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Memory of the World Register

Hunminjeongeum (The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People)

Hangeul is the name of the Korean writing system and alphabet, which consists of letters inspired by the shapes formed by the human vocal organs during speech, making it very easy to learn and use. Hangeul was promulgated in 1446 by King Sejong, who helped devise it and named it Hunminjeongeum, or The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People. It was also in that same year that he ordered his scholars to publish The Hunminjeongeum haeryebon (Explanatory Edition) to provide detailed explanations of the purpose and guiding principles of the new writing system. One of these manuscripts is currently in the collection of the Kansong Art Museum and was included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 1997.

The invention of the Hunminjeongeum opened up a broad new horizon for all the Korean people, even women and those in the lowest social class, enabling them to learn to read and write and express themselves fully. The Hunminjeongeum alphabet originally consisted of 28 letters, but only 24 are used now. In 1989, UNESCO joined the Korean government to create the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize, which it awards to organizations or individuals who display great merit and achieve particularly effective results in contributing to the promotion of literacy.