[KS] India and Hangeul

Werner Sasse werner_sasse at hotmail.com
Sat Aug 31 07:36:07 EDT 2013

From: werner_sasse at hotmail.com
To: koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com
Subject: India and Hangeul
Date: Sat, 31 Aug 2013 11:34:48 +0000

Hi, friends and colleagues,
In the discussion about a possible Sanskrit/India connection with Hangeul I want to stress a point which has been bothering me for some time. We should leave the design of the letters only a little room in the background, the foreground should be discussing the methodology behind the two inventions. And here I happen to see India--> China--> Korea. Not the shape of the letters: the methodology.
As the possible Sanskrit/India connection with Hangeul has come up I want to offer for discussion some paragraphs I have prepared for a book on a few aspects of Korean culture wich I hope to have in the press soon (it will be in Korean, but my draft I prepared in English)...
Here is an excerpt of my draft:
phonology knew the distinction between consonants and vowels, and we find the
same distinction in Hangeul, even emphasizing their different character by the
fact that the formation and classification of the two sets of graphemes follows
different philosophical principles.

great achievement of King Sejong was that he did not follow the Chinese two-way
model but divided the rhyme further into vowel and end consonant. This may have
been inspired by knowledge of the 'Phags-pa
script, the Tibetan alphabetic script which had been used during the Mongolian Yuan dynasty (c. 1260-1368), when Goryeo was
under Mongolian rule. And the Mongolian Uyghur
script also makes a distinction between initial consonant, vowel, and final
consonant, but the initial and the final consonants have different forms. It is
another one of the great inventions of King Sejong to realize that the two
kinds of consonants, the initial and the end consonants of a syllable, are
identical even if some of the initial sounds are neutralized in Korean and do
not exist in syllable end position.

'Phags-pa the vowels are individual letters which can traditionally be written
without initial consonant, but the vowel [a], diphthongs, and the semivowel
were written following a zero-sign, similar to vowels in Hangeul following the
zero consonant [ㅇ].

           Another similarity between 'Phags-pa
and Hangeul is the convention to combine vowels and consonants to write
syllables. Also, in both orthographies the white space
between words in a text was of the same size as the white space between
syllables within a word, just like the flow of sounds in spoken language. The
concept of separating one word from the other was not part of the writing
conventions, and so in both orthographies the end of one line could cut through
a word (like also Hanmun) 

Hangeul was a strictly phonetic script, writing the syllables as they were
spoken, not the underlying 형태소, like originally 바라미 and not like today 바람이. This is also like
in 'Phags-pa, cf. the Mongolian word usun
“water”, which is written in 'Phags-pa in two syllables u sun, but the three syllable genitive form is written u su nu.

creation of the consonant symbols is explained in the 訓民正音解例 as the based on schematic drawings of the human
speech organs as they articulate certain sounds, namely 아(牙)·설(舌)·순(脣)·치(齒)·후(喉)음. The idea to use the point of articulation
to classify consonants also goes back to Indian phonology, which was adopted by
Chinese scholarship, and then applied by King Sejong to the analysis of Korean.
Of course the Indian and the Chinese systems of articulation points are only
partially identical with the Korean one, since the languages are different, but
the principle to use the point of articulation to classify came from India via
China. But then, King Sejong’s idea to use the articulation not only as a tool
to classify, but actually base the design of the consonants on an abstract
drawing of the manner of articulation is brilliant and one of the aspects which
make Hangeul so outstanding among the alphabets of the world.

brilliant is King Sejong’s idea to systematically apply a simple additional
stroke to the basic consonant letters to mark 유기음(有氣音).  However, not
only 유기음 like ㄱàㅋ was designed by one
additional stroke, also other kinds of “more effort” were marked with one
additional stroke, like ㄴà ㄷ, ㅅàㅈ. One could wonder, why the different
phonetic features 파렬음(破裂音)/폐쇄음(閉鎖音), 접근음(接近音), and 유기음 were all designed by the
same marker, that is, one additional stroke. The reason, however, seems to lie
in the basic idea of “more effort”, which in the 訓民正音解例 is called 厲(려) “엄할厲, 힘쓸厲. This again goes
back to Indian phonology, which had discovered a class of features called “Effort of
articulation (Uccāraṇa Prayatna)”,
in which were two
subclasses. The first was called : “External effort (Bāhya
Prayatna)”, grouping 파렬음(破裂音), 접근음(接近音), and 마찰음(摩擦音), and the second was called “Internal
effort (Abhyantara Prayatna)”:
with the subclasses of 무기음 (無氣音), 유기음(有氣音), 무성음 (無聲音), and 유성음(有聲音).
All these “Efforts of articulation” were seen by King Sejong just like in the
Indian phonology as one and the same kind of phonetic feature, which he
explained as “厲”, and were marked
by the same genial design feature, one simple additional stroke….

           ...I want to
add just one last remark which shows that the authors were very much aware of
the India à China à Korea connection in phonological
research. 정인지(鄭麟趾) in his 序 to the 훈민정음해례 wrote “雖風聲鶴唳鷄鳴狗吠 皆可得而書矣 (바람소리, 학의 울음소리, 닭 우는 소리, 개 짖는 소리일지라도 모두 이 글자를 가지고 적을
수가 있다). The first part of this sentence is actually a direct quote with a minor
rearrangement from the preface of the Qiyin lüe (七音略, kor. 칠음략), a rhyme table by Zheng Qiao (鄭樵, early 12th
century), where it reads 雖鶴唳風聲鷄鳴狗吠. In this preface Zheng Qiao highly praised the
deep phonological knowledge of Buddhist monks, and it is obvious that 정인지 quoted
this sentence not as a sudden poetic twist in his 序 but as an only slightly hidden hint pointing to the tradition
of Indian phonology transmitted by Buddhist monks. " This much, let's see a discussion... Best,Werner Sasse


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