"Hangeul wins gold in World Alphabet Olympics", Korea Times 10/9/1012:
Korea's Hangeul writing system has won the gold medal at an international contest of world alphabets, organizers said Tuesday.
Hangeul earned the top honor beating India's Telugu alphabet and the English alphabet at the 2nd World Alphabet Olympics held in Bangkok on Oct. 1-4, according to the organizing committee of the competition in Seoul.
Scholars from a total of 27 countries with their own writing system or using borrowed alphabets from other countries took part in the contest, according to the organizers.
This marks hangeul's second straight win in the competition following the first in 2009. In the first Olympics held in Seoul, silver and bronze medals went to Greece and Italy out of 16 countries with their own alphabets.
Despite being deeply sympathetic to politico-alphabetic fantasies, I'm drawing a blank in trying to imagine what the events at that Alphabet Olympics might have been. Synchronized Scrabble? Marathon Crosswords? Beach Anagrams? The Korea Times article offers a hint:
Lee Yang-ha, a former Korean ambassador to Lebanon and the chief organizer of the event, says that hangeul is superior to all other alphabets in its ability to convey information in a short period of time.
"While 26 letters of the English alphabet can only express 300 or more sorts of sound, 24 letters of the Korean alphabet can carry 11,000 kinds of sound in theory and 8,700 sorts of sound in practice," Lee said.
Perhaps some readers can tell us how to get from 26 to 300 — is that perhaps supposed to be the number of consequential digraphs and other orthographically-special sequences in English? It seems like a low estimate, if so. The numbers for Hangul pretty clearly come out of the arrangement of basic elements in "morpho-syllabic blocks":
Except for a few grammatical morphemes prior to the twentieth century, no letter may stand alone to represent elements of the Korean language. Instead, letters are grouped into syllabic or morphemic blocks of at least two and often three: (1) a consonant or a doubled consonant called the initial (초성, 初聲 choseong syllable onset), (2) a vowel or diphthong called the medial (중성, 中聲 jungseong syllable nucleus), and, optionally, (3) a consonant or consonant cluster at the end of the syllable, called the final (종성, 終聲 jongseong syllable coda). When a syllable has no actual initial consonant, the null initial ㅇ ieung is used as a placeholder. (In modern Hangul, placeholders are not used for the final position.) Thus, a block contains a minimum of two letters, an initial and a medial. Although the Hangul had historically been organized into syllables, in the modern orthography it is first organized into morphemes, and only secondarily into syllables within those morphemes, with the exception that single-consonant morphemes may not be written alone. […]
Not including obsolete letters, there are 11,172 possible Hangul blocks.
I'd like to observe that the binary alphabet can easily top this — with only two "letters", it manages to represent 4,294,967,296 sorts of anything at all — sounds or whatever else — in a 32-bit integer. But the Digital Nation will not have a chance to compete for the gold, because (as The Korea Times informs us)
Lee said this will be the last of the World Alphabet Olympics since letters do not change as easily as spoken languages.
[Tip of the hat to Shane Roberts]