A basic understanding of hyangga interpretation

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Hyangchal is an ancient writing system of the Korean language that used Chinese characters. In the early twentieth centuty, some Japanese scholars studied the vernacular poetry known as hyangga as part of an attempt to reconstructing the language of Silla. Later, Korean linguists pursued this topic, researching how to interpret hyangga. Their methodology was to locate reference materials that could be juxtaposed with the original hyangga, including ancient stories written in Korean with similar themes to those addressed in hyangga poems, associated myths, and Chinese translations of hyangga. Their research revealed that hyangchal includes Silla's unique writing systems, such as seokdok (interpretative reading or reading the meaning of a character), bachim (transcription using supporting sounds), and hunju eumjong (the principle of "meaning value preceding the phonetic value"). With the recent discoveiy of many Goryeo era materials in seokdok gugyeol, another writing system that utilized Chinese characters, the relationship between hyangchal and seokdok gugyeol could be gradually ascertained. The clarification of the close relationship between hyangchal and gugyeol affirms that both writing systems occupy an important place in the study of the history of Korean characters and the reconstruction of the ancient Korean language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-96
Number of pages25
JournalKorea Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010


  • Ancient Korean language
  • Bachim (supporting sound)
  • Chinese-borrowing writing system
  • Hyangchal
  • Hyangga
  • Seokdok
  • Seokdok gugyeol
  • Silla language


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