Sat, Aug 08, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Indonesian tribe to use Korean alphabet: scholar

AFP , SEOUL

A small Indonesian tribe that has no written version of its language has decided to adopt the Korean alphabet known as Hangeul, an academic involved in the project said on Thursday.

It is the first case of Hangeul, a phonetic alphabet, being used by a foreign society, Seoul National University professor Lee Ho-young said.

Lee said the Cia-Cia tribe in Bau-Bau city on Buton island in southeast Sulawesi has adopted the script to transcribe its aboriginal language.

He said the city on July 21 began teaching students the alphabet based on textbooks created by the Hunminjeongeum Research Institute, a linguistic society in Seoul.

“The Cia-Cia are now able to preserve their native language,” said Lee, an institute member who played a key role in creating the textbooks, describing the case as “historic.”

The books explain the history and culture of the tribe, which numbers around 60,000.

“I hope this will be a stepping stone for the spread of Hangeul abroad,” Lee said.

The decision “reflects our efforts for years to spread Hangeul abroad. The tribe also wanted to promote economic and cultural exchanges with our country,” he said.

The institute has promised to start work in November on a cultural center for the tribe, to train language teachers and to support cultural exchanges.

It has been trying for years to spread the Korean alphabet to minority tribes across Asia who lack their own writing system.

Indonesia uses the Roman alphabet for its national language Bahasa Indonesia.

Koreans are intensely proud of their 24-character Hangeul alphabet, which was introduced by King Sejong the Great in around 1443 to supersede the use of Chinese characters.

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