[That’s readings, not lectures, mind.]
At Language Log, Bill Poser has posted a wonderful introduction to Hangul (한글). Today is Hangul Day, the celebration of the promulgation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong the Great in 1446.
Prior to 1446, the Korean language was rarely written at all. The written language used in Korea was Classical Chinese. The combination of the use of a foreign language with the large amount of memorization required to learn thousands of Chinese characters meant that only a small elite were literate, overwhelmingly men from aristocratic families. The great majority of people were illiterate. On the relatively rare occasions when Korean was written, it was written using Chinese characters, in part for their sound, in part for their meaning. This too was a complex system poorly suited for mass literacy. Hangul was the first writing system to make it easy for any Korean to read and write his or her native language. […]
Hangul is considered a great achievement for several reasons. First and foremost, it is a perfect alphabet. It distinguishes all of the distinct sounds in Korean and makes no subphonemic distinctions. From the point of view of the reader, there are no ambiguities. From the point of view of the writer, there are a few ambiguities in that in certain environments syllable-final nasals may be written either as nasals or as the plain stops of the same point of articulation. This is not an error but reflects a decision to write at a higher level of abstraction than a classical phonemic representation. It makes things slightly harder for the writer but makes things easier for the reader, who is given more direct access to lexical representations.
Go and read the whole thing.
Bookforum has an article by Jesse Sheidlower, editor at the Oxford English Dictionary, about Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary.
And in French news, we learn via ABC de la langue française that Le Petit Robert — arguably the best one-volume brick-sized French dictionary — is advertising via… eggcorns (poteaux roses). Well, they don’t use the label (yet?), but the first instalment of their new campaign plays on the reshaping tirer au flanc»tirer au flan (.gif image). Eggcorns are useful: the proof is in the pudding.