SOAS University of London

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

Languages of Japan & Korea at SOAS: Korean

Korean is a language with approximately 80 million speakers (ranked as the 13th in the world) which include 50 million in South Korea, 24 million in North Korea, and nearly 6 million outside of Korea — mainly in China, U.S.A., Japan, and Central Asia (the former U.S.S.R). Korean is relatively homogeneous, with minor geographically based dialectal differences. The post-1945 division between North and South Korea and their different language policies have made the two Koreas linguistically a little divergent, but they speak the same language. Grammatically Korean is related to Japanese and Mongolian (the structure of the three languages is quite similar). Korean is thought to belong to the Altaic family of languages, meaning that it is also related to Tungusic and Turkish. This may all come as a surprise, since many people assume that Korean is like Chinese. Grammatically Korean is totally different from Chinese. There is no connection between them. However, many Korean words (as opposed to grammar) come from Chinese, since China has been the major influence in Korea’s literature and culture. Probably 50 per cent of Korean words are originally of Chinese origin. The Korean alphabet is unique among the writing systems of the world. This is because it is the only known alphabet in the world which was specifically made to order. The Korean alphabet, Hangul, is perhaps the most outstanding scientific and cultural achievement of the Korean nation.

If you would like to learn Korean, contact either Dr Jaehoon Yeon (jy1@soas.ac.uk) or Mrs Kyungeun Lee (kl14@soas.ac.uk) (Department of Japan and Korea)

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