture.html>.
    4. “Origins and Ethnicity of Korean People.” Seoul Expert. N.P., n.d. Web. <http://www.seoulkoreaasia.com/korean-people.htm>.
    5. “South Korea: Language, Customs, Culture, and Etiquette.” Kwintessential. N.P., n.d. Web. <http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/south-korea-country-profile.html>.
    6. “About the Korean Language: Hangul.” About Korea. Korean Cultural Service, New York, n.d. Web. 1 Jan. <http://www.koreanculture.org/06about_korea/language.htm>.
    7. “Hangul.” Wikipedia: The Online Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., n.d. Web. 1 Jan. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangul>.
    8. “Korean Language.” Wikipedia: The Online Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., n.d. Web. 1 Jan. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_language>.
    9. “Korean Culture.” Learn Korean Language. Russell Holloway, n.d. Web. 1 Jan. <http://www.learnkoreanlanguage.com/Korean-Culture.html#Language>.