SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

History of the Korean Language (PG)

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

The aim of this mole is to provide students with a clear understanding of the history of the Korean language. Students who take the module will be expected to develop advanced analytical skills in the understanding of the historical development of the Korean language. Students who complete the course will be able to demonstrate a clear understanding and reading skills of the pre-modern Korean texts.  

The topics covered will range from the linguistic affinity of Korean, Old Korean, Early Middle Korean, Late Middle Korean, and Modern Korean. This module will also cover varieties of Korean including contemporary dialects. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. read, comprehend and translate Pre-modern Korean text;
  2. understand and engage with a range of historical documents in the Korean language;
  3. find and select appropriate Korean-language texts from a variety of sources;
  4. understand various issues in Korean historical linguistics;
  5. make use of appropriate Pre-Modern Korean-language sources to answer a research question and formulate an argument in an English-language essay


A total of 10 weeks teaching with 2.5 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 2 hour lecture and 0.5 hours tutorial.


Scope and syllabus

Introductory week 1 class: Introduction


Themes for remaining weeks:

2.         The structural characteristics of Korean

3.         The Origin of Korean: Altaic Theory

4.         Korean writing (I): Hangul

5.         Korean Writing (II): Hyangchal, Idu, Kugyol

6.         History of Korean Language (I): Old Korean, Early Middle Korean,

7.         History of Korean Language (II): Late Middle Korean, Modern Korean

8.          History of Korean Language (III): Reading Middle Korean Text

9.         Linguistic Divergence between North and South Korean

10.        The Modern Dialects

Method of assessment

One two-hour written paper taken in May/June (60%); a essay of 3,500 words to be submitted on day 5, week 1 term 3 (30%); a 20 minute presentation on a selected topic (10%).

Suggested reading

Core Reading

  • Lee, Iksop. & Robert Ramsey. 2000. The Korean Language. State University of New York Press.
  • Brown, Lucien. & Jaehoon Yeon. (eds.) 2015. The Handbook of Korean Linguistics. Wiley Blackwell.
  • Lee, Ki-Moon, and Robert Ramsey. 2011. A History of the Korean language. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Yeon, Jaehoon. 2012. “Korean dialects: a general survey” In: N. D. Tranter (ed.) The Languages of Japan and Korea. Abingdon and New York: Routledge

Additional Reading

  • Beckwith, Christopher I. 2004. Koguryo: The Language of Japan's Continental Relatives. Leiden: Brill.
  • Kim, Jeongsu. 2005. The history and future of Hangeul: Korea’s indigenous script. English translation by Ross King. Kent: Global Oriental.
  • Kim-Renaud, Young-Key. (ed) 1997. The Korean Alphabet: Its History and Structure. University of Hawaii Press.
  • Kim Youngwook. 2010. A Basic Understanding of Hyangga Interpretation. Korea Journal. Vol. 50 No.2. 72-96.
  • Ledyard, Gari K. 1998. The Korean Language Reform of 1446. Seoul: Shingu Munhwasa.
  • Nam, Punghyun. 1994. ‘On the relations between Hyangchal and Kwukyel’, In: Y. Kim-Renaud. (ed.) Theoretical Issues in Korean Linguistics. CSLI Publication.
  • Sampson, Geoffrey. 1985. “Korean Han’gul” In: Writing Systems. London: Hutchinson.
  • Unger, J. Marshall Unger. 2008. The Role of Contact in the Origins of the Japanese and Korean Language. University of Hawaii Press.
  • Vovin, Alexander. 2009. Koreo-Japonica: a re-evaluation of a common genetic origin. University of Hawaii Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules