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Foreign visitors to Korea will often become quickly familiar with the look of early Hangul documents and prints, as (being rather attractive!) they are often used for decorative purposes. Nevertheless, it looks like the text works somewhat differently to modern Korean.

Here are some examples from http://yoon-talk.tistory.com/433:

enter image description here

This is the lid of a gift box I have, which looks (at least superficially) similar - I'm told it might be from the 훈민정음 itself:

enter image description here

My question is : what are the differences between written (and typeset) Korean writing from this era, and modern Korean? e.g.

  • What direction is the text supposed to be read in?
  • Why are some of the Hangul characters smaller than others?
  • There seem to be some forms that aren't seen in modern Korean, e.g. the double 'ㅎㅎ'. How have the rules on how to form these characters changed? (it may be that this should be a separate question in its own right).

I'm sure that there have been many changes in the Korean language and its grammar and vocabulary - but this question is not about that, as that would be way too broad.

  • 1
    One question per post is the policy of Stack Exchange. In my opinion, your second question and third question seem too broad. It would be better if you could post another question for No. 3. – user7 Jun 26 '16 at 9:01
  • @Rathony I could certainly ask those as separate questions - but they were intended as a guide to what information I'd like to see in an answer to title question. Do you think that the title question itself (How does 15th Century Hangul writing/type differ from modern Hangul?) is too broad? I wouldn't expect a massively detailed answer, just an overview of the basic differences. – topo Reinstate Monica Jun 26 '16 at 9:10
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What direction is the text supposed to be read in?

Until recently, Korean text was written in columns going down, reading the right-most column first and proceeding leftward.

Why are some of the Hangul characters smaller than others?

In most cases, the smaller Hangul characters are pronunciations of the previous (above) 한자. Not all the 한자s there have them, but most do: you can see 법 below 法, 솅 below 世 (now pronounced 세), and 념 before 念. However, I can see at least one small 한글 without a previous 한자 (심, right in the middle), so I'm not sure why it's used there.

As far as I can see, all of the larger 한글 are native Korean words or endings.

There seem to be some forms that aren't seen in modern Korean, e.g. the double 'ㅎㅎ'. How have the rules on how to form these characters changed? (it may be that this should be a separate question in its own right).

There are several big changes:

  1. Korean is no longer a tonal language (except in 경상 방언) , so it doesn't write the tones anymore. But medieval Korean had tones, and this is indicated by dots to the left of a character. No dot indicates normal tone (평성), one dot is high tone (거성), while two dots indicates rising tone (상성).
  2. The single dot vowel (아래 아) has disappeared. Many Koreans will just pronounce this as ㅏ, and you'll see some signs that try to look old-fashioned by replacing an ㅏ with a dot (sometimes incorrectly). Actually, it was a separate vowel, and it was paired with ㅡ for vowel harmony. But it disappeared following several changes. In some cases it became an ㅜ (e.g. 겨ㅇㆍㄹ -> 겨울); in other cases it merged with ㅡ (마ㅇㆍㄹ -> 마을); the final merger was with ㅏ: ㄷㆍ리 -> 다리 (bridge).
  3. Other consonants disappeared: ᄫ (the loss of which explains ㅂ-irregular adjectives like 무섭다), , and ᅙ (여린히읗 - a softer version of ㅎ) for example.
  4. In many cases you'll see a ㅅ by itself after a 한자. This was a kind of genitive in medieval Korean. You'll also see it in the 받침 of some 한글s: for example, in the above text 오늘 is written as 오늜. If you wanted to put two nouns together, the first one needed a ㅅ. So 오늘 날 becomes 오늜 날. Although this mostly disappeared, we can still see its effect with the 사이 시옷.
  5. Many clusters are gone, including all the triple ones. You'll often see 된소리 (ㄲ,ㄸ,ㅃ,ㅆ,ㅉ) words beginning with a cluster like this: ㅄㅡ다 is now 쓰다 (not sure the pronunciation of it at the time), ㅄㆍㄹ -> 쌀, and ㅄ대 -> 때.
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  • I wasn't able to write some archaic hangeul syllables as single syllables; e.g. those with 아래 아. If anyone knows how to write them properly, please explain. – gaeguri Jun 27 '16 at 6:16
  • It is easier to copy it from somewhere else. You can copy it from the below comment to another answer. – user7 Jun 28 '16 at 15:31
  • @gaeguri Middle Korean needs to be input with with individual jamo starting at Unicode U+1100. These are combining and will render into syllable blocks if there is both appropriate OS support (Windows 8+) and appropriate fonts. For syllables that already exist in precomposed form, you may use either the individual combining jamo or the precomposed form, whichever is easier for you. If you do not have the appropriate OS rendering support and fonts, it will not display correctly. – Dono Jun 29 '16 at 8:06
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What direction is the text supposed to be read in?

Top to bottom, right to left.

Why are some of the Hangul characters smaller than others?

The smaller ones are to indicate sounds of the bigger hanja above. In your bottom picture, there is this: 法·법. It means that 法 is read as "·법"(which still is today, only without tones).

There seem to be some forms that aren't seen in modern Korean, e.g. the double 'ㅎㅎ'. How have the rules on how to form these characters changed? (it may be that this should be a separate question in its own right).

ㆅ (double ㅎ, 쌍히읗)'s original sound is reconstructed as /x/(Bach). This character was only found in some words like ᅘᅧ다. This word is now spelled 켜다(to turn on). So ㆅ changed to ㅋ, it seems.

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You can see three differences in the first set of documents, since the introduction of Hangeul:

  • single consonants, like are gone
  • dot vowel (changed I think)
  • diacritics, like : are gone (were used to annotate pitch)
  • triple consonant cluster jamo, like are gone
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