More linguistic numismatics

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Samuel Johnson has been commemorated on a special 50p coin, as Geoff Pullum notes, but he's not the only linguist (or linguistically inclined scholar) that has been pictured on currency.  Sejong the Great, the 15th-century Korean ruler who developed the Hangul alphabet, can be found on the South Korean 10,000-won banknote.

This is from the most recent series of South Korean currency (the 2006-2007 series), though Sejong has been featured on Korean banknotes in the past. According to Wikipedia, the new note also features text from Yongbieocheonga, the first work of literature written in the Hangul script.

For more about Sejong and Hangul, see Bill Poser's Oct. 9, 2005 post, "Hangul Day." And for more pictures of scientific scholars on paper currency, see the online collection of Jacob Bourjaily.


  1. Trond Engen said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

    "as Geoff Pullum notes"

    Now that would be something.

    "but he's not the only linguist (or linguistically inclined scholar) that has been pictured on currency."

  2. Cameron said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

    Sequoyah is widely celebrated in place-names and the names of schools and such. Has he ever been celebrated on a coin or postage stamp?

  3. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

    Cameron: Stamps yes, coins no, AFAIK. Sequoyah was in the running for the 2002 Tennessee commemorative quarter, but he lost out to a bunch of musical instruments.

  4. bulbul said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

    The Slovak 50 Sk note had the saints Cyril and Method, Cyril aka Constantine being the author of the Glagolitic script and, so his hagiography, a polyglot and a translator. The obverse side of the note also features Glagolitic letters. And then there's the 200 Sk note featuring Anton Bernolák who tried and ultimately failed to standardize Slovak and the author of a grammar, a treatise on etymology and the first dictionary of Slovak. Even Ľudovít Štúr (the 500 Sk note) whose attempt to standardize Slovak succeeded and who wrote a grammar of Slovak counts as a linguist.

  5. bulbul said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

    and the author of a grammar
    … and authored a grammar …
    What can I say, I've been drinking.

  6. Mark Liberman said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

    Let's not forget Thomas Jefferson:

  7. Lars said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

    This is interesting- given how central language reform and standardization is in so many nation-building projects, it's actually quite remarkable how few linguists are commemorated in stamps or currency.
    The one person I can think of in this regard is Martin Luther, who shows up on some piece of German currency I can't think of right now. So OK, he's not generally recognized as a linguist. But his German translation of the Bible is still often considered to have set the standard for what is educated German.

  8. bulbul said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

    Oh and if we want to include scientists, then let's include the 5000 Sk note with Milan Rastislav Štefánik, an astronomer.
    Back to linguists, the Czechs have J.A. Comenius (200 Kč), T.G. Masaryk (5000 Kč) and František Palacký (1000 Kč).

  9. Theodore said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 6:02 pm

    On Bourjaily's list of scholars on banknotes are two Lithuanians, Jonas Jablonskis and Jonas Basanavičius. Jablonskis wrote the first grammar of the Lithuanian language, while Basanavičius had an important role in the preservation of the language: he founded the first Lithuanian-language newspaper during the Lithuanian press ban imposed by Imperial Russia.

  10. Geraint Jennings said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

    Mesrob Mashtots, inventor/inspirer of the Armenian alphabet, figured on the 1993 1000 dram Armenian banknote (in the form of the statue at the Matenadaran).

    Language promotion was also featured on the 1995 Irish 50 punt note in the form of the seal of the Gaelic League (a language organisation, if not a linguistic scholar…)

  11. bulbul said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

    Italian 2 € – Dante Alighieri ("De vulgari eloquentia") and Slovenian 1 € – Primož Trubar.
    And to illustrate what Lars said, I'm quite suprised that neither any of the Maltese lira notes or coins nor the Maltese euro coins bear the likeness of Mikiel Anton Vassalli.

  12. Jonathan Badger said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

    Zamenhof was featured on the Spesmilo coins. While maybe some may wish to disqualify conlang inventors from the contest, remember that in the earlier post about the 50 pence coin Geoffrey specifically mentioned Otto Jespersen, whose greatest accomplishment of course was the creation of the conlang Novial ;-)

  13. goofy said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 8:16 pm

    Pāṇini's on a stamp!

  14. dr pepper said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

    Martin Luther is probably indirectly responsible for some linguistic unification. Specifically, the shattering of western Christianity led to pamphlet wars which gave thousands of people motivation to learn to read.

  15. AJ said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 8:42 pm

    Bronisław Malinowski and Bronisław Piłsudski are commemorated on two Polish coins each. That is if they count.

  16. mollymooly said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

    Language promotion was also featured on the 1995 Irish 50 punt note in the form of the seal of the Gaelic League (a language organisation, if not a linguistic scholar…)

    The front of the £50 depicted Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League, Professor of Irish at University College Dublin, and first President of Ireland.

    The older £5 note featured Johannes Scotus Eriugena, whose translation of Pseudo-Dionysius from Greek into Latin we're all familiar with.

  17. Dan T. said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

    Did Charles Darwin have any linguistic connections, such as perhaps speculating on the evolution of language as well as of species? He's on a British note.

  18. joanne salton said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

    I think King Sejong really simply commissioned and supported linguists, it would be rather flattering to call him one. Of course, since he was a king, that still made his linguistic bent extremely important.

  19. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    June 19, 2009 @ 12:15 am

    Joanne: From the description in Bill Poser's 2005 post, it sounds like King Sejong was actively engaged in the creation of Hangul, not just simply in the commissioning of it.

  20. Bill Walderman said,

    June 19, 2009 @ 12:53 am

    "Did Charles Darwin have any linguistic connections, such as perhaps speculating on the evolution of language as well as of species?"

    See this:

  21. Geraint Jennings said,

    June 19, 2009 @ 2:31 am

    Thanks mollymooly. I'd assumed Hyde was there solely as President rather than Professor. Of course, when I think about it, there's no contest as to the more important position. More linguists as figureheads of state!

  22. Laurent C said,

    June 19, 2009 @ 9:43 am

    Google and Ebay told me Dante's face appeared on a 1965 Italian coin:

  23. Mark Dominus said,

    June 22, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    The consensus among scholars of the history of Hangul is that Sejong himself contributed to the work and was closely involved in it. See for example:

    Ledyard, Gari. "The International Linguistic Background of the Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People." In Young-Key Kim-Renaud, ed. The Korean Alphabet: Its History and Structure. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1997.

  24. Suzanne Kemmer said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 2:15 am

    Ben Franklin is on U.S. hundred dollar notes. He tried to devise a phonetic alphabet for English, apparently even commissioning a typecaster to make the letters. (He was a printer and typographer and thus interested in printed language.)

  25. Aaron Davies said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 4:10 am

    Digging into ancient history, Claudius I presumably appeared on his own money, and wrote an Etruscan dictionary. Anyone know whether he's been on any money since?

  26. HRB said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

    Serbia's least valuable banknote introduced in 2006 shows Vuk K.

  27. Dave Brown said,

    June 24, 2009 @ 8:04 am

    Sejong The Great really does deserve his "The Great" appellation. Thanks to his efforts–whether it was from coralling linguists and educational experts, or from actual work that he did himself–he changed Korean from being a language with a crazy Chinese-derived writing system that would take a lifetime to learn, to having a writing system so easy that it can be learned in, literally, an afternoon. And that without sacrificing expressiveness.

    It took five hundred years for his work to be fully accepted (they used a hybrid Chinese-character/Hangeul writing system for centuries until, well, the Korean war), but even so, he revolutionized the Korean written language.

    It's…well, not so much telling, but a data point…that North Korea, with its fanatic nationalism, adopted a fully-Hangeul writing system before South Korea, with its more inclusive views, did.

  28. Jim Reeds said,

    November 6, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm appeared on the German 1000 Mark note. (Illustrated on the Wikipedia entry for the "Brothers Grimm".)

    So there's 2 more linguists on currency for you!

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