Korean Language

History

The Korean language is a language whose origins are very heavily debated. It is potentially considered to be an Altaic language, or Proto-Altaic language, because of certain grammatical similarities, for example, fusional morphology and relative pronouns. It is alternatively argued that Korean might be a Japonic language, on account of the similarities in vocabulary, but many modern linguists argue that the language has no clear root, but many influences from many sources.

Essentially, linguists have not yet been able to track the origins of the Korean language. However, with the split between North Korea and South Korea in the forties, there are clear differences in these dialects. There are notable differences in vocabulary, pronunciation and verb inflection, in particular.

Popularity

The Korean language has around 80 million speakers worldwide. The majority of speakers reside within either South Korea or North Korea, although there are also many speakers of the Korean language living in China or the U.S. It is an official language in both Koreas, as well as being one of two official languages of the Yanbian Province in Northeastern China.

The language of Korean is written in the Hangul language. IN South Korea, the word for Korean is Hangungmal, which literally means “national language”, whereas in North Korea the word for Korean is Chosonmal. There are many dialects of the Korean language, not only because of the split between North and South Korea, but because of the various levels of development in the cities.

Korean-American people who live in America have a very strong sense of national pride in the Korean language. This group of people makes up around 80% of students in higher education who are studying the Korean language.

Language

Most of the Korean language dialects are very similar to each other, and if you learn the regional accent for one dialect, then you will be quite able to understand nearly all of the others. This is true of all the dialects except for the Jeji Island dialect, which is often classed as a separate language, though again there is much contention around this issue.

In the Korean language, the standard form for sentences is Subject Object Verb. However, this is relatively fluid, and only the verb is an immovable element of the sentence. Korean verbs come in two forms, which are action verbs or descriptive verbs. The former are verbs that describe doing words, while the latter are similar to adjectives, and are often described as such by English linguists.

As with Asian languages, Korean places a high priority on politeness in conversation. The relationship between the speaker and the writer must be established before the conversation begins, otherwise there is a strong risk of offending the recipient. It is always best to err on the side of caution, and assume that anyone older than you, or an employer/teacher, is superior in status.

This does not mean that you have to treat yourself as inferior, but only that it is a mark of politeness that is expected in both North and South Korea. Many young Korean people now, do not keep use these honorifics, but if you are visiting either of the Koreas, then it is best to try and be as polite as possible yourself.

Why Learn The Korean Language?

Korea, despite having an unfortunate military past, is a bright and vibrant country with a variety of festivals and special celebratory occasions. Learning the Korean language will also enable the learner to delve into the diverse world of Korean literature. There are many epic poems and traditional stories in the language of Korean, with writers putting pen to paper as early as 200BC. If you are a sporting person, or someone who has a penchant for martial arts, then learning the Korean language could help understand Taekwondo better, which is the national sport of Korea.


8 Comments

  • #1 by Tod on July 26 - 4:38 am

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    I don’t think Korean language is such difficult. Why is it considered harder than even Russian language? Does it have tongue-breaking words and never-ending grammars like in Russian or Turkish language?

  • #2 by Steven on January 16 - 3:19 am

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    The article talks about South Koreans saying “Hangungmal (한궁말)”. That’s incorrect…they say “Hangookmal (한국말)” or “Hangukmal (한국말)”, depending on the romanization you prefer.

  • #3 by Jongmin on February 17 - 11:07 pm

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    The reason why the Asian languages such as Korean and Chinese are considered difficult is that, i guess, each word has different forms to fit different situations.
    For example, when u say ‘i love you’ u can say it whenver
    but In Korean the basic form of love (verb) is 사랑하다.
    and it can be changed to 사랑하여 사랑하게 사랑하지 사랑하고 사랑하는 and some more. In terms of learning reading, i don’t think it takes so long to read Korean though

  • #4 by Maddie on February 28 - 10:56 am

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    I think it’s more difficult because they use characters, not letters. So, to the English speaker it even looks different. But to say it’s harder than Russian, I don’t know, personally I think they’re equally matched.

  • #5 by Kenny on April 10 - 1:58 am

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    As a native English speaker, student of Korean, and fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese I think the primary difficulty of korean is the agglutination not found in many “western” languages **excluding native american languages. However getting past this reveals a very beautiful and expressive language.

    Korean does not use characters like Chinese, but rather has an alphabet (somewhat more straight forward than English even) that is just stacked by syllable, and not strung out letter for letter.

  • #6 by fn on May 15 - 10:05 am

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    It takes a long time to learn because all the words are totally different to English words.

    Also, the words are hard to remember, because many of them sound almost the same as each other.

  • #7 by Jackie on June 29 - 9:48 am

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    Even you’d like to say the same thing, forms of the sentence should change depends on types of realationship between people. It is different between when you talk to your brother and talk to your grandfather. There’s a variety of types of showing the level of politeness or hierarchy. This kind of changing is spotted only in Japanse and Korean, but the latter is more complicated. It’s hard to get unless you deeply understand their culture or the way they think. Hard to get without living in Korea.

  • #8 by Nick on September 11 - 9:56 pm

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    Korean is a genuinely difficult language for a number of reasons. It’s grammar, though systematic, is entirely different from what is found in English or other Romance languages and there are numerous ways to express the same concept due to its complex system of respect language. The sounds that are made in the language are not consciously made in English, such as their three-way consonants and slightly tricky vowels. During my time living in Korea, I have only met a handful Westerners that actually spoke fluent Korean, most of them being either military or missionaries. The only reason I was able to become somewhat proficient during my time there was due to the language’s grammatical similarities to Japanese and how it shares a wealth of vocabulary with not only Japanese, but also Chinese; the two languages I had to study in university. The one relief in learning Korean is that it makes use of relatively simple alphabet instead of using Chinese characters. However, due to Korean having a limited set of possible sounds, many words, at least to me, seem very similar especially when reading; a problem that Korea’s neighbors do not seem to have because of their use of Chinese characters. Despite all of this, learning Korean can be useful due to the growing Korean conglomerates that operate worldwide, and it has plenty of uses within the US government and military. It will not only allow you to work and socialize in Korea, but also with the vast populations of overseas Koreans that reside everywhere from Japan, the U.S., Canada, and even Brazil!

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