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About Korean Language

Korean Language (한국어) is spoken on the Korean Peninsula (North and South Korea) and also on the mainland of Asia in the Yanbian-Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China. It is also spoken by the Korvo-saram in territory that was once part of the USSR. About 78 million people speak Korean world-wide, with large concentrations in North and South America, Australia, China, Japan and the Philippines.

The written language is now called “Hangui,” which evolved from borrowed characters of Chinese origin (called Hanja) and then molded by Sejong the Great in the 15th century into the current writing system. Korean is not a tonal language, like Chinese, and, unlike Chinese, it uses phonetic characters rather than ideographs to express words. The alphabet has 14 consonants and 8 vowels. Unlike Chinese and Japanese, Korean uses spaces between words and punctuation much like European languages. Traditionally it was written top-to-bottom, right-to-left, but in modern times is written like Western languages.

In the South, the spoken language is most often called Hangungmal or Hangugeo, which means "national language." In the North and in Yanbian China it is called Chosŏnmal or Chosŏnŏ. The Koryo-saram call it Goryeomal or “Korean language.” Korean is spoken in approximately nine different dialects, the most prominent of course, being those of Seoul and Pyongyang.

Grammatically, Korean is "agglutinative,” meaning that it handles grammatical functions by adding on prefixes, suffixes and word particles, rather than making internal changes to the root word. The sentence structure is basically “subject-object-verb,” unlike most Western languages.

Korean, like Japanese and many other Asian tongues, pays close attention to the relationship of the speaker with the person spoken to and with the person spoken about. The forms used for those “spoken about” are called honorifics (like "her royal highness" when speaking of the queen). The forms used for those "spoken to" (the audience) are called speech levels. Korean has many special nouns and honorific verb suffixes for indicating superiority of the object of the sentence over the status of the speaker. There are also seven different speech levels, each with its own distinctive grammar, ranging from common at the bottom to a high level of formality at the top. More formal speech levels are used as a sign of respect.

Over half of the words in the Korean vocabulary can be traced to Chinese origin, particularly those relating to abstractions. While many came from written Chinese, several were created in Japan or in Korea, but expressed with Chinese characters. Korean uses both an indigenous numbering system and also one based on Chinese numerals. In modern times, many words have come into Korean from European languages as well.

Korean (한국어/조선말,) is the official language of Korea, both South and North. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers. In the 15th century a national writing system was commissioned by Sejong the Great, currently called Hangul. Prior to the development of Hangul, Koreans used Hanja (Chinese characters) to write for over a millennia. The genealogical classification of the Korean language is debated by a small number of linguists. Most classify it as a language isolate[2] while a few consider it to be in the Altaic language family. Some believe it to be distantly related to Japanese. Like Japanese it is agglutinative in its morphology and SOV in its syntax.

Names - The Korean names for the language are based on the names for Korea used in North and South Korea. In South Korea, the language is most often called Hangungmal (한국말; 韓國말), or more formally, Hangugeo (한국어; 韓國語) or Gugeo (국어; 國語; literally "national language").

In North Korea and Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China, the language is most often called Chosŏnmal (조선말; with hanja: 朝鮮말), or more formally, Chosŏnŏ (조선어; 朝鮮語). On the other hand, Korean people in the former USSR, who refer to themselves as Koryo-saram (고려사람; also Goryeoin [고려인; 高麗人; literally, "Goryeo person(s)"]) call the language Goryeomal (고려말; 高麗말). In mainland China, following the establishment of diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1992, the term Cháoxiǎnyǔ (朝鲜语 or the short form: Cháoyǔ (朝语)) has normally been used to refer to the language spoken in North Korea and Yanbian, while Hánguóyǔ (韩国语 or the short form: Hányǔ (韩语)) is used to refer to the language spoken in South Korea. Some older English sources also used the name "Korean" to refer to the language, country, and people. The word "Korean" is derived from Goryeo, which is thought to be the first dynasty known to western countries.


Most modern linguists consider Korean to be a language isolate. Since the publication of the article of Ramstedt in 1928, some linguists support the hypothesis that Korean can be classified as an Altaic language or as a relative of proto-Altaic. Korean is similar to the Altaic languages in that they both lack certain grammatical elements, including articles, fusional morphology and relative pronouns. However, linguists agree today on the fact that typological resemblances cannot be used to prove genetic relatedness of languages as these features are typologically connected and easily borrowed Such factors of typological divergence as Middle Mongolian's exhibition of gender agreement can be used to argue that a genetic relationship is unlikely. The hypothesis that Korean might be related to Japanese has had some more supporters due to some considerable overlap in vocabulary and similar grammatical features that have been elaborated upon by such researchers as Samuel E. Martin and Roy Andrew Miller. Sergei Starostin (1991) found about 25% of potential cognates in the Japanese-Korean 100-word Swadesh list, which - if true - would place these two languages closer together than other possible members of the Altaic family. Other linguists, most notably Alexander Vovin, argue, however, that the similarities are not due to any genetic relationship, but rather to a sprachbund effect and heavy borrowing especially from Korean into Western Old Japanese. A good example might be Middle Korean sàm < Proto-Korean asam ‘hemp’ and Japanese asa ‘hemp’. This word seems to be cognate, but while it is well-attested in Western Old Japanese and Northern Ryūkyū, in Eastern Old Japanese it only occurs in compounds, and it is only present in three subdialects of the South-Ryūkyūan dialect group. Then, the doublet wo ‘hemp’ is attested in Western Old Japanese and Southern Ryūkyū. It is thus plausible to assume a borrowed term. See East Asian languages for morphological features shared among languages of the East Asian sprachbund, and Classification of Japanese for further details on the discussion of a possible relationship.


Korean is descended from Old Korean, Middle Korean and Modern Korean. Controversy remains over the proposed Altaic language family and its inclusion of Proto-Korean. Since the Korean War, contemporary North-South differences in Korean have developed, including variance in pronunciation, verb inflection, and vocabulary.

Geographic distribution

Korean is spoken by the Korean people in North Korea and South Korea and by the Korean diaspora in many countries including the People's Republic of China, Japan, and the United States. Korean-speaking minorities exist in these states, but because of cultural assimilation into host countries, not all ethnic Korean immigrants may speak it with native fluency.

Official status

Korean is the official language of South Korea and North Korea. It is also one of the two official languages of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China. In South Korea, the regulatory body for Korean is the Seoul-based National Institute of the Korean Language (국립국어원), which was created by presidential decree on January 23, 1991. In North Korea, the regulatory body is the Sahoe Kwahagwon Ŏhak Yŏnguso (사회과학원 어학연구소).


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