Korean people, during a long and successful history of five thousand years, have created independent and unique national cultures with their innate creativity, outstanding capacity, and great tenacity covered with blood and sweat, and have developed them without cessation. Of them, the invention of Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, could be said to be the first and foremost achievement in the history of Korean culture. In fact, many linguists around the world have appreciated Hangeul with its originality and scientific nature, as an excellent writing system. Moreover, it has been great source of national pride that the Korean people are the only ones in the world,who celebrate the day when their national alphabet was invented.

This year we, the Korean people, have just celebrated the five hundred and fiftieth birthday of Hangeul. That is, five hundred and fifty years have passed since King Sejong invented and widely spread Hangeul. The purposes for which King Sejong invented Hangeul were clearly expressed in the preface by the King himself in Hunmin-Jeongeum(A Book on Explanations and Illustrations of the Korean Alphabet). They can be summarized in the following three points. Firstly, it was with the thought of national identity that the new writing system suitable for the structure of Korean syntax and phonology was made. Secondly, it was with the thought of democratism and pragmatism that every one of his subjects should be given the benefit of using the new writing system. Yet, another reason was for the smooth interchange with neighboring nations by facilitating the learning of foreign languages, including Chinese, with the invention of Hangeul. In this context we have come to know that the creator of Hangeul at that time, directed deep attention towards the Segyehwa (globalization) of national cultures.

Now, people all over the world admire the spirit of invention behind Hangeul. Since 1990, the UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations, has been awarding ‘King Sejong Prize’ named after King Sejong, to an organization or institution in every country which contributes to the crusade against illiteracy every year. The fact that the ratio of illiteracy in Korea is extremely low compared to other countries in the world can be attributed to the invention of Hangeul by King Sejong, who made all his subjects learn and use it easily.

On occasion of the five hundred and fiftieth birthday of Hangeul, we have collected several articles into a booklet entitled ‘Hangeul in the 21st century’ for the purpose of looking back upon the true meaning of the invention of Hangeul. I would like to express my deep thanks to the authors who sent these valuable papers, and to Professor Kim Jeong-Woo and Professor Robert Leitch who translated their papers into English.

I sincerely hope that small booklet will be helpful to domestic and foreign scholars who study the Korean language,and will contribute even partially to the globalization of our spoken and written language.
December, 1996
Minister of the Ministry of Culture and Sports