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Faculty Member Awarded Grant to Study Korean Monarch

By Mara McGinnis

Release Date: March 4, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sek Yen Kim-Cho, adjunct associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and director of the Korean Language and Culture Program at the University at Buffalo, has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Korean National Assembly Educational Committee to research and promote the study of Sejong, a monarch and philosopher of Korea's Golden Age.

Sejong, who reigned from 1419-50, is best known for his development of the phonetic system for writing in the Korean language called Hangul, considered one of the most scientific alphabets in use today. The letters Sejong created are said to imitate each potential human sound based on the oral and articulatory configuration of the mouth when the particular sound is uttered.

According to Kim-Cho, Hangul is the only known writing system with a phonetically correct, one-to-one relationship between each human speech sound and its correlating written letter.

Sejong is considered by many to be a cultural hero whose teachings and philosophy contribute to defining the cultural identity of Korea as distinct from Chinese and Japanese cultures. In addition to innovations in language, Sejong and his scholars also made fundamental innovations in areas such as music, law, medicine, agriculture and astronomy, which were not systematically researched until recently.

Among project initiatives to promote Sejong studies are to compile an encyclopedia on Sejong philosophy, produce a video introducing Hangul to English speakers, develop a computer program depicting human speech sounds that will visualize the correlation between Korean letters and their articulatory configurations based on Hangul and develop Korean textbooks and a teachers' training program.

Kim-Cho received a separate grant last year from The Ministry of Culture of Korea to translate a 1446 Sejong document, "Hwun.Min-Ceng.Um," and publish it in English. The document, designated a "cultural treasure of the world" by the United Nations Educational Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), explains the scientific and linguistic merits of Hangul.

Kim-Cho has organized and led more than 200 special lecture and seminar sessions on "Hwun.Min-Ceng.Um" throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe and China. The author of numerous textbooks on Korean language, she also is the recipient of the Republic of Korea's Presidential Award, the Republic of Korea Nation's Award and the Korean Language Society Award.

She was the first woman to graduate from Seoul National University in Korea, where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees in Korean language and literature. She received her doctorate from UB in 1977 and joined the faculty in 1995.

Kim-Cho is a resident of Williamsville.