Make Hangul Day a national holiday
Yesterday through next Thursday has been designated the “Week of Hangul.” Marking the 666th anniversary of the creation of the Korean alphabet, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is celebrating around Hangul Day on Tuesday. Many events are organized, including “Tok Tok Hangul, Enjoy the World” at Sujeongjeon in Gyeongbok Palace.
Personally, I want to give the greatest significance to the event marking the 70th anniversary next Friday of the Joseon Language Society incident at the National Palace Museum in Seoul. In 1942, when Korea was under Japanese occupation, 33 members of the Joseon Language Society were arrested and tortured at Jongno Police Station, and Lee Yun-jae and Han Jing died in prison. In Hamheung, a schoolgirl was caught speaking Korean, and imperial Japan used the case to persecute those working to protect the Korean language.
The 70th anniversary is especially meaningful as the Association of Korean Linguistic Societies will be founded on that day. Academics have debated using the Korean alphabet exclusively or including some Chinese characters. But they have decided to come together, acknowledging differences while promoting the cause they have agreed upon.
However, the presence of Hangul Day is shrinking. According to a survey by Research & Research in April, only 64.1 percent of the respondents knew that Oct. 9 is Hangul Day; in 2009, 88 percent did. Less than a third of respondents in their 20s knew the date of Hangul Day.
The Hunminjeongeum manuscript has been registered as a Unesco Memory of the World, and the Unesco King Sejong Literacy Prize is awarded for achievement in promotion of literacy. More than 450,000 foreigners took the Test of Proficiency in Korean last year, and 90 Sejong Institutes in 43 countries teach Korean. However, the day commemorating the creation of the outstanding writing system is neglected in Korea.
One of the most effective ways to highlight Hangul Day is to reinstate its holiday status. It was excluded from national holidays 21 years ago because there were too many days off. The Democratic United Party’s Park Gi-chun and Saenuri Party’s Kim Myeong-yeon have each proposed a bill to the National Assembly. The number of holidays in Korea is about average compared to developed countries.
However, days off are not always guaranteed for workers, and when national holidays fall on the weekend, the following working days are often not designated as alternate holidays, says Lee Gang-wook of the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute. Industries need to break out of the mindset of the developing period, when the number of labor hours was directly proportional to production. Just as the French language is celebrated on International Francophonie Day on March 14, there is no reason not to make Hangul Day a meaningful celebration for all Korean speakers around the globe.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun