Korean language

한국어 (South Korea)
조선말 (North Korea)
The Korean language written in Hangul:
South Korean: Hangugeo (left)
North Korean: Chosŏnmal (right)
PronunciationKorean pronunciation: [ha(ː)n.ɡu.ɡʌ] (South Korea)
Korean pronunciation: [tso.sɔn.mal] (North Korea)
Native toKorea
Native speakers
80.4 million (2020)[1]
  • Korean
Early forms
Standard forms
DialectsKorean dialects
Hangul / Chosŏn'gŭl (Korean script)
Hanja / Hancha (Historical)
Official status
Official language in
 South Korea
 North Korea
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by
  • National Institute of Korean Language
    (국립국어원 / 國立國語院)
  • The Language Research Institute, Academy of Social Science
    (사회과학원 어학연구소)
  • China Korean Language Regulatory Commission
    (중국조선어규범위원회 / 中国朝鲜语规范委员会)
Language codes
ISO 639-1ko
ISO 639-2kor
ISO 639-3kor
Map of Korean language.png
Countries with native Korean-speaking populations (established immigrant communities in orange and green).
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Korean (South Korean: 한국어, hangugeo; North Korean: 조선말, chosŏnmal) is the native language for about 80 million people, mostly of Korean descent.[a][1] It is the official and national language of both North Korea and South Korea (geographically Korea), but over the past 74 years of political division (and the isolation of North Korea), the two Koreas have developed some noticeable vocabulary differences. Beyond Korea, the language is a recognised minority language in parts of China, namely Jilin Province, and specifically Yanbian Prefecture and Changbai County. It is also spoken in parts of the Russian island of Sakhalin and parts of Central Asia by the Koryo-saram.[2]

The exact relationship between Korean and the Japonic languages, most notably Japanese, is unclear; there is a long-standing controversy whether perceived similarities between the two languages should be attributed to a common origin or rather to mutual influence and a sprachbund.[3][4][5] 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 with each other. The linguistic homeland of Korean is suggested to be somewhere in contemporary Northeast China.[2] 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 Classical Chinese, which, even when spoken, is not intelligible to someone who speaks only Korean. Later, 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 has spread to other countries through globalization via 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, China–North Korea and North Korea–Russia 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 U.S. Department of Defense.

  1. ^ a b Korean language at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ a b Hölzl, Andreas (29 August 2018). A typology of questions in Northeast Asia and beyond: An ecological perspective. Language Science Press. p. 25. ISBN 9783961101023.
  3. ^ Song, Jae Jung (2005). The Korean language: structure, use and context. Routledge. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-415-32802-9..
  4. ^ Campbell, Lyle; Mixco, Mauricio (2007). "Korean, A language isolate". A Glossary of Historical Linguistics. University of Utah Press. pp. 7, 90–91. most specialists... no longer believe that the... Altaic groups... are related […] Korean is often said to belong with the Altaic hypothesis, often also with Japanese, though this is not widely supported.
  5. ^ Kim, Nam-Kil (1992). "Korean". International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Vol. 2. pp. 282–86. scholars have tried to establish genetic relationships between Korean and other languages and major language families, but with little success.

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