The Korean language is spoken by more than 75 million people, of whom 48 million live in South Korea and 24 million in North Korea. There are more than 2 million speakers in China, approximately 1 million in the United States, and about 500,000 in Japan. Korean is the official language of both South Korea (Republic of Korea) and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). The two Koreas differ in minor matters of spelling, alphabetization, and vocabulary choice (including the names of the letters), but both essentially endorse the unified standards proposed by the Korean Language Society in 1933.

Facts About The Korean Language

  • Korean contains a high concentration of words borrowed from English including basic vocabulary.
  • Roughly half the Korean vocabulary consists of words derived from Chinese, mainly through the Confucian classics.
  • Today South Koreans generally use a hybrid writing system in which words derived from Chinese are written with Chinese characters, while Korean words are written in han’gul. (North Koreans totally eliminated Chinese characters and write even Chinese words in han’gul.)
  • Despite word borrowing, Korean is completely distinct from Chinese, in sound and in sentence structure.

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History Of The Korean Language

Korean is among the world’s most misunderstood languages because its origins are obscure and the subject of ongoing scholarly debate. Evidence suggests that Korean and Japanese belong to the Altaic language family, which also includes Turkish and Mongolian. Chinese, although it belongs to a completely different language family, influenced Korean greatly. Many believe that the language emerged from a single cultural source. But just as the Korean people of today did not descend from a single homogeneous race, the Korean language of today did not evolve from a single language. Various groups who populated the Korean peninsula in ancient times merged into a homogeneous people with a single language during the unifications of the sixth to the fourteenth century. By the fifteenth century, Korean had emerged as the language we now know.

The modern Korean writing system, han’gul, was devised in 1443 during the reign of King Sejong, perhaps the greatest monarch of the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910).