Last updated
Revised Romanization Gugyeol / Ipgyeot
McCune–Reischauer Kugyŏl / Ipkyŏt
Table of Kugyeol #1 Kou Jue .gif
Table of Kugyeol #1

Gugyeol is a system for rendering texts written in Classical Chinese into understandable Korean. It was chiefly used during the Joseon Dynasty, when readings of the Chinese classics were of paramount social importance. Thus, in gugyeol, the original text in classical Chinese was not modified, and the additional markers were simply inserted between phrases. The Korean reader would then read the parts of the Chinese sentence out of sequence to approximate Korean (SOV) rather than Chinese (SVO) word order. A similar system for reading classical Chinese is used to this day in Japan and is known as Kanbun .



The name gugyeol can be rendered as "phrase parting," and may refer to the separation of one Chinese phrase from another. This name is itself believed to originate from the use of hanja characters to represent the Middle Korean phrase ipgyeot (입겿), with a similar meaning. The gugyeol system is also sometimes referred to as to (토, 吐) or hyeonto (현토, 懸吐), since to is also used to refer to the morphological affixes themselves; or as seogui (석의, 釋義) which can be rendered as "interpretation of the classics."


Gugyeol is first attested from the 11th century in the early Goryeo dynasty, but evidence indicates it likely dates back to the 9th century or earlier. [1] In this period, certain hanja characters were used (along with specialized symbols) to represent Korean sounds through their meaning. For example, the syllable '잇' (is) was represented with the hanja character , since that character has the Korean meaning '있다.' This technique came to be replaced in the late Goryeo period with using hanja characters according to their sound. This later version of the gugyeol system was formalized by Jeong Mong-ju and Gwon Geun around 1400 in the early Joseon Dynasty, at the behest of King Taejong. At this time a number of Confucian classics, including the Classic of Poetry , were rendered into gugyeol.

The term gugyeol is often extended beyond this early system to similar uses of hangul following the introduction of the Hunminjeongeum in the 15th century. In this respect, gugyeol remains in occasional use in contemporary South Korea, where such techniques are still sometimes used to render the Confucian classics into readable form.

Gugyeol should be distinguished from the idu and hyangchal systems which preceded it. Gugyeol used specialized markings, together with a subset of hanja, to represent Korean morphological markers as an aid for Korean readers to understand the grammar of Chinese texts. Also, the idu and hyangchal systems appear to have been used primarily to render the Korean language into hanja; on the other hand, gugyeol sought to render Chinese texts into Korean with a minimum of distortion.

Further reading

See also

Related Research Articles

Korean language East Asian language

Korean is an East Asian language spoken by about 77 million people. It is the official and national language of both Koreas: North Korea and South Korea, with different standardized official forms used in each country. It is a recognised minority language in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture and Changbai Korean Autonomous County of Jilin province, China. It is also spoken in parts of Sakhalin, Russia, and Central Asia.

Hanja Korean language characters of Chinese origin

Hanja is the Korean name for a traditional writing system consisting mainly of Traditional Chinese characters that was incorporated and used since the Gojoseon period. More specifically, it refers to the Traditional Chinese characters incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation.

Sejong the Great Fourth king of Joseon

Sejong the Great was the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. He was the third son of King Taejong and Queen consort Min. He was designated as heir-apparent, Crown Prince, after his older brother Prince Yangnyeong was stripped of his title. He ascended to the throne in 1418. During the first four years of his reign, Taejong governed as regent and executed Sejong's father-in-law, Sim On, and his close associates.

Hangul Day

The Korean Alphabet Day, known as Hangeul Day (한글날) in South Korea, and Chosŏn'gŭl Day in North Korea, is a national Korean commemorative day marking the invention and the proclamation of Hangul, the alphabet of the Korean language, by the 15th-century Korean monarch Sejong the Great. It is observed on October 9 in South Korea and on January 15 in North Korea. Excluding year 1990 to 2012 where the government maximized business days to expedite industrial growth, Hangul day has been a national holiday in South Korea since 1970.

Joseon 1392–1897 Korean kingdom

The Joseon dynasty was a Korean dynastic kingdom that lasted for approximately five centuries. Joseon was founded by Yi Seong-gye in July 1392 and was replaced by the Korean Empire in October 1897. It was founded following the aftermath of the overthrow of Goryeo in what is today the city of Kaesong. Early on, Korea was retitled and the capital was relocated to modern-day Seoul. The kingdom's northernmost borders were expanded to the natural boundaries at the rivers of Amnok and Tuman through the subjugation of the Jurchens. Joseon was the last dynasty of Korea and its longest-ruling Confucian dynasty.

Idu script

Idu is an archaic writing system that represents the Korean language using hanja. The script, which was developed by Buddhist monks, made it possible to record Korean words through its equivalent meaning or sound in Chinese.

Kanbun, a form of Classical Chinese as used in Japan, was used from the Nara period to the mid-20th century. Much of Japanese literature was written in this style and it was the general writing style for official and intellectual works throughout the period. As a result, Sino-Japanese vocabulary makes up a large portion of the Japanese lexicon and much classical Chinese literature is accessible to Japanese readers in some semblance of the original. The corresponding system in Korean is gugyeol (口訣/구결).

Seol Chong was a leading scholar of the Unified Silla period from the Gyeongju Seol clan. He studied Confucian writings and the related Chinese classics. He is also known by the courtesy name Chongji and the pen name Bingwoldang.

Korean literature Literature produced by Koreans

Korean literature is the body of literature produced by Koreans, mostly in the Korean language and sometimes in Classical Chinese. For much of Korea's 1,500 years of literary history, it was written in Hanja. It is commonly divided into classical and modern periods, although this distinction is sometimes unclear. Korea is home to the world's first metal and copper type, the world's earliest known printed document and the world's first featural script.


Hyangchal is an archaic writing system of Korea and was used to transcribe the Korean language in hanja. Under the hyangchal system, Chinese characters were given a Korean reading based on the syllable associated with the character. The hyangchal writing system is often classified as a subgroup of Idu. The first mention of hyangchal is the monk Kyun Ye's biography during the Goryeo period. Hyangchal is best known as the method Koreans used to write hyangga poetry. Twenty-five such poems still exist and show that vernacular poetry used native Korean words and Korean word order, and each syllable was "transcribed with a single graph". The writing system covered nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, particles, suffixes, and auxiliary verbs. The practice of hyangchal continued during the Goryeo Dynasty, where it was used to record native poetry as well.


Jongmyo is a Confucian shrine dedicated to the perpetuation of memorial services for the deceased kings and queens of the Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). According to UNESCO, the shrine is the oldest royal Confucian shrine preserved and the ritual ceremonies continue a tradition established in the 14th century. Such shrines existed during the Three Kingdoms of Korea period (57-668), but these have not survived. The Jongmyo Shrine was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995.

Joseon white porcelain

Joseon white porcelain or Joseon baekja refers to the white porcelains produced during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).

Old Korean is the first historically documented stage of the Korean language, typified by the language of the Unified Silla period (668–935).

Korean mixed script

Korean mixed script, known in Korean as hanja honyong, Hanja-seokkeosseugi, 'Chinese character mixed usage,' or gukhanmun honyong, 'national Sino-Korean mixed usage,' is a form of writing the Korean language that uses a mixture of the Korean alphabet or hangul and hanja, the Korean name for Chinese characters. The distribution on how to write words usually follows that all native Korean words, including grammatical endings, particles and honorific markers are generally written in hangul and never in hanja. Sino-Korean vocabulary or hanja-eo, either words borrowed from Chinese or created from Sino-Korean roots, were generally always written in hanja although very rare or complex characters were often substituted with hangul. Although the Korean alphabet was introduced and taught to people beginning in 1446, most literature until the early twentieth century was written in literary Chinese known as hanmun.

Chinese family of scripts Writing systems derived from the ancient Oracle Bone script

The Chinese family of scripts are writing systems descended from the Chinese Oracle Bone Script and used for a variety of languages in East Asia. They include logosyllabic systems such as the Chinese script itself, and adaptations to other languages, such as Kanji (Japanese), Hanja (Korean), Chữ nôm (Vietnamese) and Sawndip (Zhuang). More divergent are Tangut, Khitan large script, and its offspring Jurchen, as well as the Yi script and possibly Korean Hangul, which were inspired by Chinese although not directly descended from it. The partially deciphered Khitan small script may be another. In addition, various phonetic scripts descend from Chinese characters, of which the best known are the various kana syllabaries, the zhuyin semi-syllabary, nüshu, and some influence on hangul.

The traditional periodization of Korean distinguishes

Gwon Geun (1352–1409) was a Korean Neo-Confucian scholar at the dawn of the Joseon Dynasty, and a student of Yi Saek. He was one of the first Neo-Confucian scholars of the Joseon dynasty, and had a lasting influence on the rise of Neo-Confucianism in Korea.

Middle Korean is the period in the history of the Korean language succeeding Old Korean and yielding in 1600 to the Modern period. The boundary between the Old and Middle periods is traditionally identified with the establishment of Goryeo in 918, but some scholars have argued for the time of the Mongol invasions of Korea. Middle Korean is often divided into Early and Late periods corresponding to Goryeo and Joseon respectively. It is difficult to extract linguistic information from texts of the Early period, which are written using adaptations of Chinese characters. The situation was transformed in 1446 by the introduction of the Hangul alphabet, so that Late Middle Korean provides the pivotal data for the history of Korean.

Adoption of Chinese literary culture Borrowing of Chinese written language and culture by other East Asian states

Chinese writing, culture and institutions were imported as a whole by Vietnam, Korea, Japan and other neighbouring states over an extended period. Chinese Buddhism spread over East Asia between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD, followed by Confucianism as these countries developed strong central governments modelled on Chinese institutions. In Vietnam and Korea, and for a shorter time in Japan and the Ryukyus, scholar-officials were selected using examinations on the Confucian classics modelled on the Chinese civil service examinations. Shared familiarity with the Chinese classics and Confucian values provided a common framework for intellectuals and ruling elites across the region. All of this was based on the use of Literary Chinese, which became the medium of scholarship and government across the region. Although each of these countries developed vernacular writing systems and used them for popular literature, they continued to use Chinese for all formal writing until it was swept away by rising nationalism around the end of the 19th century.

In Korea, the marking of traditional milestones in life is known as The Four Ceremonial Occasions, or Gwanhonsangje. The four rites of passage celebrated in this tradition are the coming of age, marriage, death, or the funeral rites, and rites venerating the ancestors. The word Gwanhonsangje is a generic term made up of the first letter of each word.


  1. Vovin, Alexander (2010). "Is Japanese Katakana Derived from Korean Kwukyel?". In Sang-Oak Lee (ed.). Contemporary Korean Linguistics: International Perspectives. Thaehaksa Publishing Co. ISBN   978-89-5966-389-7.