What Is Korean language

Korean language . More than 72 million people on the Korean peninsula speak Korean. Although the Korean spoken in South Korea differs in spelling , the alphabet, and the lexicon spoken in North Korea , the official language of the entire country is called Korean. Outside the country’s borders, there are around 2 million people in China who speak Korean as a first language, another 2 million in the United States , 7 million in Japan, and 5 in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan .

Formerly Korean was written in Chinese characters (Hanja), today it is written in “hangul” which is the Korean alphabet. Hangul has 24 letters, 14 of which are consonants and 10 vowels, written in blocks of 2 to 5 characters. Korean writing is not ideographic like Japanese or Chinese. The shapes of the “hangul” letters were designed according to the movements of the tongue, the palate and the teeth. Up to five letters can form a syllabic unit.


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  • 1 History
  • 2 Classification
  • 3 The North-South Division
  • 4 Geographical distribution
  • 5 Statistics
  • 6 Grammar
  • 7 Clarifications
  • 8 Diphthongs
  • 9 Basic consonants
  • 10 Korean literature
  • 11 Chinese literature and Han-Gul literature
  • 12 Sources


It was enacted in 1446 by the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty , Sejong the Great ( 1397 ~ 1450 ), along with a group of researchers, so that the people could easily read and write. In the world there are more than 3,000 languages, of which only 100 have their respective scripts. But of all these writings there is no independent one, which has been invented by a single person without the influence of others.


Editing his scientific theories, detailed explanations, objectives, epochs, utilities, and the authors of the invention in a book, was an unprecedented work in history, and is highly valued by world linguists. With these backups, it was designated by UNESCO in October of 1997 , as Cultural Heritage of language. Korean culture is being a very interesting topic in the world, due to the influence of Hallyu and the great economic development. Along with the increase in the number of people learning the Korean language, there are more and more universities in the world establishing a Department of Korean.

Faced with these events, the Korean State is establishing Korean education centers, such as the “Sejonghakdang”, translation work of basic books of the Korean language, according to the particular characteristics of the different cultures of each country, and the different attempts at exploitation.

Due to the increasing number of people learning the Korean language, a way to assess language ability has been needed. The National Institute for the Evaluation of Korean Studies is running the “Korean Language Level Test (TOPIK)”. Starting in 2005, the “Korean Language Level Exam” is being conducted, aimed at foreign workers, for employment authorization.


Linguists agree that Korean is a member of the Altai family of languages, which originated in North Asiaand which includes Mongolian, Turkish, Finnish, Hungarian and Tungusic languages ​​(Manchu). Despite the fact that Korean and Japanese have similar grammatical structures, no historical relationship has been established between them. The Korean language can be written in Korean alphabet (hangul) or in combination of Chinese ideograms (hanja). Korean is a language with great phonetic variety, which avoids the problem of Japanese, which often has to take ideograms from Chinese to distinguish some sounds that may be ambiguous. Although Korean and Chinese have no grammatical relationship, more than 50% of Korean lexicon derives from Chinese loans, this is a reflection of the domination of China for 2 millennia. The vast majority of Chinese compound words were the result of centuries-old Japanese coinageXIX and XX , to translate western science, technique and politics; in Korea they came into use in the colonial period. After 1945, American influence was reflected in the Korean language by the acceptance of various English words. Korean dialects are not mutually understandable like Chinese dialects, there are lexical and pronunciation variations.

The North-South Division

It is not very clear to what extent the northern language has been preserved. In North Korea there is a policy of eliminating loans and words of Chinese origin. Western loans are also being dispensed with. The pyongyang considers the “hanja” or the Chinese characters as symbols of oppression and that is why it is systematically eliminating them from its publications. There have been attempts to create Korean origin words, children’s names are written in the Korean alphabet and not in Chinese. However, some 300 Chinese characters continue to be taught in North Korean schools.

Geographical distribution

Geographical distribution South Korea

The Korean language has five major dialects spread across North and South Korea. Despite the differences in these dialects and the geographical and socio-political realities, Korean is a relatively homogeneous language that all the inhabitants of Korea can understand.


  • South Korea: 47,000,000
  • North Korea: 20,000,000
  • China: 1,920,597
  • United States: 800,000
  • Japan: 670,000
  • Uzbekistan: 183,000
  • Russia: 107,000
  • Kazakhstan: 103,000
  • Saudi Arabia: 66.0
  • Canada: 29,000
  • Kyrgyzstan: 18,000
  • Germany: 14,000
  • Tajikistan: 13,000
  • Paraguay: 6,000
  • Singapore: 5,200
  • Turkmenistan: 3,493
  • Bahrain: (?)
  • Brunei: (?)
  • Guam: (?)
  • Mauritania: (?)
  • Mongolia: (?)
  • Panama: (?)
  • Philippines: (?)
  • Thailand: (?)
  • Total: 80,000,000


Korean is a binding language. The Korean sentence generally follows the order suj + obj + verb (SOV) and the words that modify the meaning always go before the word that they modify. Thus the English phrase “I’m going to the store to buy some food” in Korean would carry the following order: * “I food to-buy in-order-to store- to going-am. ” In Korean, meaningless words can be easily removed from the sentence. Unlike most European languages, Korean verbs are not conjugated according to the subject and nouns have no gender. Verb conjugations depend on the verb tense and the relationship of the people who speak. When talking to friends, a different conjugation is used than that used with parents, or with other people. This mimics the TV difference of most Indo-European languages.


The Korean alphabet is syllabic, it is composed, like the Latin alphabet, of consonants and vowels, this greatly facilitates our work. The native name of the Korean alphabet is “hangeul”, 한글. This is not only the generic name of the writing system itself, but also a synonym for “written syllable.”

Each hangeul is made up of letters. In Korean, they are called “jamo”, 자모.

Korean syllables are written in such a way that they fit inside a square. This is because, when the writing system was invented, Korean was written in Chinese characters, which can be written in a square.

Hangeul structure: initials, vowels and endings. Each hangeul consists of initial (consonants), vowels, and sometimes final (consonants). Due to the form of certain vowels (you can speak of “vertical” or “horizontal” vocals), they are written to the right or below the initial consonant.

  • Examples of vertical vowels:

ㅏ (a), ㅣ (i)

  • Examples of horizontal vowels:

ㅗ (o), ㅜ (u)

These vowels can be combined with consonants, such as ㄴ (n), to form the following hangeul: 나 (na), or 니 (ni), with a vertical division, in which case the square is divided vertically between the two letters: between half and two thirds for the consonant and the rest for the vowel.

노 (no), or 누 (nu), with a horizontal division, in which case the square is divided horizontally between the letters: approximately the upper half for the consonant and the rest for the vowel. Since Korean consists not only of open syllables, but also closed syllables, many hangeul include (at least) a final. Whatever the position of the vowel with respect to the initial, the final is always placed below the other jamo, not the lower third. Therefore, the hangeul 난 (nan) or 눈 (nun).


However, there are diphthongs in Korean. In this case, the first vowel (which will necessarily be a “horizontal” vowel – nothing happens randomly in the Korean writing system) will be written below the initial (as in 노), followed by the second vowel (which will necessarily be a “vertical” vowel).

Using the letters of the previous examples (let’s not worry about the pronunciation, we will be there soon):

  • ㄴ (n) + ㅗ (o) + ㅏ (a) => 놔
  • ㄴ (n) + ㅜ (u) + ㅣ (i) => 뉘

Syllables containing diphthongs can obviously also take final consonants. For example:

  • ㄴ (n) + ㅗ (o) + ㅏ (a) + ㄴ (n) => 놘

Note that all hangeul on this page may or may not mean something, the focus for now is not on learning vocabulary yet.

Basic consonants

The following table shows Korean consonants, followed by their pronunciation (with symbols from AFI, the International Phonetic Alphabet) and the official transcription used by South Korea since 2000, the Revised Romanization (RR).

Basic consonants

However, these consonants are not enough to transcribe all the sounds in Korean. There are also five double consonants:

Double consonants



Korean vowels may seem numerous and complex, but with Korean’s phonetic evolutions, it can be seen that the phonetic range was reduced considerably. On the other hand, depending on the dialect, there are vowels that have more than one acceptable pronunciation, these are the ones that can be seen in parentheses in the list above.

Certain sounds are not unknown to Spanish speakers. For example, the jamo ㅔ and ㅐ are pronounced like the Spanish “e”: ㅔ is similar to the closed “e” (AFI: [e]), and the other jamo ㅐ is pronounced as an open “e” (AFI: [ ɛ]). This is at least one of the most frequent pronunciations, ㅐ can also be pronounced [æ] (like the “a” in “cat” in English). Jamo normalmente is normally pronounced as [ə] (the schwa, a sound that does not exist in Spanish; it is like the “e” in “le” in French or “writer” in English) in most of Korea. . from the south.

In North Korea, it can be pronounced as [ɔ] (an open “o”). You can also hear the sound [ʌ], similar to the “o” of “love” in English. Since there is more than one pronunciation possible, any one will suffice to communicate with a native speaker. Diphthongs have also evolved over time. There are eleven diphthongs; excluding compounds of [j] (ㅑ, ㅕ, ㅛ, ㅠ), there remain seven, ㅘ, ㅚ, ㅚ, ㅝ, ㅞ, ㅟ, ㅢ, of which three ㅙ, ㅚ, ㅞ have a similar pronunciation: [uɛ ] (or [uæ], depending on the dialect) for the first two and [ue] for the last one. As for ㅢ (AFI: [ɯi]), it has no equivalent in Spanish, although it resembles the French “ui” in “aujourd’hui”; the semivowel of this diphthong sounds like the Japanese “u”.

The diphthong can also be pronounced as a single vowel, [ø], such as the French “eu” in “peu” or the German “ö” in “schön”. The inhabitants of Seoul have the distinction of distinguishing less and less between ㅔ and ㅐ, pronouncing both jamo as [e]; consequently they also remove the distinction between ㅙ, ㅚ, ㅞ, which they pronounce as [ue].

It is quite complicated, but there is no reason to worry: we are assimilating it little by little 😉 It is advisable for now to only remember one pronunciation for each vowel: the first one that appears in each row of the table.

The pronunciation of the consonants changes when they appear in a final position. Use of  The jamo ㅇ is unique, since it has two special uses: 1 – As an initial, in which case it has no phonetic value. Examples: 아 (a), 오 (o), 우 (u), 이 (i) 2 – As a final, in which case it has a nasal value. Examples: 낭 (nang), 농 (nong), 앙 (ang) Use of (and of , ) Attention! A final ㄱ is not always pronounced [k]. When a hangeul ending with the final ㄱ is followed by another syllable, such as in 역사 (“history”), it is pronounced [k]. However, in monosyllables like 약 (“medicine”) or 옥 (“jade”), you don’t hear the [k], but a glottal stop consonant, which sounds as if the announcer had stopped exactly before pronouncing the [k ]. The other consonants, when in final position, are pronounced as ㄱ; for example, 부엌, 밖, 갂다. Employment of  The pronunciation of the final ㄴ is not much different from the initial. It is different from a nasal, for example, 안, it is pronounced “an”. Use of ㄷ (and of ㅅ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅌ, ㅎ, ㅆ) The consonant ㄷ and these other consonants, when in final position, are all pronounced as [t]; for example, 낫, 낮, 낯, 낱, 낳, 났 (= 낟). Why so many different spellings for the same pronunciation? Simply because Korean phonetics has evolved. We will not complain. 😉 Using  For simplicity, let’s say that final in final position is pronounced as a final [l]. Using  As in the case above, it is pronounced as a final [m]. Use of (and of ) These two letters are pronounced as a final [b]. Concluding … There are 51 jamo (자모), of which 24 are original graphemes to transcribe phonemes and 27 are formed by the composition of the initial 24 jamo. There are 19 consonants, including 14 singles and 5 doubles. There are 21 vowels in Korean (including diphthongs)

Korean literature

Korean literature is chronologically divided into a classical and a modern period; It is transmitted in two different ways, writing it in Chinese or Korean. Writing in Korean was later since the Korean alphabet was established in the Choson period . Korean classical literature developed against the backdrop of Korean traditions and folklore, was influenced by Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Of all the influences the most notable is the Buddhist followed by Confucianism during the Chonson period. In the Shilla period hyangga poetry was collected in hyangch’al script, which was a form of writing in Korean that collected the sounds (um) and meanings (hun) of Chinese characters.

The literature of the Koryo period is marked by an increase in the use of Chinese characters, the disappearance of hyangga and the appearance of Koryo songs that would continue to be transmitted orally until the Chonson period. At the end of the Chonson period these songs would be collected using the Korean script (han-gul). The creation of the Korean alphabet at the beginning of this period was one of the great revolutions for Korean literature. While creating the Korean alphabet and researching whether or not it was practical, it was used to write various songs (akchang), such as “Yongbioch’bon-ga” (songs of dragons flying through the sky), this song celebrates the founding of the Choson dynasty ( 1392 – 1910 ).

Modern Korean literature was developed by Western influences, not only was Christian thought imported, but also some artistic trends were imported. When writing and the new teaching method were developed, Chinese writing lost all its importance in Korea. Meanwhile the new Korean way of writing Han-gul was being used more frequently and greatly helping the development of literary studies. Many novels in the form “shinsosol” (new novel) written in Korean also appeared. The classical music and poetry that previously came together and formed a kind of song called “ch’anggok” were now seen as independent realities. New fields were opened to literature. Although Korea was receiving Western influences through Japan and China, it was also carrying out internal literary reforms. But, despite all these advances, poetry was also used as a political tool, something unthinkable for the classics.

Chinese literature and Han-Gul literature

To understand Korean literature, you have to know how it has been transmitted over time. Korean literature moves in two areas: literature collected in Chinese and literature collected in Han-gul (Korean alphabet). These two aspects of Korean literature make his works differ greatly depending on which language they have been collected in. Korean literature began to be collected in Chinese when Chinese characters came to Korea. Since Chinese characters were invented in China, attempts have been made in many eras to exclude from Korean literature literature that had been transcribed into Chinese characters. But Chinese characters are part of the Koryo and Choson culture so it is not easy. Nor can we ignore that the literary activity of the ruling class was directed in Chinese. These works collect Chinese ideas and values, but also contain customs unique to Koreans. The use of Korean writing began in the Choson period, which was when the Korean alphabet (Hunmin Chong-um) was created. The creation of this alphabet in the 15th century was a watershed moment in the history of Korean literature. This form of writing was not reduced to the upper social class as was the case of Chinese, with the Korean alphabet women and the working class could also write or read Korean literature. The “Han-gul” was the most successful writing system of the century which was when the Korean alphabet (Hunmin Chong-um) was created. The creation of this alphabet in the 15th century was a watershed moment in the history of Korean literature. This form of writing was not reduced to the upper social class as was the case of Chinese, with the Korean alphabet women and the working class could also write or read Korean literature. The “Han-gul” was the most successful writing system of the century which was when the Korean alphabet (Hunmin Chong-um) was created. The creation of this alphabet in the 15th century was a watershed moment in the history of Korean literature. This form of writing was not reduced to the upper social class as was the case of Chinese, with the Korean alphabet women and the working class could also write or read Korean literature. The “Han-gul” was the most successful writing system of the centuryXIX , after the time of reason (18th century ) the Chinese characters lost strength and the popularity of Korean grew very quickly. As soon as the duality between the scriptures was overcome, Korean literature developed only into Korean script.


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