• Korean Language History

The language with 7 levels of respect (honorifics)

Korean is the official language of North and South Korea. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China and spoken by the Korean Diaspora in many countries including the People’s Republic of China, Japan and the United States. There are about 78 million Korean speakers worldwide; it is ranked eighteenth in the world’s league table of languages.

There are six different major Korean dialects. While there are certain significant differences between the alphabet, pronunciation and spelling, the Korean language spoken in both North and South Korea is mutually intelligible for the most part.

Much like Japanese, the status of the other party is of significance and influences the level of politeness or formality that is used in writing and speech. The superiority of an individual or group is respected by using special verb endings or nouns that make it clear that you are being respectful to them. Like most countries in Asia, superiority or a certain higher degree of respect is generally associated with anyone who is older or has some social significance like teachers and professors.

Origins & Roots of the Korean Language

Linguists across the globe are convinced that the roots of the Korean language go back to the Altaic family of languages. The Altaic languages are known to have originated from North Asia and include Hungarian, Finnish and Mongol languages among others. While there are some extremely significant similarities between the Korean and Japanese languages, including their grammatical structures and levels of politeness, linguists have not yet been able to establish any historical connection between the two languages.

Even though there isn’t any connection between the grammatical structures of the Chinese and Korean languages, the Chinese language is credited for over half of all Korean vocabulary. Character compounds from the Chinese language also came into the Korean language during the colonial period. A number of English words have also made their way into the Korean language over the years depicting the influence of the United States.

The languages of the Korean peninsula were formerly written using Chinese characters. Today, Korean is mainly written in Hangul, the Korean alphabet promulgated in 1446 by Sejong the Great. Prior to the development of Hangul, Koreans only used Hanja and phonetic systems for over a millennium.

Hanja is a writing system based on Chinese characters. With time, the written version of the Korean language developed and is now written using Hangul instead. Consisting of 24 letters, the Korean alphabet, Hangul, was designed to keep in mind a number of factors including the morphology of the tongue and teeth during pronunciation.

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