Although Korean is spoken by around 80 million people and is recorded as one of the top 20 most spoken languages in the world, no one really knows how long it’s been spoken for.
Many people know that Hangul (한글), the Korean alphabet, was created by King Sejong the Great during the Joseon Dynasty, in the 15th Century – but the birthday of spoken Korean is very much unknown even today!
Before the time of the Three Kingdoms (57 BC to 668 AD), China influenced Korean culture in many ways by introducing things like Buddhism and wood-frame architecture – but with these developments also arrived the Chinese characters, which were transformed into Hanja (한자), that were used as the main script for Korean writing.
Does this mean that ancient Koreans spoke Chinese?
Despite using Chinese characters to write with, and how geographically close Korea is to China, the Korean and Chinese spoken languages remain very different to one-another.
Not only was Hanja extremely difficult to learn, it was also quite different to how spoken Korean sounded – making it impossible for anyone besides scholars and aristocratic citizens to learn it. This is one of the many reasons why King Sejong saw the need to create a simpler and more accessible writing system for his all subjects.
So if the Korean language didn’t originate with Chinese, where did it come from?
Many scholars believe that the Korean language should be classified in the Altaic Family, which includes languages such as Mongolian, Manchu and Turkish, while others believe the Korean language was greatly influenced by Japan – since the two languages are similar in both grammar and vocabulary.
But no one really knows for sure how the Korean language came about, where it started or who begun it – all we can gather is that it has been influenced by and shares different qualities with other East Asian languages!
One thing you’ll notice when you travel in Korea is that each region, from mountain towns to coastal cities, will have their own dialects – very similar to the varying accents and slang used throughout different parts of The British Isles, American states and around Southern Europe.
There are many different dialects, or 말 (Mal), within Korea such as:
Seoul Speech (서울말) – which is considered the standard language and extends it’s vowel length, e.g. Samchon (삼촌) or ‘Uncle’ is pronounced Samchoon (삼춘).
Chungcheong Speech (충청말) – which is similar to the Seoul dialect, only a bit slower and drawn out.
Gyeongsang Speech (경상말) – which resembles the Seoul dialect in many places, but further in the East the Gyeongsang dialect tends to drop certain letters and change the tones, which has lead to some shocking misunderstandings in the past.
Jeolla Speech (전라말) – which is slower than the Seoul dialect but quicker than the Chungcheong dialect.
Jeju Speech (제주말) – this dialect can almost be considered as it’s own language, since it’s so different from every other dialect.
- The Korean language is known as 한국말 (Hanguk-mal – ‘Korean Speech’) or 우리말 (Uri-mal – ‘Our Language’).
- Korean is the one of the most popular foreign language in China, after Japanese and English.
- In 2011, the Jeju dialect was listed by UNESCO as a ‘critically endangered language’, meaning they considered the dialect to be a seperate language to standard Korean.
- Hangul originally had 28 characters (instead of 24) and used to be called Hunminjeongeum (훈민정음).
Feature Image Source: ©Seoul2, Faye Broadbent, 15.05.2018, inspiremekorea.com