Sejong the Great, commemorated by this state in Seoul, South Korea, was one of the world's great leaders. His most lasting contribution was the development of hangul, the Korean alphabet. The original version of hangul, created during Sejong's reign, appears on this statue: Sejong Daewang (Sejong the Great King).
Photograph by Camille Harang, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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    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.

    advance Verb

    to move forward or progress.

    border Noun

    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.

    class Noun

    division in society based on income and type of employment.

    communicate Verb

    to exchange knowledge, thoughts, or feelings.

    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crop
    distinct Adjective

    unique or identifiable.

    dominant Adjective

    main or most important.

    encourage Verb

    to inspire or support a person or idea.

    expand Verb

    to grow or get larger.

    foreign policy Noun

    courses of action or thought that guide a nation's relationship with other nations.

    hangul Noun

    Korean alphabet, with 14 consonants and 11 vowels.

    indigenous Adjective

    characteristic to or of a specific place.

    Encyclopedic Entry: indigenous
    innovation Noun

    something new.

    kingdom 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.

    literacy Noun

    ability to read and write.

    literate Adjective

    able to read and write.

    merit Noun

    something that deserves a benefit, reward, or recognition.

    region Noun

    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.

    scholar Noun

    educated person.

    script Noun

    text or system of writing.

    sector Noun

    section or a part of something.

    syllable Noun

    single, short, uninterrupted segment of speech.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

    UNESCO Noun

    the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

    Encyclopedic Entry: UNESCO
    wary Adjective

    worried, watchful, or cautious.