On May 15, 1397, the prince who would become King Sejong the Great was born in Jeonju, part of the Kingdom of Joseon (today, the Koreas). Sejong is one of the most remarkable leaders in history. He was among the first leaders to hire people from different social classes as civil servants, improved foreign policy by expanding trade with Japan, and encouraged scientific innovation in agricultural, medical, and technological sectors.Sejong’s most powerful legacy, however, is hangul, the Korean alphabet. Chinese and Japanese scripts, the dominant written languages of East Asia, are not alphabets. They use stand-alone characters that represent entire concepts. Sejong wanted a distinct language for his kingdom, one that adapted Koreans’ spoken language and could be more easily learned by everyday people. Although scholars were wary about the new script, it became very, very popular with millions of Koreans.Hangul, written in grouped syllables, has been called “the most beautiful alphabet in the world.” Korea has continued to honor Sejong’s contribution to literacy by creating the UNESCO King Sejong Literary Prize, which awards organizations “displaying merit and achieving particularly effective results in contributing to the promotion of literacy,” especially indigenous languages in developing countries. A 2013 recipient of the King Sejong Literary Prize, for instance, focused on increasing literacy in the Guera languages of Chad.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry adapt Verb
to adjust to new surroundings or a new situation.
to move forward or progress.
natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.
Encyclopedic Entry: border civil servant Noun
person who works for the government in a non-military capacity.
division in society based on income and type of employment.
to exchange knowledge, thoughts, or feelings.
Encyclopedic Entry: crop distinct Adjective
unique or identifiable.
main or most important.
to inspire or support a person or idea.
to grow or get larger.
foreign policy Noun
courses of action or thought that guide a nation's relationship with other nations.
Korean alphabet, with 14 consonants and 11 vowels.
characteristic to or of a specific place.
Encyclopedic Entry: indigenous innovation Noun
type of government with a king or queen as its leader, or the land ruled by that king or queen.
Encyclopedic Entry: kingdom legacy Noun
material, ideas, or history passed down or communicated by a person or community from the past.
ability to read and write.
able to read and write.
something that deserves a benefit, reward, or recognition.
any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.
Encyclopedic Entry: region remarkable Adjective
unusual and dramatic.
text or system of writing.
section or a part of something.
single, short, uninterrupted segment of speech.
the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.
buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.
the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
Encyclopedic Entry: UNESCO wary Adjective
worried, watchful, or cautious.