Category Archives: Korean language

Korean language and script 한국어/한국말 and 한글.

 

Having lived near New Malden, the heart of the British Korean community,for several years; I became fascinated with the elegance and simplicity of the Korean alphabet and script – Hangul. Many businesses and restaurants advertise their presence in both the Roman and Korean alphabet. I have since embarked on a  Korean language learning odyssey , which has proved utterly compulsive and life-enhancing.

It was with some anticipation therefore, that I attended a lecture at the KCCUK recently given by Dr Jae Hoon Yeon , professor of Korean language and linguistics at London University’s SOAS.  Many students of Korean will be familiar with his essential language text books , such as ‘Get Started in Korean (Teach Yourself)’isbn9781444175059-detail– London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Many fewer people will be au fait with such academic papers as  ‘Is there ergativity in Korean? – The definition of ergativity and other uses of the term ‘ergative’ [in Korean].’ Han-Geul (Journal of the Korean Language Society)2008. One for the pathologically keen perhaps? ( and an honourable mention to anyone who comments on here to explain what it means).

hanguk

The lecture itself was an enjoyable romp through the history of the Korean language , starting with the 4 hypotheses on the its origin. Handily identified by the compass points the alternative explanations explore the roots of Korean. Namely the East theory ( originated from Japan), the West theory ( originated from western languages),the South theory ( originated from Polynesian languages) and the North theory ( originated from the Altaic language family). Of these only the latter seems plausible although many consider Korean an orphan or isolate language and perhaps a minor or distant relative of the Altaic language family.

There then followed an explanation of the development of Hangul during the reign of King Sejong (1418–1450) and the differing views on how much personal influence he exercised on the alphabet’s invention. Certainly the Annals of King Sejong allow us to date the origin of the script to December 1443 ( or January 1444 depending on how one calculates the date of the lunar calendar).

Periodic Table of Hangul

Hangulposter

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The alphabet itself is a model of logic and elegance with the basic consonant shapes based on the phonological properties of the sound and the physical articulations; and the basic vowel symbols following a more philosophical and abstract notion.

consonants-5-groups-diagram

bright-dark-vowels-diagram

See here for an excellent explanation of linguistic and philosophical origins of the Korean language and here for the associated study page by Stephen Wright Phd.

We then moved forward in time to contemporary Korean , where we explored divergences between language uses between North and South Korea that have developed with dialectical differences and linguistic policies. Differences include, intonation, lexicon,accents, verb endings, use of honorifics and alphabet order.

Finally we looked at the  6 dialectal divisions in South Korea and some of the differences in pronunciation between for example Jeju and Seoul speakers.

This is , of course a vast subject , and one that I shall be returning to often to provide a more rounded resource. I might even post on ergativity!

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