A real estate magnate seeks to export the Korean Alphabet

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SEOUL — South Korea has long felt under-recognized for its many achievements; it built an economic powerhouse from the ruins of a vicious war in just decades and, after years of authoritarian rule, has created one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies.

Now, one South Korean woman, Lee Kinam, is determined to wring more recognition from the world with an unusual export: the Korean alphabet. Lee is using a fortune she made in real estate to try to bring the alphabet to places where native peoples lack an indigenous written system to record their language.

Her project had its first success — and generated headlines — in July, when children from an Indonesian tribe began learning the Korean alphabet, called Hangul...

... Such effusiveness is tied to Koreans’ attachment to their alphabet—a distinctive combination of circles and lines—and what they believe its endurance says about them as a people.

During decades-long Japanese colonial rule early last century, Koreans were banned from using their language and alpha bet in business and other official settings; schools were forbidden from teaching the language. Illiteracy in Korean soared, but many Koreans broke the rules to teach the language to their children and others.

Lee’s father, a linguist and professor, secretly taught his children and other students the language. She sees her mission as honoring his legacy, honoring Korea and helping the world.

Kim Ju-won, a linguist at Seoul National University and president of the Hunmin-jeongeum Society that Lee established to propagate Hangul, summarized the mission this way: “By giving unwritten languages their own alphabets, we can help save them from extinction and thus ensure mankind’s linguistic and cultural diversity.”...

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