[FORUM]Sejong the Digital Great

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[FORUM]Sejong the Digital Great

I see a Chinese man typing on a computer. How can he type over 30,000 Chinese characters on a small keyboard? On the keyboard, I see, surprisingly, only an English alphabet. Because it is impossible to lay out Chinese characters on the keyboard, Chinese people enter English letters, the transliteration of the Mandarin pronunciation of the Pinyin characters into English. Then they have to hit the enter key to see the computer change the Roman letters into Chinese characters.
There is another inconvenience. Commonly, a Chinese syllable can be associated with 20 different characters. The typist has to choose the correct one. An unenthusiastic person is bound to get discouraged and turn away from the computer. Here is one of the reasons why Koreans are ahead of the Chinese in the use of the Internet.
Chinese professionals who have to type a lot use another keyboard, where the horizontal and side strokes of Chinese characters are laid out. This is called the Wubi method because five strokes on the keyboard consists of a character. It is speedy but too hard for ordinary people to learn.
How about a Japanese fellow? On his computer keyboard, I also see English letters. The Korean language, whose characters can be all entered at once on the keyboard with only 24 consonants and vowels, is heaven’s blessing and that of science as well. The Japanese use a method of entering in the computer called “se,” an English pronunciation of its Japanese counterpart in hiragana, a Japanese alphabet system. Each word should be entered in accordance with its English pronunciation to see it turned into Japanese characters on the screen.
In addition, each Japanese sentence has Chinese characters that have to be input, so the typing speed is slow. Furthermore, more than 20 Chinese characters are pronounced as “choo,” for example, so the Japanese people have to choose the correct one.
Another method is to lay out the 102 Japanese alphabet characters on the keyboard and enter them into the computer, but this method is seldom used because of the difficulty of getting accustomed to it. In this situation, it seems inevitable that Japan is less acquainted with the Internet than Korea. In multilingual countries like Malaysia, developing input methods for computers is a headache from the start.
A comparison showed that it took 35 seconds each in Chinese and Japanese to send a text message of a sentence on a cellphone. The same text could be sent in just five seconds using Hangul, the Korean alphabet. That means that the speed of input of Hangul is seven times faster, a competitive advantage in the information technology age.It can be interpreted that thanks to the diligent, hot-tempered, and gritty character of the Korean people and our having Hangul, the world’s most competitive digital alphabet, we could become an Internet power. Korean text information on the Internet ranks among the top few countries.
October 9 is Hangul Day, commemorating when King Sejong the Great promulgated Hangul. I let out an exclamation of wonder that Sejong could have been the King of Information and Technology who had looked ahead hundreds of years. The 26 English letters are sounds and easy to combine like Korean letters, but have the shortcoming that pronunciation of the same letter “a” can change according to its position, and each country has a different way of reading the letter.
But in Hangul, each letter has only one sound. Its combination of vocabulary can be the most diverse of the three languages. Hangul can express over 8,800 sounds, incomparable to about 400 sounds in Chinese and 300 sounds in the Japanese language. World-renowned linguists say that Hangul is at the top of all the alphabets in the world, the easiest to learn and the most scientific. They say Hangul is “the dream of alphabets.” This made it possible to lower Korea’s illiteracy rate to almost zero and provided the driving force for the country’s development.
Because Hangul has a phonetic system that reflects even the shape of the vocal organs, it can express every language in the world. The Chinese can merely express McDonald’s as “Maidangrow” and the Japanese, as “Makudonardo.” This is why we carry out a movement to make characters in Hangul for nations without characters, like Nepal. Five minutes’ explanation will suffice to enable foreigners to write their own names in Hangul. Hangul is the most machine-friendly language, one that is prepared for the age of information and technology. It has a great potential for global use. Let’s visit King Sejong Memorial Hall in Hongreung Royal Tomb, Seoul, or Youngreung Royal Tomb in Yeoju over the weekend and pay our respect to him. Ah, King Sejong of Information and Technology!

* The writer is a deputy managing editor in charge of digital news of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Il
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