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It's proving quite difficult to learn some of the facts about written Korean before hangul was given official status by the government.

  • We know that metal movable type printing was inventing in Korea in the 13th century.

  • We know that hangul was devised in the 15th century.

  • We know there were three systems of writing Korean without hangul: hyangchal, gugyeol, and idu.

  • We know that various forms of popular literature flourished from the 16th and 17th centuries.

  • We know that hangul was adopted in official documents for the first time in 1894.

Yes literacy was not widespread until quite recently, but it seems apparent that plenty of documents were written and printed, at least by the government, prior to 1894, without hangul.

So which system was the most used, or the official system used by the government before 1894?

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Absolutely, most of the official government documents before 1894 were written in classical chinese, whose system is not much different from that of pre-modernized china.

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  • So none of Hyangchal, Gugyeol, or Idu were ever used in any official capacity? – hippietrail Apr 16 '14 at 1:35
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    Gugyeol and Idu were mainly for auxiliary purposes e.g., to specify meaning of sentences written in classical chinese. For example, Korean has case markers while classical (and modern) chinese don't have them, so Idu and Gugyeol were sometimes added as case markers. (but never in official documents) Also, as the written form of language was hugely different from what people actually said then, Hyangchal was used among people UNOFFICIALLY, and in a limited way (mostly in literature). Hope my answer helps. – Stanley Nam Apr 18 '14 at 9:03

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