Korean Language

by Learn Kor Ean Msia

Korean Language (한국어/조선말) is the official language of South Korea and North Korea as well as one of the two official languages in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. Approximately 78 million people speak Korean Language worldwide. In the United States, the study of Korean Language is dominated by the American-Korean Heritage language student. In recent years however, Sejong Institutes in the United States have noted a sharp rise in the number of people of other ethnic backgrounds learning Korean Language between 2009 and 2011; they attribute this to rising popularity of South Korean music and television shows. (Source: “Global popularity of Korean language surges“. Korea Herald. 2012-07-22)


Korean Language has numerous small local dialects (called mal (말) [literally “speech”], saturi (사투리), or bangeon (방언) in Korean). The standard language (pyojuneo or pyojunmal) of both South Korea and North Korea is based on the dialect of the area around Seoul, though the northern standard has been influenced by the dialect of P’yŏngyang.


Modern Korean Language is written with spaces between words, a feature not found in Chinese or Japanese. Korean punctuation marks are almost identical to Western ones. Traditionally, Korean was written in columns, from top to bottom, right to left, but is now usually written in rows, from left to right, top to bottom.


The relationship between Korean Language and other languages is not known for sure, though some linguists believe it to be a member of the Altaic family of languages. Grammatically Korean is very similar to Japanese and about 70% of its vocabulary comes from china. But because of the differences between Chinese and Korean, Chinese characters could not adequately denote Korean speech. Further, only the elite could afford the time necessary to study Chinese, so King Sejong (1397-1450) commissioned the invention of a phonetic script which is both more efficient and more accessible to the common people. Described as one of the most scientific alphabets ever devised, Han’gul consists of 24 letters: 14 consonants and 10 vowels.