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On this website I find this quote of King Sejong the Great:

“Being of foreign origin, Chinese characters are incapable of capturing uniquely Korean meanings. Therefore, many common people have no way to express their thoughts and feelings. Out of my sympathy for their difficulties, I have created a set of 28 letters. The letters are very easy to learn, and it is my fervent hope that they improve the quality of life of all people.”

But when I check the Wikisource edition of 훈민정음 (Hunminjeongeum) I do not see that final line, "and it is my fervent hope that they improve the quality of life of all people."

내가 이를 불쌍히 여겨, 새로 스물 여덟 글자를 만드니, 사람마다 하여금 쉽게 익혀, 날마다 씀에 편하게 하고자 할 따름이다.

Which Google Translate renders to:

There are a lot of people who can not open their minds even though there are things that foolish people want to talk about because they do not communicate with Chinese characters and Chinese characters. I have compassion for it, I make new twenty-eight letters, and everybody is easy to learn and to be comfortable with writing every day.

So is that quote incorrect? Did the King say "and it is my fervent hope that they improve the quality of life of all people”? Was there perhaps a royal proclamation or edict prior to the release of the book where this was stated?

(I know Google Translate is not a most accurate tool, but those are very different endings; "comfortable with writing every day" and "the quality of life of all people")

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    Note that the 훈민정음 was originally an edict in Classical Chinese. The preface is found on Wikipedia, and the relevant sentence is 欲使人人易習便於日用耳. – Michaelyus May 29 '19 at 11:38
  • @Michaelyus I hadn't realised. Yes, that is very important indeed, thank you – Johan88 May 30 '19 at 2:16
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First, don't trust Google Translate, especially if you're learning Korean.

Also, keep in mind that the modern Korean sentences you see are already a translation of the original middle Korean, so different people may "translate" the original to slightly different versions of modern Korean.

That said, the first translation seems a bit embellished. The sentence is roughly structured like this:

(A) 내가 이를 불쌍히 여겨, 새로 스물 여덟 글자를 만드니

= As I take pity on this and create twenty-eight new characters ...

The final character, -니 is a suffix to connect to phrases: usually B is the result of A, or what happens after A.

(B) 사람마다 하여금 쉽게 익혀, 날마다 씀에 편하게 하고자 할 따름이다.

= [my purpose is] only to make everyone learn it easily, and find it convenient to use every day.

The phrase structure is somewhat archaic, but it describes the intended outcome, i.e., what King Sejong intended to happen as a result of making these 28 characters (A).

So, "it is my fervent hope" is somewhat accurate. The hope is that everyone learns these characters and find them useful in communication. So I think "improve the quality of life" doesn't really match the original phrase textually, although one can argue that it matches the underlying intention.

  • While we're at it, "incapable of capturing uniquely Korean meanings" sounds embellished as well. King Sejong was not a nationalist, and probably didn't care for "uniquely Korean meanings": major royal publications during Sejong's reign include books like 삼강행실도 Samgang Haengsildo, a picture book of morality stories depicting Confucian values.

    The original sentence was simply that "Chinese characters do not match our language well".

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  • Thanks ! Well, if you're correct the that'd a rather gross embellishment in my opinion. A beautiful sentiment yes, but it's not the role of proper translation to take words so far from their original meaning. How disappointing. – Johan88 May 27 '19 at 8:45
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Maybe Wikipedia's translation is accurate.

Because the speech of this country is different from that of China, it [the spoken language] does not match the [Chinese] letters. Therefore, even if the ignorant want to communicate, many of them in the end cannot state their concerns. Saddened by this, I have [had] 28 letters newly made. It is my wish that all the people may easily learn these letters and that [they] be convenient for daily use.

It says 사람마다 하여 쉽게 익혀 날로 씀에 편하게 하고자 할 따름이다 means All the people may easily learn these letters and that they be convenient for daily use, And I think this one is correct.

I don't think it means quality of life, although King Sejong wanted to improve that.

Those different endings came from 편하게 하고자 할 따름이다. It means and I want to make it comfort, and what does it means? In translation above, it means everyday life, while it in translation of wikipedia means use of (new) characters.

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  • Thanks. How disappointing that the translation is so far from the truth, even if it does reflect the underlying intention of the Great King. Bummer. – Johan88 May 27 '19 at 8:48

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