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I can see that there is an obvious correlation between ㅜ and ㅠ, and ㅏ and ㅑ. But do all the vowels shapes in general relate to each other in any special way?

What about the consonant shapes like ㅈ, ㅂ, ㄷ, and so on? Are the shapes random or do they have significance?

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The shapes of Hangul consonants were derived from shapes of tongue, throat and mouth when they were spoken. I found a good image explaining it!

I think this image describes it well.

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    That's a common "backsplanation" that is, is was most likely created after the fact. – Dima Tisnek Jun 23 '16 at 18:27
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    @qarma It's NOT a backward explanation, because it is described in Hunminjeongeum Haerye! You can check it on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangul#Letter_design and koreanwikiproject.com/wiki/%ED%9B%88%EB%AF%BC%EC%A0%95%EC%9D%8C – JSong Jun 24 '16 at 1:31
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    Hunminjeongeum Haerye says "正音二十八字, 各象其形而制之. 初聲凡十七字. 牙音ㄱ, 象舌根閉喉之形. 舌音ㄴ, 象舌附上腭之形. 脣音ㅁ, 象口形. 齒音ㅅ, 象齒形. 喉音ㅇ, 象喉形." It translates into "훈민정음 스물 여덟 자는 각각 그 모양을 본떠서 만들었다. 초성은 모두 열 일곱자다. 아음(어금니 소리) ㄱ은 혀뿌리가 목구멍을 막는 모양을 본뜨고, 순음(입술소리) ㅁ은 입모양을 본뜨고, 치음(잇 소리) ㅅ은 치아 모양을 본뜨고, 후음(목구멍 소리) ㅇ은 목구멍의 모양을 본뜬 것이다." – JSong Jun 24 '16 at 1:33
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    And there are more explanations for other consonants such as ㅋ, ㅃ, ㅆ and so on in Hunminjeongeum Haerye. – JSong Jun 24 '16 at 1:36
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    @qarma There were a lot of hypotheses around origins of Hangul before Hunminjeongeum haerye was discovered in 1940. After it was discovered, all of these hypotheses became obsolete, although they kind of still float around. Hunminjeongeum haerye was The Book that Hangul was announced to the public with. It clearly states where each letter's shapes were derieved from. There is still some possibility left that King Sejong who made the script got some inspiration from other writing systems, but mostly it's purely his invention. – MujjinGun Jun 24 '16 at 2:12
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Adding on to what the previous user answered, the vowels are made of three components, 하늘 (sky) ㆍ, 땅 (earth) — , and 사람 (person) | . Combinations of these three make the vowels. For example, the vowel ㅓ would have originally been written like this: ㆎ with 하늘 and 사람 unconnected. ㅗ would be 하늘 above 땅, and so on!

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The best historical source is Hunminjeongeum Haerye.

The document was published only a few years after introduction of the script and thus there's high likelihood that it gives truthful account.

Of course it's also possible for the document to gloss over some bits and emphasise cultural norms at the time over practical reasons for vowel glyphs. That is document could have been created to prove worthiness of the script rather than as a historical account.

Thus, I would view yin/yang vowels as artefact rather than deliberate design feature.

Likewise, even if consonants correspond to the shape of tongue and mouth (why these two? why for those specific consonants? why head looking left?) it may or may not be the reason that consonants were created like this.

Whether glyphs were designed according to current understanding or got their shapes accidentally (or the mix thereof), they creators were certainly at least inspired by other writing systems.

Where did the inspiration come from?

  • Chinese? (probably not, result would be like katakana or manyogana)
  • traditional Mongolian? (IMO only minor similarities)
  • Phags-pa? (has identical glyphs, but different meaning)
  • Devangari? (about as likely as the above)
  • Tibetan? (-"-)

If the tale of design by committee is true, surely the scholars had knowledge about these scripts and texts for most of these (Buddhist monks travelled a lot, and had scrolls).

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