Language facts: Korean

Mar 23, 2016

Korean is one of the Far East Asian languages, but is a so-called "language isolate" and the only remaining member of the Koreanic language family (all relative languages have been long extinct).

Korean has around 80 million native speakers, and it is the official language in both South and North Korea and also one of the official languages of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China.

Torn language

There is number of differences between South and North Korean due to historical reasons and the isolation of North Korea. Spelling is slightly different between the two nations, but pronunciation is in fact the same (in South Korean the language is based largely on the Seoul dialect, while in North Korea spoken Korean is influenced by the dialect of Pyongyang). The two countries also have slightly different grammar and vocabulary (mainly due to political reasons). For instance, there's number of loan words in both Koreans, but while in South they are taken from English, in the North the vocabulary is "deliberately" influenced by Russian terms (e.g. the expression for "friend" used to be chingu (친구 / 親舊) in the entire Korea, but after the division of the peninsula, the North adopted the translation of the Russian term comrade, tongmu (동무 / 同務).

Even if some English words have been adapted in the North, they are usually transliterated into Korean differently from the practices in the South. Interestingly, for names of places, countries and nations, South Korea uses the English version of the term as a base for transliteration, while North Korea uses the word form in its original language as a base (e.g. Poland in the South is transliterated as Pollandeu (폴란드), but Ppolsŭkka (뽈스까) in the North, based on the Polish original name – Polska).

The division into two parts of a once single great nation is visible also in such should-be-common and historically important words as the name of the Korean Peninsula itself (hanbando (한반도 / 韓半島) in the South and chosŏnbando (조선반도 / 朝鮮半島) in the North), or the very reason for the division: the Korean War (hanguk jeonjaeng 한국 전쟁 / 韓國戰爭 in the South vs.choguk'aepangjŏnjaeng 조국해방전쟁 / 祖國解放戰爭 in the North).

Unusual Alphabet

Korean has its own, unique alphabet system – Hangul – established under the rule of Sejong the Great, and used since the 15th century (however, it did not become an official script in Korea until the 20th century). Today, Hangul is used both in North and South Korea, and it can be written from left to right or in columns from top to bottom starting from the right.

The Korean writing system also uses Hanja, the Korean name for Chinese characters and traditionally used for words of Chinese origin. These can be mixed in to write Sino-Korean words. South Korea still teaches 1800 Hanja characters in its schools, while the North abolished the use of Hanja decades ago. In the past, Hanja was the core of the Korean writing system.

Consonants:

ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅎ, ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅆ, ㅃ, ㅉ

Vowels:

ㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, ㅡ, ㅣ

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive idioma® updates

Contact Us

Tokyo Office

idioma Co., Ltd.

Elevage 3F, Kanda-Nishikicho 3-16-11 Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0054, Japan

  • Phone +81 3 6272 8936
  • Fax +81 3 6272 8938
  • E-mail
Prague Office

idioma s.r.o.

Holečkova 31, 150 00 Prague 5, Czech Republic

  • Phone +420 251 565 000
  • Fax +420 251 564 000
  • E-mail
Gothenburg Office

idioma Sweden

Stora Åvägen 21, 436 34 Göteborg, Sweden

  • Phone +46 31 723 84 50
  • Fax +46 31 723 84 99
  • E-mail
Copyright © 2021 idioma Co., Ltd. All rights reserved.