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Enlightenment in Korean: “Everybody needs to be educated, you know. “

“The Korean language has the honorific to show respect,” Minhee explains. “For example, students use honorific to their teachers in school, and I use honorific for my parents-in-law, but I do not use it for my own parents because we are very close and intimate. Age is not the only thing we have to think about: We would use the honorific to young people in the workplace because it's the workplace, so it’s more professional. We would also use it to people when we first meet and we do not know that person. And we use it on websites and in official documents and announcements. That's why I used honorific to translate CIS’ manifesto. Korean has a different word order compared to English: subject-object-verb. The ending part of the sentence could be changed in the honorific way.”

So the honorific is in the verb? I can say ‘The dog is black’ in both an honorific and an informal way?
“Yes.”

That's super cool!
“Thank you. Another question people ask me is whether North Korean people use the same language as the South Korean people, and then I say that the answer is partly no, partly yes because the North Korean people use the Korean language, but they have their own accents and intonation. So South Korean people recognise the North Korean language right away.”

That makes sense. What about your alphabet?
“A long time ago, we used only Chinese letters but Chinese letters are very hard to learn so only the upper class or very noble families could learn to read and write. In 1443, King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty made the Korean alphabet, Hangul, which was spread to the populace in 1446, so both noble and common people could learn to read and write Korean. Noble families usually had their own individual teachers, and for the common people, there were small private village schools, Seodang with one teacher and many students."

So all Koreans became literate in the 15th century? That’s something to be proud of!
"Yes, I am proud of that. I can’t say that everyone spoke Korean in a short period of time, it slowly began to spread to the public regardless of social class or gender. In the 1940s, letters written by women, written in Hangul were found and Hangul textbooks used in school in the 16th century were found as well so it is thought that Hangul was pretty widely used at that time. However, it was 1894 when Hangul was officially designated as Korean language. Hangul is evaluated to this day in a very scientific way, and it’s very easy to learn. We have 14 consonants and 10 vowels, and basically the letters are formed in combinations of consonants and vowels, the consonant always comes first. We actually have a Hangul Day in Korea, which is a holiday, October 9th."

So you celebrate the alphabet?
"Yes, we celebrate the achievement. Before, we only had Chinese letters that we had borrowed. People of the lower classes didn't even have a chance to read and write because Chinese letters are very hard and they did not have a teacher. The king wanted all the people to learn the language equally. He was very open to the public and interested in equality. Everybody needs to be educated, you know."

I agree! I think I'll use that for the headline
"Thank you"

Minhee is the mother of Yoonjae and Minjae, Grade 1 and 3, and she took time to translate our manifesto to Korean and share all these interesting facts with us. Thank you, Minhee!