|한국어 (South Korea)|
조선말 (North Korea)
|Names for the Korean language written vertically in Hangul. The South Korean name is on the left and the North Korean on the right.|
|Pronunciation|| (South Korea)|
|Native speakers||82 million (2020)|
|Dialects||see Korean dialects|
|Writing system||Hangul / Chosŏn'gŭl (Korean script)|
Hanja / Hancha (Additional in South Korea, Historical in North Korea)
|Official language in|| South Korea|
|China (Yanbian Prefecture and Changbai County)|
|Red: Spoken by a majority
Orange: Spoken by a minorityGreen: Local minority Korean-speaking populations
|Part of a series on the|
|Culture of Korea|
|Arts and literature|
Korean (South Korean: 한국어, hangugeo; North Korean: 조선말, chosŏnmal) is the native language for about 81.7 million people, mostly of Korean descent. It is the official and national language of both South Korea and North Korea. The two countries have established standardized norms for Korean, and the differences between them are similar to those between Standard Chinese in Mainland China and Taiwan, but political conflicts between the two countries have highlighted the differences between them. South Korean newspaper Daily NK has claimed North Korea criminalizes the use of the South's standard language with the death penalty, and South Korean education and media often portray the North's language as alien and uncomfortable.
Beyond Korea, the language is recognised as a minority language in parts of China, namely Jilin Province, and specifically Yanbian Prefecture, and Changbai County. It is also spoken by Sakhalin Koreans in parts of Sakhalin, the Russian island just north of Japan, and by the Koryo-saram in parts of Central Asia. The language has a few extinct relatives which—along with the Jeju language (Jejuan) of Jeju Island and Korean itself—form the compact Koreanic language family. Even so, Jejuan and Korean are not mutually intelligible. The linguistic homeland of Korean is suggested to be somewhere in contemporary Manchuria. The hierarchy of the society from which the language originates deeply influences the language, leading to a system of speech levels and honorifics indicative of the formality of any given situation.
Modern Korean is written in the Korean script (한글; Hangul in South Korea, 조선글; Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea), a system developed during the 15th century for that purpose, although it did not become the primary script until the 20th century. The script uses 24 basic letters (jamo) and 27 complex letters formed from the basic ones. When first recorded in historical texts, Korean was only a spoken language; all written records were maintained in Hanmun or classical Chinese along with invented phonetic scripts like as Idu, Gugyeol and Hyangchal. Later, written Chinese characters adapted to the Korean language, Hanja (漢字), were used to write the language for most of Korea's history and are still used to a limited extent in South Korea, most prominently in the humanities and the study of historical texts.
Since the turn of the 21st century, aspects of Korean culture have spread to other countries through globalization and cultural exports. As such, interest in Korean language acquisition (as a foreign language) is also generated by longstanding alliances, military involvement, and diplomacy, such as between South Korea–United States and China–North Korea since the end of World War II and the Korean War. Along with other languages such as Chinese and Arabic, Korean is ranked at the top difficulty level for English speakers by the United States Department of Defense.
Modern Korean descends from Middle Korean, which in turn descends from Old Korean, which descends from the Proto-Koreanic language, which is generally suggested to have its linguistic homeland somewhere in Manchuria. Whitman (2012) suggests that the proto-Koreans, already present in northern Korea, expanded into the southern part of the Korean Peninsula at around 300 BC and coexisted with the descendants of the Japonic Mumun cultivators (or assimilated them). Both had influence on each other and a later founder effect diminished the internal variety of both language families.
Since the establishment of two independent governments, North–South differences have developed in standard Korean, including variations in pronunciation and vocabulary chosen, but these minor differences can be found in any of the Korean dialects, which are still largely mutually intelligible.
Chinese characters arrived in Korea (see Sino-Xenic pronunciations for further information) together with Buddhism during the Proto-Three Kingdoms era in the 1st century BC. They were adapted for Korean and became known as Hanja, and remained as the main script for writing Korean for over a millennium alongside various phonetic scripts that were later invented such as Idu, Gugyeol and Hyangchal. Mainly privileged elites were educated to read and write in Hanja. However, most of the population was illiterate.
In the 15th century King Sejong the Great personally developed an alphabetic featural writing system known today as Hangul. He felt that Hanja was inadequate to write Korean and that caused its very restricted use; Hangul was designed to either aid in reading Hanja or to replace Hanja entirely. Introduced in the document Hunminjeongeum, it was called eonmun (colloquial script) and quickly spread nationwide to increase literacy in Korea. Hangul was widely used by all the Korean classes but was often treated as amkeul ("script for women") and disregarded by privileged elites, and Hanja was regarded as jinseo ("true text"). Consequently, official documents were always written in Hanja during the Joseon era. Since few people could understand Hanja, Korean kings sometimes released public notices entirely written in Hangul as early as the 16th century for all Korean classes, including uneducated peasants and slaves. By the 17th century, the elite class of Yangban had exchanged Hangul letters with slaves, which suggests a high literacy rate of Hangul during the Joseon era.
Today Hanja is largely unused in everyday life because of its inconvenience but it is still important for historical and linguistic studies. Neither South Korea nor North Korea opposes the learning of Hanja, but they are no longer officially used in North Korea and their usage in South Korea is mainly reserved for specific circumstances such as newspapers, scholarly papers and disambiguation.
The Korean names for the language are based on the names for Korea used in both South Korea and North Korea. The English word "Korean" is derived from Goryeo, which is thought to be the first Korean dynasty known to Western nations. Korean people in the former USSR refer to themselves as Koryo-saram or Koryo-in (literally, "Koryo/Goryeo persons"), and call the language Koryo-mal'. Some older English sources also use the spelling "Corea" to refer to the nation, and its inflected form for the language, culture and people, "Korea" becoming more popular in the late 1800s.
In South Korea the Korean language is referred to by many names including hanguk-eo ("Korean language"), hanguk-mal ("Korean speech") and uri-mal ("our language"); "hanguk" is taken from the name of the Korean Empire (대한제국; 大韓帝國; Daehan Jeguk). The "han" (韓) in Hanguk and Daehan Jeguk is derived from Samhan, in reference to the Three Kingdoms of Korea (not the ancient confederacies in the southern Korean Peninsula), while "-eo" and "-mal" mean "language" and "speech", respectively. Korean is also simply referred to as guk-eo, literally "national language". This name is based on the same Han characters (國語 "nation" + "language") that are also used in Taiwan and Japan to refer to their respective national languages.
In North Korea and China, the language is most often called Joseon-mal, or more formally, Joseon-o. This is taken from the North Korean name for Korea (Joseon), a name retained from the Joseon dynasty until the proclamation of the Korean Empire, which in turn was annexed by the Empire of Japan.
In mainland China, following the establishment of diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1992, the term Cháoxiǎnyǔ or the short form Cháoyǔ has normally been used to refer to the standard language of North Korea and Yanbian, whereas Hánguóyǔ or the short form Hányǔ is used to refer to the standard language of South Korea.
Korean is a member of the Koreanic family along with the Jeju language. Some linguists have included it in the Altaic family, but the core Altaic proposal itself has lost most of its prior support. The Khitan language has several vocabulary items similar to Korean that are not found in other Mongolian or Tungusic languages, suggesting a Korean influence on Khitan.
The hypothesis that Korean could be related to Japanese has had some supporters due to some overlap in vocabulary and similar grammatical features that have been elaborated upon by such researchers as Samuel E. Martin and Roy Andrew Miller. Sergei Anatolyevich Starostin (1991) found about 25% of potential cognates in the Japanese–Korean 100-word Swadesh list. Some linguists concerned with the issue between Japanese and Korean, including Alexander Vovin, have argued that the indicated similarities are not due to any genetic relationship, but rather to a sprachbund effect and heavy borrowing, especially from Ancient Korean into Western Old Japanese. A good example might be Middle Korean sàm and Japanese asá, meaning "hemp". This word seems to be a cognate, but although it is well attested in Western Old Japanese and Northern Ryukyuan languages, in Eastern Old Japanese it only occurs in compounds, and it is only present in three dialects of the Southern Ryukyuan language group. Also, the doublet wo meaning "hemp" is attested in Western Old Japanese and Southern Ryukyuan languages. It is thus plausible to assume a borrowed term. (See Classification of the Japonic languages or Comparison of Japanese and Korean for further details on a possible relationship.)
Hudson & Robbeets (2020) suggested that there are traces of a pre-Nivkh substratum in Korean. According to the hypothesis, ancestral varieties of Nivkh (also known as Amuric) were once distributed on the Korean peninsula before the arrival of Koreanic speakers.
Korean syllable structure is (C)(G)V(C), consisting of an optional onset consonant, glide /j, w, ɰ/ and final coda /p, t, k, m, n, ŋ, l/ surrounding a core vowel.
|Nasal||ㅁ /m/||ㄴ /n/||ㅇ /ŋ/|
|plain||ㅂ /p/||ㄷ /t/||ㅈ /t͡s/ or /t͡ɕ/||ㄱ /k/|
|tense||ㅃ /p͈/||ㄸ /t͈/||ㅉ /t͡s͈/ or /t͡ɕ͈/||ㄲ /k͈/|
|aspirated||ㅍ /pʰ/||ㅌ /tʰ/||ㅊ /t͡sʰ/ or /t͡ɕʰ/||ㅋ /kʰ/|
|Fricative||plain||ㅅ /s/ or /sʰ/||ㅎ /h/|
|Liquid||ㄹ /l/ or /ɾ/|
The IPA symbol ⟨◌͈⟩ (a subscript double straight quotation mark, shown here with a placeholder circle) is used to denote the tensed consonants /p͈/, /t͈/, /k͈/, /t͡ɕ͈/, /s͈/. Its official use in the extensions to the IPA is for 'strong' articulation, but is used in the literature for faucalized voice. The Korean consonants also have elements of stiff voice, but it is not yet known how typical this is of faucalized consonants. They are produced with a partially constricted glottis and additional subglottal pressure in addition to tense vocal tract walls, laryngeal lowering, or other expansion of the larynx.
/s/ is aspirated and becomes an alveolo-palatal before or for most speakers (but see North–South differences in the Korean language). This occurs with the tense fricative and all the affricates as well. At the end of a syllable, /s/ changes to /t/ (example: beoseot (버섯) 'mushroom').
/p, t, t͡ɕ, k/ become voiced between voiced sounds.
/m, n/ frequently denasalize at the beginnings of words.
/l/ becomes alveolar flap between vowels, and or at the end of a syllable or next to another /l/. A written syllable-final 'ㄹ', when followed by a vowel or a glide (i.e., when the next character starts with 'ㅇ'), migrates to the next syllable and thus becomes .
Traditionally, /l/ was disallowed at the beginning of a word. It disappeared before , and otherwise became /n/. However, the inflow of western loanwords changed the trend, and now word-initial /l/ (mostly from English loanwords) are pronounced as a free variation of either or .
Plosive sounds /p, t, k/ become nasals before nasal sounds.
Hangul spelling does not reflect these assimilatory pronunciation rules, but rather maintains the underlying, partly historical morphology. Given this, it is sometimes hard to tell which actual phonemes are present in a certain word.
The traditional prohibition of word-initial /ɾ/ became a morphological rule called "initial law" (두음법칙) in the pronunciation standards of South Korea, which pertains to Sino-Korean vocabulary. Such words retain their word-initial /ɾ/ in the pronunciation standards of North Korea. For example,
/e/ ㅔ, /ɛ/ ㅐ, /ø/ ㅚ, /y/ ㅟ
|Vowels preceded by intermediaries,
/je/ ㅖ, /jɛ/ ㅒ, /we/ ㅞ, /wɛ/ ㅙ, /wa/ ㅘ, /ɰi/ ㅢ, /wʌ/ ㅝ
Grammatical morphemes may change shape depending on the preceding sounds. Examples include -eun/-neun (-은/-는) and -i/-ga (-이/-가).
Sometimes sounds may be inserted instead. Examples include -eul/-reul (-을/-를), -euro/-ro (-으로/-로), -eseo/-seo (-에서/-서), -ideunji/-deunji (-이든지/-든지) and -iya/-ya (-이야/-야).
|After a consonant||After a ㄹ (rieul)||After a vowel|
|-eun (-은)||-neun (-는)|
|-i (-이)||-ga (-가)|
|-eul (-을)||-reul (-를)|
|-gwa (-과)||-wa (-와)|
|-euro (-으로)||-ro (-로)|
Some verbs may also change shape morphophonemically.
Korean is an agglutinative language. The Korean language is traditionally considered to have nine parts of speech. Modifiers generally precede the modified words, and in the case of verb modifiers, can be serially appended. The sentence structure or basic form of a Korean sentence is subject–object–verb (SOV), but the verb is the only required and immovable element and word order is highly flexible, as in many other agglutinative languages.
|Question:||"Did go to the store?" ("you" implied in conversation)|
|store +||+ + + + +|
|예. (or 네.)|
|ye (or ne)|
The relationship between a speaker/writer and their subject and audience is paramount in Korean grammar. The relationship between the speaker/writer and subject referent is reflected in honorifics, whereas that between speaker/writer and audience is reflected in speech level.
When talking about someone superior in status, a speaker or writer usually uses special nouns or verb endings to indicate the subject's superiority. Generally, someone is superior in status if they are an older relative, a stranger of roughly equal or greater age, or an employer, teacher, customer, or the like. Someone is equal or inferior in status if they are a younger stranger, student, employee, or the like. Nowadays, there are special endings which can be used on declarative, interrogative, and imperative sentences, and both honorific or normal sentences.
Honorifics in traditional Korea were strictly hierarchical. The caste and estate systems possessed patterns and usages much more complex and stratified than those used today. The intricate structure of the Korean honorific system flourished in traditional culture and society. Honorifics in contemporary Korea are now used for people who are psychologically distant. Honorifics are also used for people who are superior in status, such as older people, teachers, and employers.
There are seven verb paradigms or speech levels in Korean, and each level has its own unique set of verb endings which are used to indicate the level of formality of a situation. Unlike honorifics—which are used to show respect towards the referent (the person spoken of)—speech levels are used to show respect towards a speaker's or writer's audience (the person spoken to). The names of the seven levels are derived from the non-honorific imperative form of the verb 하다 (hada, "do") in each level, plus the suffix 체 ("che", Hanja: 體), which means "style".
The three levels with high politeness (very formally polite, formally polite, casually polite) are generally grouped together as jondaenmal (존댓말), whereas the two levels with low politeness (formally impolite, casually impolite) are banmal (반말) in Korean. The remaining two levels (neutral formality with neutral politeness, high formality with neutral politeness) are neither polite nor impolite.
Nowadays, younger-generation speakers no longer feel obligated to lower their usual regard toward the referent. It is common to see younger people talk to their older relatives with banmal (반말). This is not out of disrespect, but instead it shows the intimacy and the closeness of the relationship between the two speakers. Transformations in social structures and attitudes in today's rapidly changing society have brought about change in the way people speak.
In general, Korean lacks grammatical gender. As one of the few exceptions, the third-person singular pronoun has two different forms: 그 geu (male) and 그녀 geu-nyeo (female). Before 그녀 was invented in need of translating 'she' into Korean, 그 was the only third-person singular pronoun and had no grammatical gender. Its origin causes 그녀 never to be used in spoken Korean but appearing only in writing.
To have a more complete understanding of the intricacies of gender in Korean, three models of language and gender that have been proposed: the deficit model, the dominance model, and the cultural difference model. In the deficit model, male speech is seen as the default, and any form of speech that diverges from that norm (female speech) is seen as lesser than. The dominance model sees women as lacking in power due to living within a patriarchal society. The cultural difference model proposes that the difference in upbringing between men and women can explain the differences in their speech patterns. It is important to look at the models to better understand the misogynistic conditions that shaped the ways that men and women use the language. Korean's lack of grammatical gender makes it different from most European languages. Rather, gendered differences in Korean can be observed through formality, intonation, word choice, etc.
However, one can still find stronger contrasts between genders within Korean speech. Some examples of this can be seen in: (1) the softer tone used by women in speech; (2) a married woman introducing herself as someone's mother or wife, not with her own name; (3) the presence of gender differences in titles and occupational terms (for example, a sajang is a company president, and yŏsajang is a female company president); (4) females sometimes using more tag questions and rising tones in statements, also seen in speech from children.
Between two people of asymmetric status in Korean society, people tend to emphasize differences in status for the sake of solidarity. Koreans prefer to use kinship terms, rather than any other terms of reference. In traditional Korean society, women have long been in disadvantaged positions. Korean social structure traditionally was a patriarchically dominated family system that emphasized the maintenance of family lines. That structure has tended to separate the roles of women from those of men.
Cho and Whitman (2019) explain that the different categories like male and female in social conditions influence Korean's features. What they noticed was the word jagi (자기). Before explaining the word jagi, one thing that needs to be clearly distinguished is that jagi can be used in a variety of situations, not all of which mean the same thing, but they depend on the context. Parallel variable solidarity and affection move the convention of speech style, especially terms of address that Jagi (자기 'you') has emerged as a gender-specific second-person pronoun used by women. However, young Koreans use the word jagi to their lovers or spouses regardless of gender. Among middle-aged women, the word jagi is sometimes used to call someone who is close to them.
Korean society's prevalent attitude towards men being in public (outside the home) and women living in private still exists today. For instance, the word for husband is bakkat-yangban (바깥양반 'outside' 'nobleman'), but a husband introduces his wife as an-saram (안사람 an 'inside' 'person'). Also in kinship terminology, we (외 'outside' or 'wrong') is added for maternal grandparents, creating oe-harabeoji and oe-hal-meoni (외할아버지, 외할머니 'grandfather and grandmother'), with different lexicons for males and females and patriarchal society revealed. Further, in interrogatives to an addressee of equal or lower status, Korean men tend to use haennya (했냐? 'did it?')' in aggressive masculinity, but women use haenni (했니? 'did it?')' as a soft expression. However, there are exceptions. Korean society used the question endings -ni (니) and -nya (냐), the former prevailing among women and men until a few decades ago. In fact, -nya (냐) was characteristic of the Jeolla and Chungcheong dialects. However, since the 1950s, large numbers of people have moved to Seoul from Chungcheong and Jeolla, and they began to influence the way men speak. Recently, women also have used the -nya (냐). As for -ni (니), it is usually used toward people to be polite even to someone not close or younger. As for -nya (냐), it is used mainly to close friends regardless of gender.
Like the case of "actor" and "actress", it also is possible to add a gender prefix for emphasis: biseo (비서 'secretary') is sometimes combined with yeo (여 'female') to form yeo-biseo (여비서 'female secretary'); namja (남자 'man') often is added to ganhosa (간호사 'nurse') to form namja-ganhosa (남자간호사 'male nurse').
Another crucial difference between men and women is the tone and pitch of their voices and how they affect the perception of politeness. Men learn to use an authoritative falling tone; in Korean culture, a deeper voice is associated with being more polite. In addition to the deferential speech endings being used, men are seen as more polite as well as impartial, and professional. Compared to women who use a rising tone in conjunction with -yo (요), they are not perceived to be as polite as men. The -yo (요) also indicates uncertainty since the ending has many prefixes that indicate uncertainty and questioning. The deferential ending does not have any prefixes and do can indicate uncertainty. The -hamnida (합니다) ending is the most polite and formal form of Korea, and the -yo (요) ending is less polite and formal, which causes the perception of women as less professional.
Hedges soften an assertion, and their function as a euphemism in women's speech in terms of discourse difference. Women are expected to add nasal sounds neyng, neym, ney-e, more frequently than men do in the last syllable. Often, l is often added in women's for female stereotypes and so igeolo (이거로 'this thing') becomes igeollo (이걸로 'this thing') to refer to a lack of confidence and passive construction.
The core of the Korean vocabulary is made up of native Korean words. However, a significant proportion of the vocabulary, especially words that denote abstract ideas, are Sino-Korean words (of Chinese origin). To a much lesser extent, some words have also been borrowed from Mongolian and other languages. More recent loanwords are dominated by English.
In South Korea, it is widely believed that North Korea wanted to emphasize the use of unique Korean expressions in its language and eliminate the influence of foreign languages. However, according to researchers such as Jeon Soo-tae, who has seen first-hand data from North Korea, the country has reduced the number of difficult foreign words in a similar way to South Korea.
In 2021, Moon Sung-guk of Kim Il Sung University in North Korea wrote in his thesis that Kim Jong Il had said that vernacularized Sino-Korean vocabulary should be used as it is, not modified. "A language is in constant interaction with other languages, and in the process it is constantly being developed and enriched," he said. According to the paper, Kim Jong Il argued that academic terms used in the natural sciences and engineering, such as 콤퓨터 (compyutŏ; computer) and 하드디스크 (hadǔdisǔkǔ; hard disk) should remain in the names of their inventors, and that the word 쵸콜레트 (ch'okoletǔ; chocolate) should not be replaced because it had been used for so long.
South Korea defines its vocabulary standards through the "표준국어대사전"("Standard Korean Language Dictionary"), and North Korea defines its vocabulary standards through the "조선말대사전"("Korean Language Dictionary").
|Number||Sino-Korean cardinals||Native Korean cardinals|
|6||육, 륙||yuk, ryuk||여섯||yeoseot|
Sino-Korean vocabulary consists of:
Therefore, just like other words, Korean has two sets of numeral systems. English is similar, having native English words and Latinate equivalents such as water-aqua, fire-flame, sea-marine, two-dual, sun-solar, star-stellar. However, unlike English and Latin which belong to the same Indo-European languages family and bear a certain resemblance, Korean and Chinese are genetically unrelated and the two sets of Korean words differ completely from each other. All Sino-Korean morphemes are monosyllabic as in Chinese, whereas native Korean morphemes can be polysyllabic. The Sino-Korean words were deliberately imported alongside corresponding Chinese characters for a written language and everything was supposed to be written in Hanja, so the coexistence of Sino-Korean would be more thorough and systematic than that of Latinate words in English.
The exact proportion of Sino-Korean vocabulary is a matter of debate. Sohn (2001) stated 50–60%. In 2006 the same author gives an even higher estimate of 65%. Jeong Jae-do, one of the compilers of the dictionary Urimal Keun Sajeon, asserts that the proportion is not so high. He points out that Korean dictionaries compiled during the colonial period include many unused Sino-Korean words. In his estimation, the proportion of Sino-Korean vocabulary in the Korean language might be as low as 30%.
The vast majority of loanwords other than Sino-Korean come from modern times, approximately 90% of which are from English. Many words have also been borrowed from Western languages such as German via Japanese (e.g. 아르바이트 (areubaiteu) "part-time job", 알레르기 (allereugi) "allergy", 기브스 (gibseu or gibuseu) "plaster cast used for broken bones"). Some Western words were borrowed indirectly via Japanese during the Japanese occupation of Korea, taking a Japanese sound pattern, for example "dozen" > ダース dāsu > 다스 daseu. However, most indirect Western borrowings are now written according to current "Hangulization" rules for the respective Western language, as if borrowed directly. In South Korean official use, a number of other Sino-Korean country names have been replaced with phonetically oriented "Hangeulizations" of the countries' endonyms or English names.
Because of such a prevalence of English in modern South Korean culture and society, lexical borrowing is inevitable. English-derived Korean, or "Konglish" (콩글리쉬), is increasingly used. The vocabulary of the South Korean dialect of the Korean language is roughly 5% loanwords (excluding Sino-Korean vocabulary). However, due to North Korea's isolation, such influence is lacking in North Korean speech.
|Korean writing systems|
Before the creation of the modern Korean alphabet, known as Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea and as Hangul in South Korea, people in Korea (known as Joseon at the time) primarily wrote using Classical Chinese alongside native phonetic writing systems that predate Hangul by hundreds of years, including idu, hyangchal, gugyeol, and gakpil. Few people in the lower classes had the opportunity to receive an education, and they found it extremely difficult to learn how to write in Chinese characters due to the fundamental disparities between the Korean and Chinese languages and the sheer amount of characters that needed to be taught. To assuage that problem, King Sejong (r. 1418–1450) created the unique alphabet known as Hangul to promote literacy among the common people.
The Korean alphabet was denounced and looked down upon by the yangban aristocracy, who deemed it too easy to learn, but it gained widespread use among the common class and was widely used to print popular novels which were enjoyed by the common class. With growing Korean nationalism in the 19th century, the Gabo Reformists' push, and the promotion of Hangul in schools, in 1894, Hangul displaced Hanja as Korea's national script. Hanja are still used to a certain extent in South Korea, where they are sometimes combined with Hangul, but that method is slowly declining in use even though students learn Hanja in school.
|RR||g||kk||n||d||tt||r (initial), l (final)||m||b||pp||s||ss||silent (initial), ng (final)||j||jj||ch||k||t||p||h|
|IPA||k||k͈||n||t||t͈||ɾ (initial), l (final)||m||p||p͈||s||s͈||∅ (initial), ŋ (final)||t͡ɕ||t͡ɕ͈||t͡ɕʰ||kʰ||tʰ||pʰ||h|
|IPA||i||e||ø, we||ɛ||a||o||u||ʌ||ɯ||ɰi||je||jɛ||ja||jo||ju||jʌ||ɥi, wi||we||wɛ||wa||wʌ|
The letters of the Korean alphabet are not written linearly like most alphabets, but instead arranged into blocks that represent syllables. So, while the word bibimbap (Korean rice dish) is written as eight characters in a row in the Latin alphabet, in Korean it is written 비빔밥, as three "syllabic blocks" in a row. Mukbang (먹방 'eating show') is seven characters after romanization but only two "syllabic blocks" before.
Modern Korean is written with spaces between words, a feature not found in Chinese or Japanese (except when Japanese is written exclusively in hiragana, as in children's books). The marks used for Korean punctuation are almost identical to Western ones. Traditionally, Korean was written in columns, from top to bottom, right to left, like traditional Chinese. However, the syllabic blocks are now usually written in rows, from left to right, top to bottom, like English.
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Korean has numerous small local dialects (called mal (말) , saturi (사투리), or bang'eon (방언). South Korean authors claim that the standard language (pyojun-eo or pyojun-mal) of both South Korea and North Korea is based on the dialect of the area around Seoul (which, as Hanyang, was the capital of Joseon-era Korea for 500 years), however since 1966 North Korea officially states that its standard is based on the Pyongyang speech. All dialects of Korean are similar to each other and largely mutually intelligible (with the exception of dialect-specific phrases or non-Standard vocabulary unique to dialects), though the dialect of Jeju Island is divergent enough to be generally considered a separate language. One of the more salient differences between dialects is the use of tone: speakers of the Seoul dialect make use of vowel length, whereas speakers of the Gyeongsang dialect maintain the pitch accent of Middle Korean. Some dialects are conservative, maintaining Middle Korean sounds (such as z, β, ə) which have been lost from the standard language, whereas others are highly innovative.
Kang Yoonjung & Han Sungwoo (2013), Kim Mi-Ryoung (2013), and Cho Sunghye (2017) suggest that the modern Seoul dialect is currently undergoing tonogenesis, based on the finding that in recent years lenis consonants (ㅂㅈㄷㄱ), aspirated consonants (ㅍㅊㅌㅋ) and fortis consonants (ㅃㅉㄸㄲ) were shifting from a distinction via voice onset time to that of pitch change; however, Choi Jiyoun, Kim Sahyang & Cho Taehong (2020) disagree with the suggestion that the consonant distinction shifting away from voice onset time is due to the introduction of tonal features, and instead proposes that it is a prosodically conditioned change.
There is substantial evidence for a history of extensive dialect levelling, or even convergent evolution or intermixture of two or more originally distinct linguistic stocks, within the Korean language and its dialects. Many Korean dialects have basic vocabulary that is etymologically distinct from vocabulary of identical meaning in Standard Korean or other dialects, for example "garlic chives" translated into Gyeongsang dialect /t͡ɕʌŋ.ɡu.d͡ʑi/ (정구지; jeongguji) but in Standard Korean, it is /puːt͡ɕʰu/ (부추; buchu). This suggests that the Korean Peninsula may have at one time been much more linguistically diverse than it is at present. See also the Japanese–Koguryoic languages hypothesis.
The differences among northern and southern dialects have become so significant that many North Korean defectors reportedly have had great difficulty communicating with South Koreans after having initially settled into South Korea. In response to the diverging vocabularies, an app called Univoca was designed to help North Korean defectors learn South Korean terms by translating them into North Korean ones. More information can be found on the page North-South differences in the Korean language.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, some South Korean linguists and North Korean defectors have argued that South Korean media and education overemphasize or exaggerate the differences between North Korean and South Korean languages. At the 2014 National Conference of the Korean Language and Literature Association, Yonsei University professor Hong Yun-pyo argued that language differences between North and South Korea were exaggerated in the context of the Cold War.
According to Hong, after the Korean War, words like dongmu(동무; comrade, friend) and inmin(인민; people) that had been in common use in South Korea before that disappeared, and if anyone used them, they could be reported to the authorities, which was important evidence of espionage. The language differences between the North and South continued to be exaggerated. The language of the North, the North Korean language, was used to promote anti-communist ideology. He even said that research on North Korean in South Korea "has not been done with actual language materials."
Hong had numerous meetings with North Korean scholars for academic conferences and dictionary compilations, but he rarely encountered communication difficulties; rather, he was more likely to encounter communication difficulties with speakers of the Gyeongsang or Jeolla dialects.
Journalist Joo Sung-ha, a North Korean defector, and Park No-pyeong, a North Korean defector who worked as a professor in North Korea, claimed that there are exaggerations, such as claiming that vocabulary that is unfamiliar to South Koreans but also unfamiliar to North Koreans is common in North Korea, or claiming vocabulary that is different from the North Korean standard as the standard in North Korea. For example, he said that there are rumors in South Korea that the word jeon-gu(전구; bulb) is called bural(불알; balls) in North Korea, which is not true. Most North Korean defectors spoke the dialect of their homeland, not the standard North Korean language, which has some similarities to the standard South Korean language, and it is believed that many did not even know the standard North Korean language when they arrived in South Korea.
In South Korea, the idea that there are linguistic differences between the languages of North and South Korea gained traction until the mid-to-late 2010s. However, as exploration of the actual language of North Korea has progressed, it has been argued that any differences in communication between the two Koreas stem from "cultural" differences, such as economic conditions and traditional ways of expression in certain regions.
For example, North Korean defectors who have fled the country tend to have more direct communication habits that reveal their true feelings compared to South Korean language etiquette, which is prominent in defectors' hometowns but rare in other areas where defection is rare, such as Pyongyang.
Aside from the standard language, there are few clear boundaries between Korean dialects, and they are typically partially grouped according to the regions of Korea.
Recently, both North and South Korea's usage rate of the regional dialect have been decreasing due to social factors. In North Korea, the central government is urging its citizens to use Munhwaŏ (the standard language of North Korea, literally 'Cultural language'), to prevent the use of foul language by the people: Kim Jong Un said in a speech "if your language in life is cultural and polite, you can achieve harmony and comradely unity among people." In South Korea, due to relocation in the population to Seoul to find jobs and the usage of standard language in education and media, the prevalence of regional dialects has decreased. Moreover, internationally, due to the increasing popularity of K-pop, the Seoul standard language has become more widely taught and used.
The North Korean government has become increasingly wary of the Korean Wave, and as such, has been very wary of slangs that reflect South Korean culture since 2020. In January 2023, North Korea adopted a law that could lead to public execution for excessive use of South Korean slang, which the North's government labeled as "puppet language" or "koeroemal (괴뢰말)." The word oppa(오빠, originally used by a woman who was the younger sibling in a sibling relationship to refer to a man who was older than her, but in South Korea, also became a way for a younger woman to refer to her male lover in a romantic relationship) was a prime example of this.
|Standard language||Locations of use|
|Pyojuneo (표준어)||Standard language of ROK. Based on Seoul dialect; very similar to Incheon and most of Gyeonggi, west of Gangwon-do (Yeongseo region); also commonly used among younger Koreans nationwide and in online context.|
|Munhwaŏ (문화어)||Standard language of DPRK. Claimed politically by the North Korean government as "the language of Pyongyang(평양말)"," but linguistically it is believed to be primarily derived from the Seoul dialect. It also reflects language use in regions of North Korea outside of Pyongyang.|
|Regional dialects||Locations of use and example compared to the standard language|
|Rasŏn, most of Hamgyŏng region, northeast P'yŏngan, Ryanggang Province (North Korea), Jilin (China).
|P'yŏngan region, P'yŏngyang, Chagang, northern North Hamgyŏng (North Korea), Liaoning (China)
|Hwanghae region (North Korea). Also in the Islands of Yeonpyeongdo, Baengnyeongdo and Daecheongdo in Ongjin County of Incheon.
Areas in Northwest Hwanghae, such as Ongjin County in Hwanghae Province, pronounced 'ㅈ' (j'), originally pronounced the letter more closely to tz. However, this has largely disappeared. The rest is almost similar to the Gyeonggi and Pyongan dialect.
|Seoul, Incheon, Gyeonggi region (South Korea), as well as Kaeseong, Gaepoong and Changpung in North Korea.
|Yeongseo (Gangwon (South Korea)/Kangwŏn (North Korea) west of the Taebaek Mountains), Yeongdong (Gangwon (South Korea)/Kangwŏn (North Korea), east of the Taebaek Mountains)
|Daejeon, Sejong, Chungcheong region (South Korea)
The rest is almost similar to the Gyeonggi dialect.
|Gwangju, Jeolla region (South Korea)
Famously, natives of Southern Jeolla pronounce certain combinations of vowels in Korean more softly, or omit the latter vowel entirely.
The rest is almost similar to the Chungcheong dialect.
|Busan, Daegu, Ulsan, Gyeongsang region (South Korea)
The rest is almost similar to the Jeolla dialect.
|Jeju (제주)*||Jeju Island/Province (South Korea); sometimes classified as a separate language in the Koreanic language family
In North Korea, palatalization of /si/ is optional, and /t͡ɕ/ can be pronounced between vowels.
Words that are written the same way may be pronounced differently (such as the examples below). The pronunciations below are given in Revised Romanization, McCune–Reischauer and modified Hangul (what the Korean characters would be if one were to write the word as pronounced).
|읽고||ilgo||to read (continuative form)||ilko||ilko||(일)코||ilkko||ilkko||(일)꼬|
|관념||gwannyeom||idea / sense / conception||gwallyeom||kwallyŏm||괄렴||gwannyeom||kwannyŏm||(관)념|
* In the North, similar pronunciation is used whenever the hanja "的" is attached to a Sino-Korean word ending in ㄴ, ㅁ or ㅇ.
* In the South, this rule only applies when it is attached to any single-character Sino-Korean word.
Some words are spelled differently by the North and the South, but the pronunciations are the same.
|North spelling||South spelling|
|해빛||햇빛||sunshine||haeppit (haepit)||The "sai siot" ('ㅅ' used for indicating sound change) is almost never written out in the North.|
|벗꽃||벚꽃||cherry blossom||beotkkot (pŏtkkot)|
|못읽다||못 읽다||cannot read||modikda (modikta)||Spacing.|
|한나산||한라산||Hallasan||hallasan (hallasan)||When a ㄴㄴ combination is pronounced as ll, the original Hangul spelling is kept in the North, whereas the Hangul is changed in the South.|
|규률||규율||rules||gyuyul (kyuyul)||In words where the original hanja is spelt "렬" or "률" and follows a vowel, the initial ㄹ is not pronounced in the North, making the pronunciation identical with that in the South where the ㄹ is dropped in the spelling.|
Basically, the standard languages of North and South Korea, including pronunciation and vocabulary, are both linguistically based on the Seoul dialect, but in North Korea, words have been modified to reflect the theories of scholars like Kim Tu-bong, who sought a refined language, as well as political needs. Some differences are difficult to explain in terms of political ideas, such as North Korea's use of the word rajio(라지오).:
|North spelling||North pronun.||South spelling||South pronun.|
|력량||ryeongryang (ryŏngryang)||역량||yeongnyang (yŏngnyang)||strength||Initial r's are dropped if followed by i or y in the South Korean version of Korean.|
|로동||rodong (rodong)||노동||nodong (nodong)||work||Initial r's are demoted to an n if not followed by i or y in the South Korean version of Korean.|
|원쑤||wonssu (wŏnssu)||원수||wonsu (wŏnsu)||mortal enemy||"Mortal enemy" and "field marshal" are homophones in the South. Possibly to avoid referring to Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un as the enemy, the second syllable of "enemy" is written and pronounced 쑤 in the North.|
|라지오||rajio (rajio)||라디오||radio (radio)||radio||In South Korea, the expression rajio is considered a Japanese expression that was introduced during the Japanese colonial rule and does not properly represent the pronunciation of Korean.|
|우||u (u)||위||wi (wi)||on; above|
|안해||anhae (anhae)||아내||anae (anae)||wife|
|꾸바||kkuba (kkuba)||쿠바||kuba (k'uba)||Cuba||When transcribing foreign words from languages that do not have contrasts between aspirated and unaspirated stops, North Koreans generally use tensed stops for the unaspirated ones while South Koreans use aspirated stops in both cases.|
|페||pe (p'e)||폐||pye (p'ye), pe (p'e)||lungs||In the case where ye comes after a consonant, such as in hye and pye, it is pronounced without the palatal approximate. North Korean orthography reflects this pronunciation nuance.|
In general, when transcribing place names, North Korea tends to use the pronunciation in the original language more than South Korea, which often uses the pronunciation in English. For example:
|Original name||North Korea transliteration||English name||South Korea transliteration|
|Ulaanbaatar||울란바따르||ullanbattareu (ullanbattarŭ)||Ulan Bator||울란바토르||ullanbatoreu (ullanbat'orŭ)|
|København||쾨뻰하븐||koeppenhabeun (k'oeppenhabŭn)||Copenhagen||코펜하겐||kopenhagen (k'op'enhagen)|
|al-Qāhirah||까히라||kkahira (kkahira)||Cairo||카이로||kairo (k'airo)|
Some grammatical constructions are also different:
|North spelling||North pronun.||South spelling||South pronun.|
|되였다||doeyeotda (toeyŏtta)||되었다||doeeotda (toeŏtta)||past tense of 되다 (doeda/toeda), "to become"||All similar grammar forms of verbs or adjectives that end in ㅣ in the stem (i.e. ㅣ, ㅐ, ㅔ, ㅚ, ㅟ and ㅢ) in the North use 여 instead of the South's 어.|
|고마와요||gomawayo (komawayo)||고마워요||gomawoyo (komawŏyo)||thanks||ㅂ-irregular verbs in the North use 와 (wa) for all those with a positive ending vowel; this only happens in the South if the verb stem has only one syllable.|
|할가요||halgayo (halkayo)||할까요||halkkayo (halkkayo)||Shall we do?||Although the Hangul differ, the pronunciations are the same (i.e. with the tensed ㄲ sound).|
Some vocabulary is different between the North and the South:
|North word||North pronun.||South word||South pronun.|
|문화주택||munhwajutaek (munhwajut'aek)||아파트||apateu (ap'at'ŭ)||Apartment||아빠트 (appateu/appat'ŭ) is also used in the North.|
|조선말||joseonmal (chosŏnmal)||한국어||han-guk'eo (han-guk'ŏ)||Korean language||The Japanese pronunciation of 조선말 was used throughout Korea and Manchuria during Japanese imperial rule, but after liberation, the government chose the name 대한민국 (Daehanminguk) which was derived from the name immediately prior to Japanese imperial rule. The syllable 한 (Han) was drawn from the same source as that name (in reference to the Han people). Read more.|
|곽밥||gwakbap (kwakpap)||도시락||dosirak (tosirak)||lunch box|
|동무||dongmu (tongmu)||친구||chin-gu (ch'in-gu)||Friend||동무 was originally a non-ideological word for "friend" used all over the Korean peninsula, but North Koreans later adopted it as the equivalent of the Communist term of address "comrade". As a result, to South Koreans today the word has a heavy political tinge, and so they have shifted to using other words for friend like chingu (친구) or beot (벗). Today, beot (벗) is closer to a term used in literature, and chingu (친구) is the widest-used word for friend.|
Korean is spoken by the Korean people in both South Korea and North Korea, and by the Korean diaspora in many countries including the People's Republic of China, the United States, Japan, and Russia. Currently, Korean is the fourth most popular foreign language in China, following English, Japanese, and Russian. Korean-speaking minorities exist in these states, but because of cultural assimilation into host countries, not all ethnic Koreans may speak it with native fluency.
In North Korea, the regulatory body is the Language Institute of the Academy of Social Sciences (사회과학원 어학연구소; 社會科學院語學硏究所, Sahoe Gwahagweon Eohag Yeonguso). In South Korea, the regulatory body for Korean is the Seoul-based National Institute of the Korean Language, which was created by presidential decree on 23 January 1991.
Established pursuant to Article 9, Section 2, of the Framework Act on the National Language, the King Sejong Institute is a public institution set up to coordinate the government's project of propagating Korean language and culture; it also supports the King Sejong Institute, which is the institution's overseas branch. The King Sejong Institute was established in response to:
The TOPIK Korea Institute is a lifelong educational center affiliated with a variety of Korean universities in Seoul, South Korea, whose aim is to promote Korean language and culture, support local Korean teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges.
The institute is sometimes compared to language and culture promotion organizations such as the King Sejong Institute. Unlike that organization, however, the TOPIK Korea Institute operates within established universities and colleges around the world, providing educational materials. In countries around the world, Korean embassies and cultural centers (한국문화원) administer TOPIK examinations.
For native English-speakers, Korean is generally considered to be one of the most difficult foreign languages to master despite the relative ease of learning Hangul. For instance, the United States' Defense Language Institute places Korean in Category IV with Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), and Arabic, requiring 64 weeks of instruction (as compared to just 26 weeks for Category I languages like Italian, French, and Spanish) to bring an English-speaking student to a limited working level of proficiency in which they have "sufficient capability to meet routine social demands and limited job requirements" and "can deal with concrete topics in past, present, and future tense." Similarly, the Foreign Service Institute's School of Language Studies places Korean in Category IV, the highest level of difficulty.
The study of the Korean language in the United States is dominated by Korean American heritage language students, who in 2007 were estimated to form over 80% of all students of the language at non-military universities. However, Sejong Institutes in the United States have noted a sharp rise in the number of people of other ethnic backgrounds studying Korean between 2009 and 2011, which they attribute to rising popularity of South Korean music and television shows. In 2018, it was reported that the rise in K-Pop was responsible for the increase in people learning the language in US universities.
There are two widely used tests of Korean as a foreign language: the Korean Language Proficiency Test (KLPT) and the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK). The Korean Language Proficiency Test, an examination aimed at assessing non-native speakers' competence in Korean, was instituted in 1997; 17,000 people applied for the 2005 sitting of the examination. The TOPIK was first administered in 1997 and was taken by 2,274 people. Since then the total number of people who have taken the TOPIK has surpassed 1 million, with more than 150,000 candidates taking the test in 2012. TOPIK is administered in 45 regions within South Korea and 72 nations outside of South Korea, with a significant portion being administered in Japan and North America, which would suggest the targeted audience for TOPIK is still primarily foreigners of Korean heritage. This is also evident in TOPIK's website, where the examination is introduced as intended for Korean heritage students.
(These languages are very poorly attested and their affiliation is uncertain.)
|Authority control databases: National|