Korean as standart language.


                                                                                             Vladimir Tikhonov        


1. Typological classification. It used to be a commonplace to classify Korean as a more or less isolated member of Altaic family of languages. Most salient feature showing the affinity between Korean and Altaic languages is the agglutination: a grammatical process in which words are composed of a sequence of morphemes (word elements), each of which represents not more than a single grammatical category. Basically, grammatical particles are added to nominal and verbal stems in derivation and inflection. Particles, which agglutinate one after another, can function as grammatical markers (case markers, connectives, etc.), and also express such socio-linguistic categories as “levels of speech” (which depend on relative social positions of the speaker and hearer). As in most Altaic languages in general, modifying words/phrases in Korea precede the modified words: modifying adjectives, in most obvious example, are supposed to precede modified nouns, adverbs precede verbs, etc. Korean, as typical for Altaic languages, has verb-final, left-branching sentence structure, exemplified by general SOV (subject-object-verb) formula. Verb is always the last constituent of a sentence, but other components can often be either omitted or inverted. Having no relative clauses typical for Indo-European structures, Korean has instead long “auxiliary” clauses modifying the nouns they precede. Korean system of the “levels of speech”, albeit closely paralleled by the Japanese system of honorific expressions, is perhaps unique in that it utilizes both grammatical markers of several kinds (case markers, honorific suffixes, special verbal particles) and special words and expressions. The unusual elaboration of the “level of speech” system closely reflects strong Confucian underpinnings of modernized Korean society. Although Korean language, with its Altaic roots and distinctive Altaic features in grammar, has no affinity to Chinese, a Sino-Tibetan language, whatsoever from the purely linguistic viewpoint, it utilizes currently enormously big number of the words of Chinese derivation (so-called Sino-Korean words; around 80% of current Korean vocabulary) as result of long history of cultural and political interaction with China, and, more recently, Japan.

    A simple sentence in Korean will look as follows:


Sŏnsaengnim-kke kkaekkŭthan mur-ŭl tŭrimnida


“I present clean water to [You], Teacher.” 


Lit.: “Teacher [You]  to clean water present”


Explanations:   Sŏnsaengnim – “Teacher”, also “You” as respectful form of addressing at the highest possible “level of speech”. “Sŏnsaeng” is Sino-Korean derivative, and “nim” is a honorific suffix added usually to the words of address. “kke” is a special honorific case-marker indicating the receiver of an action (used when actor is supposed to be a “social junior” relatively to receiver).

                          kkaekkŭthan – “clean”, an adjective in modifying “-n”-form.

                          mul – “water”, the modified noun and the subject in the sentence. “ŭl” – a normal case-marker of accusative case. “mul” has many recognized phonetic analogues in other Altaic languages as well: muke (“water”, Manchurian), (“water”, Evenkian), mőren (“river”, Mongolian), etc.

                          tŭrimnida – “[I] present” – honorific verb (used when actor is supposed to be a “social junior” relatively to receiver). Dictionary (basic) form is “tŭrida”, and suffix “mnida” indicates both the tense (present) and “level of speech” (highest possible).

   As it can be easily seen from the example above, predicative dominates the sentence, vocabulary comprises native Altaic and borrowed Sino-Korean words, and the choice of grammatical forms in the sentence (for example, case-markers or verbal suffixes) is determined by the “levels of speech” required by the social situation.

 2. History of the language. First users of various proto-Korean tongues were supposedly the Altaic inhabitants of the Bronze Age (B.C. 10-4th C.) Korean peninsula whose affinity with the presumably proto-Tungus societies of contemporary Manchuria is more or less established archaeologically. The question of how early we can date the separation of proto-Korean from Manchurian proto-Tungus groups is, however, still an object of complicated scholarly debates. It seems to be commonly accepted, although, that the inhabitants of first presumably “Korean” proto-state in Northern Korea and Southern Manchuria, Ancient Chosŏn (approximately 4th C. -108 B.C.), were using the language separated, to certain degree, from the neighbouring proto-Tungus tongues. Unfortunately, no written monuments of Ancient Chosŏn are extant, and any assumptions on its language are limited to hypothesizing. Definitive – and better known from the extant materials – formative influence on proto-Korean language had been exerted by the Three Kingdoms of early Korea – Koguryŏ (1st C. – 668), Paekche (3-4th C. – 660) and Silla (from approx. 2-3rd C.). It was the period of Three Kingdoms when various regional variants of proto-Korean were shaped in the process of the development of centralized aristocratic states.

   The linguistic situation in the Three Kingdoms period (usually refers to the period before 668, when most of Korean peninsula was unified by Silla Kingdom) has several important characteristics. First, although certain unification of various proto-Korean tongues spoken by the populace seems to have taken place in each of the Kingdoms in the process of general strengthening of the administrative institutes, the languages of each Kingdom remained notably different from each other. As the Kingdoms were keen political rivals, and engaged in almost permanent warfare with each other, no standardization on all-peninsular scale could be thought about. In this aspect, it seems to be even more correct to refer to the various variants of proto-Korean spoken in the Three Kingdoms as “Koguryŏ language”, “Paekche language”, and “Silla language” respectively.  Second, each of the three rival Kingdoms was doing its best to promote the spread of Chinese culture, material and spiritual, in the interests of strengthening the incipient bureaucratic structures and securing the cultural and diplomatic advantages over the neighbouring rivals. As an important part of general adjustment to the dominant political and diplomatic structures of the contemporary East Asia, “tributary” embassies were to be regularly sent to various Chinese dynasts, investitures sought, and diplomatic documents drawn in classic Chinese, the universal language of contemporary East Asian intellectuals. Lots of Chinese immigrants, including the intellectuals lured by the prospect of governmental posts, came to live in the Three Kingdoms. As a result, from very early point classic Chinese was recognized in all of the Three Kingdoms as the only medium of “official” and “intellectual” written communication, while the development of writing in proto-Korean vernaculars practically stopped, as unnecessary. No of the Three Kingdoms developed its own original writing system; all extant written monuments of that period are in classic Chinese, and the later the document the more figurative and rhetoric its style. The writers of 7th C. seem to have possessed the fluency and eloquence of Chinese writing hardly inferior to that of the literati of China proper. The spread of classic Chinese writing in Korean peninsula of 1st-7th C. greatly facilitated the entry of the Three Kingdoms into China-centred cultural sphere on very favourable terms (they were considered “the most civilized of all barbarians”), but also almost completely blocked the development of vernacular writing. It also prompted vast borrowing of “civilization”-related vocabulary from classic Chinese, starting the process of Sinification of Korean lexicon which continues even now, but for different reasons.    

     Still, geared towards acceptance of Chinese classic culture as they were, the elites of the Three Kingdoms could not ignore vernaculars completely, for obvious reasons: first of all, even many members of ruling class, not to mention less sophisticated rank-and-file folk, still were using native names of places and persons, and total replacement of indigenous toponymy and anthroponymy with Chinese borrowings (which we can witness now) was still a matter of distant future. Then, social cohesion required the continuation of the use of old native title and rank names tied to the universally cherished traditions of pre-state period. To write down all those treasures of native lexicon so indispensable in early state society in the absence of vernacular writing system, Chinese characters – the only writing signs eagerly known – were to be used in phonetic way, just as they were used by Chinese Buddhists to phonetically transcribe Sanskrit terms. In fact, the system of phonetic representation of native sounds by Chinese logographs was practically the only native (of course, “native” only partly) writing system of the Three Kingdoms period, and the only medium nowadays helping us to understand proto-Korean vocabulary. Not surprisingly, each of the rival Kingdoms has its own phonetic transcription system: the languages spoken in all Three Kingdoms were significantly different, albeit closely related, and incessant military and political strife prevented any attempt at transcription system standardization in principle.

  Koguryŏ – first among the Kingdoms to widely adapt classic Chinese writing and produce a lengthy classic Chinese epigraphic monument (A.D. 414) – does not even seem to have been much systematic in its use of Chinese logographs for transcription purposes. Still, certain conventions were obviously consistently observed.  For example, Koguryŏ inscriptions used (*mai) for rendering “water” (Modern Korean “mul”) and (*xuět) for rendering “castle” (other representation – 溝樓 - “kuru” in Modern Korean reading). Very similar was also situation in Paekche, also relatively early acquainted with and deeply influenced by classic Chinese literary tradition. Still, place and personal names were supposed to be transcribed, as well as certain important titles: for example,  “king” (*eraha) was rendered as於羅瑕.                

    Much more wide, systematic and deeply rooted in tradition was the use of native language and transcription system in the most backward of the Three Kingdoms, Silla. Long blocked from regular contacts with Chinese mainland by its inconvenient geographic location in the extreme southeast of the peninsula, Silla first started to use classic Chinese only in late 5th C., and for long time after this demonstrated embarrassing awkwardness in artfully employing figurative classic citations and idioms. As if compensating themselves for being linguistically partly “handicapped” in the respect of universal regional lingua franca, Silla elite already in late 6th – early 7th C. started to systematize its experience in the sphere of rendering native sounds phonetically with the Chinese signs. Also typical for Silla – and very rarely found in more Sinicized Koguryŏ and Paekche – were the awkward and ungrammatical classic Chinese sentences, “indigenised” by the characteristically native Altaic verb-dominated left-branching word order, totally foreign to classic Chinese proper. The next stop, after adjusting word order in Chinese phrases to the native linguistic realities, was the use of Chinese logographs phonetically to render the native grammatical patterns (case-markers, etc.): thus, classic Chinese phrase was, it can be argued, replaced by basically native sentence with agglutinating grammatical particles rendered phonetically by Chinese logographs and main constituents plainly translated into Chinese. Still, given the fact that main constituents were mostly translated, not rendered phonetically, this system should be rather described as a kind of native-Chinese hybrid. Its development in early 7th C. was also greatly accelerated by religious needs – sacred native poetry, hyangga (“homeland songs”), was to be sung in native proto-Korean, otherwise magical spells of its sounds could lose their efficiency. Still, before the Unification of the peninsula by Silla (668), the systematisation of the practice of writing down native sentences and phrases in this hybrid Sino-native way was not completed. At the same time, mid-7th C. was marked by the unprecedented growth in Silla’s contacts with T’ang China, in the wake of military union concluded by the sides in late 640s. This, and also speedy development of Silla Buddhist metaphysics and Confucian learning, led to both rapid improvement in the quality of native-produced classic Chinese writing (by 640-650s totally undistinguishable from native Chinese) and to the wider spread of this regional lingua franca. Many genres of writing – typically, Buddhist philosophy or court epitaphs – were virtually “monopolized” by the classic Chinese: use of Sino-native hybrids in those spheres was, by the conventions of the time, unthinkable. Newly developing hybrid system was mostly limited to a clearly defined set of genres were either sounds or the level of popular understanding seriously mattered: typically, native sacred poetry, provincial Buddhist epigraphs or certain kinds of administrative documents.                          

      With the final unification of the most of Korean peninsula by Silla (in alliance with T’ang) in 668, both aforementioned processes were greatly accelerated by the new opportunities of long-time peace and prosperity. On the one hand, quick progress of centralized administrative organization, Confucian literature and Buddhist philosophy, as well as extremely intensive exchange with T’ang mainland, accelerated the process of spread and refining of classic Chinese writing. Especially as estimated several hundreds of elite Silla students were allowed to go to T’ang to study, take state-run exams and enter (in certain cases) the ranks of Chinese bureaucracy, the weight and prestige of classic Chinese writing was greatly enhanced. “Return students” from T’ang, paragons of classical Chinese literary skills and talents uninterested in vernacular and its problems, exerted decisive influence on the overall linguistic consciousness of the period. On the other hand, as native cults were incorporated into Buddhism-centered syncretistic belief system and functioned as mediators between highly metaphysical and esoteric ritual life of the court/aristocracy and down-to-earth native “nature cults” of the ruled, native poetry continued to be given high emphasis and attention. Subsequently, the pre-Unification hybrid Sino-native writing system, mostly aimed in preserving the magic sounds of native cult poems, was at last finally systematized and codified in the early 8th C. Unfortunately, the transcription codes of that time are no longer extant, and the key source showing the techniques of hybrid Sino-native transcription are 14 Silla hyangga known from a 13th C. Buddhist history work. The variant of hybrid transcription system used for writing down hyangga – known as hyangch’al (“hyang[ga] writing”) – is very complicated and hard to decipher in many cases. Typical example of this kind of hybrid translation is a sentence from one popular early hyangga with strong Buddhist connotations:  功德修叱加良來如”. It translates as “[He] will ( renders phonetically native future tense particle) come (, Chinese translation of native verb ’to come’) in order to (加良 renders phonetically native verbal particle) nurture (, Chinese translation of native verb ’to nurture’) his Buddhist virtues (功德, a borrowing from Chinese)”. As we can see, the verb-dominated word order is typically native Altaic, as well as grammatical particles added to either Chinese derivatives or translations of Korean words into Chinese. Other, less cumbersome and somewhat better organized variant of the same hybrid Sino-native system was idu (“writing of petty officials”), mostly used, as its name suggests, for drafting various official documents aimed at petty provincial officials and general populace. As most of peninsular territory was unified and such vernacular transcription systems as hyangch’al and idu – uniform for all Silla subjects irrespectively of their regional affiliation – were systematized and codified, the language of Unified Silla period (668-935) is often referred to as Old Korean (as opposed to the proto-Korean of the Three Kingdoms period), thus assuming that Silla formed the “nucleus” of future Korean ethnos. 

      Language of the Unified Silla’s successor, Koryŏ Dynasty (918-1392), is usually referred to as Early Medieval Korean. It developed from the northern dialect of Old Korean (Koryŏ’s capital shifted to the north from old Silla center), lexically borrowed even more from Chinese than its predecessor (due to the strengthening of Confucian education), and was equally looked down upon by the educated capital elite which based its prestige and authority on classic Chinese learning. Apart from certain genres of poetry, the vernacular (transcribed with the same complicated hybrid system) was mostly used in some popular texts on Buddhist topics, aimed at less educated audience. The single biggest source of vocabulary borrowing except literary Chinese was Mongolian, as Koryŏ was practically reduced to a Mongolian province in 1259-1356 and the language of triumphant nomads became Korean court’s lingua franca during that “Mongolian century”. Some Mongolian words (for example, “sura” – “royal meal”) were retained in the court language until modern times.

   In the early period of next Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910), vernacular alphabet was developed (1444-1446) by royal order, with the explicit intention to teach more precise literary Chinese pronunciation and rhymes, and also enhance the Confucian education of the ruled through vernacular translations of popular Confucian texts. It is accepted by most scholars that, with the invention of first Korean alphabet and proliferation of alphabetic texts from mid-15th C., the language entered new period – commonly referred to as Later Medieval – in its development. In the structure of new alphabet, all consonants (total of 14) were divided into “pure” (全淸: k, t, p, ch, s, h), “half-pure” (次淸, actually, aspirated: k’, t’, p’, ch’), and “impure” (全濁, actually, glottalized: kk, tt, pp, ss). The form of the letters – arguably, suggested and influenced also by the already existing regional non-Chinese writing systems (notably, Tibetan) – was, in principle, to resemble the places of their articulation - dorso-velar k () resembled soft palate, nasal bilabial m () resembled mouth, and so on. 10 vowels (known as “middle sounds”, 中聲) were made up of three basic elements: side dot (·) symbolizing the Heaven, ”ŭ” () symbolizing the Earth, and “i” () symbolizing the humans. Then, all derivations were to be grouped into “yang” (”open” vowels: ”a” , “o” ) and “yin”  (“closed vowels”: “u” , “ŏ” ) signs. There were also special signs for indicating tones (Later Medieval Korean had three tones). Initial name of the alphabet was “hunmin chŏngŭm” (“[writing] for teaching people correct pronunciation [of literary Chinese] “); it was also popularly known as “ŏnmun” (“vulgar writing”). Specially invented “from above” and developed by the royally appointed commission, Korean alphabet (today known as Hangŭl) was certainly the most scientific writing system of the times. It perfectly reflected the real existing sound system of Later Medieval Korean.  

  Newly invented alphabet was utilized for rhyme dictionaries, popular explanations of Buddhist sutras (諺解), medical recipe compendiums, etc. – mostly for the commoners. Also, not surprisingly, it was usable for rendering the Japanese and contemporary Chinese pronunciations in the dictionaries and interpreters’ manuals. Still, Confucian elite’s written language remained classic Chinese, except for the cases of writing poetry in Korean. Degree of systematization in orthography and grammar remained very low until the end of 19th C. As a rule, graphic syllable was to follow the phonetic syllable, but, in practice, the usage was full of variations, the huge question being how to reproduce the inflected forms. 

     As Korea in 15-19th C. was gradually more and more Confucianized in accordance with the ruling elite’s master project of turning the country into the model Neo-Confucian realm, Chinese vocabulary was actively replacing indigenous, many local words disappearing for good. For example, Old Korean word “chŭmŭn” (one thousand; has many Altaic equivalents) was completely forgotten, being replaced by Sino-Korean “ch’ŏn” (). Interestingly, many Chinese words were, on having borrowed them, given completely new meanings with changed pronunciation, and were not even recognized any longer as Sino-Korean. For example, “chungsaeng” (衆生, ”all living creatures”; Buddhist term for all sentient beings) was transformed into “chimsŭng” (짐승) meaning just ”animals”. In some cases, the meaning of the Chinese borrowings remained authentic, but they changed phonetically beyond any recognition. For example, Sino-Korean word “sŏngnyuhwang” (石硫黃), meaning “sulfur/brimstone”, entered Korean in late 19th C. as the name for newly introduced European matches, and ended up being pronounced as “sŏngnyangi” (성냥이) and universally perceived as native Korean. Then, by 16th C. already the honorific forms known from the 19th C. “classical” language were almost perfected. In this respect, the Later Medieval Korean was gradually developing into Modern Korean known now.

      Serious changes in the language took place in 17th -19th C., when many of the characteristics of Modern Korean were developed. Among the most important changes, the disappearance of the medieval tones and phonetic changes in the central dialect under the influence of the southern dialects (in connection with the long-time political domination of South-based gentry) should be mentioned. Some mediaeval vowels (like the one represented by the side dot only) and consonants disappeared altogether. Modern system of noun declension (with alternating particles i/ka for the subject case, dative case ending “ege”, etc.) and tense-indication system (past tense as adverbial participle ending and the verb “to be”) also formed at that period. Replacement of indigenous words with Sino-Korean continued even more intensively than before, long-established local words like “orae” (door) being completely substituted with “mun” (). As before, some borrowed words were phonetically and semantically changed beyond any recognition: 思量 (“to calculate, to cognize the world” Buddh.), for example, was made into “sarang” (사랑, “love” in all meanings), its Chinese derivation being completely forgotten.

    The decline of China-centered traditional East Asian universe and forcible “opening” of Korea by Japanese “gunboat diplomacy” in 1876 put forward the questions of re-building traditional Confucian polity into West (and Japan)-inspired “nation-state”, and, consequently, of constructing new “national language” for new “nation”. Just as new icon of “nation-building” on Confucian cultural grounds, Japan, was adopting “mixed script” of Chinese characters and kana as new “national language”, Japan-educated and Japan-inspired reformist elite of Korea started to consider Korea’s own variant of “mixed script” (“ŏnmun” grammatical particles and native words, Chinese for Sino-Korean words) the country’s “national language” as well. The usage of “national mixed script” was not only to make the governmental decrees and newspaper news more accessible for less sophisticated readers, but also to “instill new sense of pride in being a member of our nation”.  Other, more radical approach to the “language/nation” issue was demonstrated by a smaller group of mostly missionary educated, strongly Westernized elite Koreans, more exposed to Western realities. This group, inspired by uniform Latin graphic of Western languages, advocated the use of “ŏnmun” only, without any admixture of “alien” Chinese script, and even thorough purification campaign aimed in converting as many Sino-Korean derivatives into pure native words as possible.

    This radical group – which was first to change pejorative name of  “ŏnmun” (“vulgar writing”) into proud “han’gul” (“Korean script”) – contributed vastly to the Westernization-oriented development of the vernacular. It was in the radicals’ newspapers and books of 1890’s – 1900’s that blank space started to be used between words, “dextro-horizontal” (left-to-right) manner of writing adopted, and instead of majuscules (impossible in Korean writing), the proper names started to be underlined. Radicals, due to their better acquaintance with Western grammatical theory, also were in position to begin codifying orthography on solid “scientific” morphophonemic basis. Still, for all their “patriotic” aversion to “uncivilized” and “degenerative” Chinese “pictorial writing” (strongly inspired by the pervasive “Orientalism” – in Saidian meaning of the word – of Western missionary community), the radicals were, of course, totally unable to “purge” any significant number of “alien” Sino-Korean derivatives from the language – for the most part, there were no possible “native” replacements in sight. Moreover, as Japanese influence on Korean affairs was strengthening (culminating in the annexation of 1910), more and more Meiji Sino-Japanese renditions of newly introduced Western concepts entered Korean language (of course, in Korean pronunciation), thus making Chinese characters once again indispensable. The political domination of Japanese imperialism was, quite naturally, accompanied with linguistic domination of Japan-inspired moderate language reform principles, usage of “mixed script” being the most important among them. That is why after the end of colonial period the issue of  “mixed script” was so much politicized in both Korean states.                        

       The emergence and mutual competition of two main groups of linguistic reformers gave important stimuli to the process of further research into and codification of vernacular script. The foreign inspirers of the Korean linguistic radicals, the resident Christian missionaries, first felt the need for clarification of the rules of “ŏnmun”, for they persistently targeted the non-elite groups devoid of serious classic Chinese competence, and wanted to have better systemized vernacular for Korean translation of their preaching and, ultimately, the Bible. French Catholic missionaries published first modern Korean-foreign dictionary, the “Dictionaire Coreen-Francais”, in 1880, and Korean-English dictionary by their American Protestant colleagues followed in 1890. French missionary society also published the first ever modern Korean grammar (1881), but even before this a Scottish Protestant missionary in Manchuria deeply involved in missionary work with Korean traders there distinguished himself by publishing first textbook of Korean, “The Corean Primer” (1877), soon followed by the first English grammar of Korean (1882). Given the importance of “missionary stimulus” for modern development of Korean language standardization, it does not seem much surprising that the author of first Korean attempt at grammar systemization in 1897 excoriated his compatriots: “Isn’t it, after all, shameful, that we can not in authoritative way answer to the questions of foreign students of our language concerning, say, length of vowels or spelling rules?” Still, once the importance of “national language” for the “nation-building process” was acknowledged, the actions in the linguistic realm by both the government and concerned individuals followed soon. A governmental decree of 1894, obviously bowing to radical demands, proclaimed that all laws now are to be promulgated in “pure vernacular”, with classic Chinese or “mixed script” copy attached as a duplicate. Still, such radical line was hard to implement – in practice, governmental institution preferred moderate variant of using “mixed script” heavily loaded with Chinese logographs, and the prevalence of “mixed script” in official texts continued until the Japanese annexation. Semi-official – and much debated – spelling codification project was published in governmental newspaper in 1905, and then important radical and moderate (“mixed script”-advocating) variants of Korean grammar and orthography were published in 1908 and 1909 respectively. In the midst of heated language debates, special government-run National Language Institute – first modern institution charged with the task of language standardization – came into being in 1907 under the auspices of Education Ministry. Although chaired by a prominent radical purist, the Institute still had to use mostly “mixed script” in its official documents, following the example of other governmental institutions.

     On having annexed Korea (1910), the Japanese, while using their tongue as main official language (in its “mixed script” variant: Chinese logographs and kana), initially considered Korean the auxiliary official language and even issued three decrees on its orthography standardization (1912, 1921, and 1930). An official Korean-Japanese dictionary was also compiled under the aegis of Japanese Government-General, although most Japanese colonial officials, totally detached from “native” life, had no inclination to learn the “aboriginal tongue” and never were forced to do so. If Japanese needed Korean as a governance tool, to make their laws and decrees accessible to the non-Japanese speaking Korean masses (more than 80% of colonial Korean population did not speak Japanese), the Korean nationalist language scholars, united into Korean Language Society (Korea’s first non-governmental academic association, founded in 1921), considered language research, standardization and development as the most effective method of gradually nurturing “national consciousness” in preparation to the eventual independence.  The Society put forward its own orthography standardization plan in 1933 and started the work on comprehensive Korean-Korean dictionary in 1929. The dictionary was sent into printing in 1941, but next year, Japanese police on bluntly false charges apprehended all Society members. The savage reprisal against the linguists – two of them were even tortured to their death while in custody – was basically prompted by the sharp change in Japanese colonial policy in late 1930th – in the wake of general war-time totalitarian mobilization in Japan, forced assimilation of Koreans was now enforced, and from 1939-1940, the teaching of Korean in schools and printing of Korean newspapers were totally prohibited. From 1941-1942, Koreans started to be officially considered “Japanese” (of “inferior branch”, of course), and Korean language proclaimed “non-existent”; only the defeat of Japan in 1945 returned to the Koreans their native tongue.

      After the end of Japanese colonial rule, in both Koreas the authoritarian states came to the forefront of language policies. In South Korea, special Committee on National Language Policy was set up in 1953 under the auspices of that time Information Ministry (now goes under the name of Culture and Tourism Ministry); its 60 members, mostly well-known university linguists, were charged with such tasks as standardization of orthography, Romanization rules, and loan word spelling rules. Above this, the Committee was supposed to “purify” the language from “unnecessary” foreignisms (especially “superfluous” loan words of Japanese derivation), in full accordance with official nationalist ideologies and policies. The Committee took as basis for its standardization work the orthography standardization plan of 1933, already legalized by a governmental decree in 1948. Much more than orthography rules – which, by the devoted efforts of nationalist scholars, had already more or less practically stabilized by the mid-1950th  - the Romanization rules and question of Chinese character usage became the objects of overtly politically charged debates. In order to maintain the government’s nationalistic credentials, the missionary-made McCune-Reischauer System (1939) was prohibited from official use and replaced by the so-called “Ministry of Education System” (1959). Still, in view of the fact that McCune-Reischauer System remained in wide use in Western academia and press, the governmental system was revised in 1984 mainly along McCune-Reischauer lines – in anticipation of 1988 Olympics and crowds of foreign visitors. Then, new revision, with strong elements of return to the old “Ministry of Education System”, was effected in 1999-2000, prompted by the strengthening radical nationalist tendencies inside Korean academia, as well as by bad compatibility of two essential elements of McCune-Reischauer Romanization, apostrophe and breve, with the standard computer keyboards. The issue of “mixed script” usage proved to be much trickier: although Committee’s (and Government’s) basic policy was “vernacular only” in all official documentation (“mixed script” was too strongly associated now with Japanese “mixed script” forced onto Koreans in colonial times), the Chinese characters were indispensable in practice for understanding and distinguishing Japanese-coined technical and academic terms (see below on this problem). Thus, usage of characters in newspapers and special literature (preferably, in brackets after vernacular writing of the word in question) was officially tolerated, and certain number of key characters – selected for school education; still, gradual displacement of Sino-Japanese loan terms with “pure native” equivalents whenever possible remains the officially stated aim. Nationalistic worship of “national language” was reflected in designating in 1970-1990 the “national language day” (October, 9) as official holiday. For the aim of providing better academic grounds for state linguistic policies, the government-run Korean Language Research Institute was inaugurated in 1984 and then revamped into National Academy of Korean Language in 1990. In North Korea, state linguistic policies – based on the deliberations of the linguistic departments of Social Science Academy – pursue basically the same nationalistic aims (the creation of Chinese characters-free “pure vernacular” language space), but with much more activism and radicalism – unlike South Korea, the “mixed script” is totally banned from newspapers and all popular literature, and explanatory characters in brackets are found only in highly special books, mostly for the use of academic elite. North Korean orthography differs from its Southern counterpart in certain details, but also basically follows the main guidelines of the standardisation plan of 1933.                    

       It is important to note that from the very beginning the linguistic policies of South Korean state, while being promulgated and enforced by the state and its institutions, were debated, advised and devised by the influential nationalistic scholarly groups, which simultaneously strengthened the state’s nationalistic credentials by their cooperation and were strengthened themselves by the state’s lavish subsidies. The core of South Korea’s “professional” linguistic nationalists was formed by the members of Korean Language Society of the colonial days, set free from prison after the Japan’s defeat in 1945 and given the opportunity to publish their laboriously compiled comprehensive Korean-Korean dictionary (in 6 large volumes) in 1947-1957 (on American subsidy). The year the dictionary publication was finished, President Syngman Rhee’s government again issued strict orders limiting the use of Chinese characters to the “auxiliary explanations in brackets, always after or beyond the vernacular”. Still, neither Syngman Rhee’s obsessive “pure vernacular” campaign, nor the 1961 decree of the next dictator, Park ChongHee (1961-1979), to the effect than from 1962 all periodical publications are to be in “our writing only”, could in effect “purify” Korean from the Sino-Japanese loan-words and the necessity to write them in original Chinese script. One important – but largely unspoken – aim all those “purification campaigns from above” successfully achieved was to reconcile the majority of influential and popular nationalistic scholars with the dictatorial governments: the cruelty and arbitrariness of Park’s regime was widely detested in academia, but the our-writing-only “patriotism” – mostly (but with some prominent exceptions) taken at its face-value and respected.

      Still, among the minority of more realistically minded linguists, Park’s radical “anti-character” policies (from 1970 onward, the characters were largely “purged” from school textbooks, making big portion of non-elite populace generally unable to write and read “mixed script”) created serious concern about their possible effect on the intellectual level of the citizens. The academic critics (about 140 scholars) petitioned the government in 1969 and then formed their own minority linguistic association, Research Society for Korean Language Education, at the same year. In 1972, certain kind of compromise was found – elementary education (6 first school years) remained “freed” from “alien letters” altogether, but the middle and high school students were allowed to learn 1800 “basic characters”, while most ordinary textbooks (mathematics, natural science, etc.) for the schools of all levels continued to be written in “our script only”. As a result of this kind of forceful “patriotism” enforced by the Ministry of Education and largely backed by nationalistic academia, the Chinese character competence – which had been widely popularised by colonial mass education – again became a symbol of elite position and high educational credentials, as it was back before the end of 19th C. Still, the positions of Chinese characters in most quality newspapers and special literature – including even university textbooks – remained quite strong despite all the incessant official campaigning from 1945 onward. In 1998, bowing to the linguistic reality – and to the increasing numbers of Chinese and Japanese visitors – government started to back on its traditional hard-line “our script only” stance, mandating, for example, to double in Chinese characters all road signs. The concession predictably created an unprecedented uproar in the nationalist academia, but the gradual formation of common East Asian economic and cultural space taken into consideration, more realistic and less ideologized linguistic policy seems to be inevitable. It is also important to remember, that modern South Korean governments, with their universally recognized democratic legitimacy, much less need nationalistic credentials and the endorsement of nationalistic scholarly circles than their dictatorial predecessors of 1950-1980’s.

  But did the so enthusiastically and consistently advocated and promoted “our script only” policy – dating back to the Westernization-oriented early nationalist radicals of 1890’s – prove to be an ultimate failure? The reason is simple: Sino-Korean vocabulary already played too much important role in the language before the modernization and Sino-Japanese loan words played too much important role in the process of modernization to allow simple transcription of Chinese derivatives into the vernacular script to be sufficient for understanding. Even before the Western/Japanese onslaught onto the Hermit Kingdom (Korea was widely known under this nickname in the West), Sino-Korean lexicon accounted for almost all nouns related to state systems, religion or philosophy, for practically all important place names (all maps were in Chinese only), for all personal names, and even for around 10% of the basic vocabulary (words like “mountain”, “river”, or “door” existed in speech only in Sino-Korean form, their native equivalents long unused and almost forgotten). As medieval tones already did not exist in central dialects in 19th C., large number of Sino-Korean homonyms was impossible to distinguish without writing them in their original Chinese form. For example, words 糧食 (”food”) and 樣式 (”mode, style”), both important terms in the language, sounded in totally similar way (양식, yangsik), but meant totally different things and could not be distinguished without writing them in original Chinese forms. That is why the position of moderate advocates of “mixed script” was, for the beginning of modern era, much more realistic and balanced than the radical demand to “abolish Chinese pictures totally”.

      Then, as a result of pre-colonial and colonial Japanese influence, large number of Sino-Japanese “modern” terms entered the language and remained in dictionaries until today despite all “purification” efforts, because no “purifier” can propose any plausible replacement for them. But, with the (mostly Japanese-coined) Chinese derivatives accounting now for about 80% of Korean vocabulary (and more than 95% of technical and academic vocabulary, the rest mostly being the recent loan words from English), the problem of distinguishing between homonyms became even more urgent than before:  矯正 (”correction”), 校訂 (”revision of an edition”), and 校庭  (“campus”) all sound exactly the same way (교정, kyŏjŏng), meaning totally different things. As such examples abound, “our script only” usage essentially prevents reader in many cases from quick understanding, necessitating the waste of space for indispensable characters in brackets. As many radical nationalist purists understood very early, the most effective way “to cure the roots of the problem” could be to convert the modernity-related Sino-Japanese loan words into native words, essentially inventing native counterparts for the multitudes of borrowed terms.  Still, to popularise some highly artificial native equivalents for such frequently used Sino-Japanese loan words as 大學校 (”university”), or even to invent any native substitutes at all for such highly specialized Sino-Japanese terms as, say, 微視的 經濟  (“micro-economy”), proved to be difficult and unrewarding job. Then, in most special spheres where Koreans still largely depend on Japanese expertise and scholarship, the process of adaptation of Sino-Japanese “translation words” (譯語) for Western terms – essentially the process of the Sinification of the Korean vocabulary - continues even today, making ”conversion into native roots” increasingly burdensome task. Given the fact that the only viable alternative - borrowing of Western originals instead of their Japanese “translations” – seems to be very awkward from the phonetic point of view (Sino-Japanese words can be, at least, pronounced in Korean way, but English loan words are to be pronounced in accordance with the rules of English), the process of importing of Sino-Japanese terms will probably continue in the foreseeable future. And, once adopted, Chinese derivatives are hard to understand and distinguish from each other apart from Chinese script – the basic fact of Korean linguistic life, which makes government- and academia-backed “purification” campaigns largely pointless and ineffective, their importance for strengthening nationalist consciousness (greatly challenged by the globalisation) notwithstanding. On the level of historical understanding, we can see that Korea’s linguistic life in the last century reflected two important – mutually complementary and mutually contradictory at the same time - “currents” in the modernization process, the building of nationalistic consciousness (and its appropriation by the state) and the adaptation of Japan-developed variant of “East Asian modernity” to Korea. While the first “current” dominated the official and academic discourse, the second largely contributed to building Korean modernity – as we know it now – in practice.

  3. Modern status.   As for today, Korean is spoken by approximately 72 millions of people. It is the official language of the two Korean states of Korean peninsula, and, beyond this, is still in wide use among almost territorially compact 2 million-strong ethnic Korean community in North-eastern China and partly among 600 thousand-strong Korean community in Japan. In cases of ethnic Koreans in USA (around 1 million) and former Soviet Union (around 200 thousands), the tendency to the linguistic assimilation with the majority of locals appears to be much more stronger, especially in second and third generations. While ethnic Koreans abroad are almost always proficient in dominant local language other than Korean, the overwhelming majority of Koreans in two Korean states – both of which consider their population “ethnically homogenous” and actively use nationalist indoctrination in political and social life – use practically Korean only in their day-to-day lives. Generally, knowledge of Chinese is limited to the ability to read (and, to some degree, write) basic 2000-odd characters obligatory for middle- and high-school students; abilities of traditional elite in the field of classic Chinese composition and reading seem to have been totally lost even by the most educated strata of the populace. English, albeit obligatory for learning in schools and universities, is not still used widely in ordinary everyday life of the majority of the populace, although its influence on Korean society shows the trend to sharp increase (see below). On the whole, it is safe to state that diglossia characteristic of late traditional Korea (prevalence of classic Chinese in elite writing, along with use of vernacular in oral speech) largely disappeared in modern Korean society – as for today, Korean is practically unrivalled as universal communication tool and still unchallenged seriously as official language inside Korea. In future, however, English is in position to challenge in earnest the Korean’s predominance in the Korea’s socio-linguistic space, at least, partly. At the same time, strong elements of traditional digraphia persist – Chinese characters cannot be done away with completely because of the number and importance of Sino-Korean loan words (see above). With the universal spread of Internet and general trend to globalisation, English graphic also becomes an organic part of Korean linguistic landscape.

    Stylistically, an important feature of Korean colloquial language is relatively low frequency of use of Sino-Korean words, while academic written language and even the language of quality newspapers are inundated with mostly Japanese-coined Chinese derivatives. The deliberate use of “high style” Sino-Korean terms instead of their “low style” native equivalents is traditionally considered a mark of politeness and good tone. A researcher can easily find large number of loan words from American English slang in colloquial Korean in South Korea – fact of much concern to linguistic purists, caused, first and foremost, by influence of South-stationed American troops onto the life of local populace. Interestingly, due to prevalently American educational background of the majority of Korean academics, the language of academic publications, with its large number of Chinese derivatives, can be additionally peppered by the loan words from scholarly English (“ideology”, “paradigm”, “dogma”, etc.). 

    What happens with English phonetics when a word is borrowed from English into Korean, the latter having totally different phonetic structure?  The question does not arise in the case of appropriating a Sino-Japanese word, for anything written in Chinese characters can be simply pronounced in Korean traditional way; but the difficulties of adjusting English sounds to Korean structures and rules are obvious. It is noted that certain sounds (m, n, s) are rendered by Koreans in generally unchanged way, while the sounds initially lacking in Korean’s own phonetic, like z or f, are changed almost completely: “Zoo”, for example, is pronounced usually as [ju:], and “fashion” makes an unbelievable change into something resembling “passion”. In many cases, loan words from English in common use among general populace greatly change their meanings too. For example, “handle” stands for a car’s steering wheel, while “mission oil” means, in fact, transmission oil (in the latter case, the original word seems to have been simply abbreviated for convenience). In some cases, those pseudo-English loan words – known locally as “Konglish”, or “Koreanized English”, - entered Korean through Japanese. For understandable reasons, English loan words in academic Korean usually directly correspond to their originals, cases of changed meaning being extremely rare.

    The social group that uses (or, many linguists would rather say, abuses) “Konglish” most are educated young upper-high-class urbanites, with their passion for importing and adopting American mass culture, often in its already Japanized form. In their slang, “Konglish” is mostly used for mapping non-traditional cultural phenomena for which Korean or Sino-Korean names are not readily available. For example, “meeting” stands for a kind of pre-arranged group blind date with some elements of evening party, while “bed-ting” can be used if a couple from a 'meeting' go to a hotel for the evening, and after breakfast never contact each other again. On more serious note, “villa” usually means either trendy Western restaurant, or some kind of newer studio apartments in upscale districts, both things being immensely popular among better-to-do educated urban youngsters. In socio-psychological aspect, use of elements of “Konglish” in everyday speech signifies that the speaker possesses qualities of being relatively young, well educated, and urban, as well as the use of academic English loan words in scholarly speech is usually aimed, consciously or unconsciously, at making Westernized/highly educated/progressive image of oneself.                              

    The differences between various provincial dialects are not very strong in modern Korean, although the dialects are still more or less existent. The main reason for this, of course, is the fact that masses of provincial dwellers were uprooted, displaced and mixed with each other by the social and political upheavals of the 20th C. – Korean War, speedy industrialization and urbanization, etc. Also, ubiquitous TV and radio – which are not usually allowed to use any “non-standard” forms – function as great linguistic “levellers”. Still, to certain degree minor dialectal characteristics can still be felt. There are 6 distinctive dialect regions in modern Korea. In the northern part of the peninsula, main dialect regions are northwest and northeast, official colloquial language standard of North Korean state (language of TV and radio anchors, etc.) being almost equally influenced by the two together and basically formed by the specific Pyongyang area way of pronunciation. In the South, colloquial standard was basically formed by central (so-called Seoul) dialect, with manifold inclusions from two other influential dialects, south-western and south-eastern. The less influential and most difficult to understand is very specific dialect of Cheju Island: it was almost mutually incomprehensible with major “mainland” dialects in pre-modern times, but, due to the mass media influence, is “diluted” enough with “standard” words and expressions to be more or less understood without special training now. The use of dialect-specific words, expressions and pronunciation is strictly restricted to the everyday speech: all local TV and radio stations, newspapers, etc are not allowed to use “non-standard” linguistic forms. Among official/semi-official channels of communications, they can be reflected in creative literature only, and even in this case only in the speech of personages, not in the comments by the author. 

   With globalisation looking rather inevitable, and “Konglish” having already established itself as a kind of “dialect” of dynamic young urbanites, the question of bestowing certain official status on English in future (making it, for example, the second official language or main language of mass media at some point in future) entered national agenda in 1997-1998.  Interestingly, main advocates of countrywide, officially recognized switch to English are mostly social and political conservatives, who explain their position in terms rather smacking of popular Social-Darwinist rhetoric of early 20th C. They consider the America-centred capitalist world-system of today a “constantly consolidating global empire” which will increasingly dominate all formally independent parts of the world in future. To achieve better status inside the framework of this “new global empire” in relentless competition with other “American provinces” of non-American world, Korea, they postulate, should wholeheartedly embrace the language of “global dominators” and thoroughly Americanise itself “from inside”, in order not to be marginalized in “competitively Americanising world”. Singapore, supposedly luring global finance moguls into opening their Asian head offices there with best English competence available in the region, is most often referred to by the “English as second national language” partisans as model “self-Americanised” state. Of course, the proponents of “self-Americanisation” fully acknowledged the necessity of certain transition period for preparing the country for the linguistic shift of such a scale, and do not insist on wholly unrealistic “countrywide jump to English immediately”. The logic of the proponents of “English as second Korean language” seems to have been formed basically by the demands of Korea’s main industrial corporations rapidly expanding abroad in search of high-tech workforce, cutting-edge technology, resources and markets, lacking in Korea. Main opponents of this theory come either from the ranks of our-script-only linguistic nationalists (protesting against Chinese characters’ use and “officially sanctioned intrusion of English” simultaneously on the same ideological grounds) or from among the left-leaning liberals more concerned with the inability of masses of the underprivileged to catch up with the English abilities of the better-to-do than with the abstract “nation”.

    Whatever accusations and arguments are traded between the opponents in this dispute, three things are clear. First, the tendency to the gradual strengthening of the positions of English in modern South Korea manifested by the growth of “Konglish” milieu or increasing English comprehension and speech demands to the job applicants, is reality. Just as Chinese script basically retained, at least, some of its positions despite all nationalistic campaign against it, nationalist arguments against “intrusion of English”, with all their emotional appeal, certainly lack realism. Second, just as classic Chinese was largely monopolised by privileged groups in pre-modern society, English competence – difficult and expensive to acquire in South Korea’s circumstances – tends to be heavily concentrated on the society’s top, certainly limiting the opportunities for social advancement for the “bottom” strata. Still, unless the English instruction in schools will be improved to European level (which is unlikely, given the scarcity of available public funds and low level of competence of the majority of teachers), new social cleavages along linguistic lines look inevitable. It can be said that while almost total literacy in vernacular (up to 95% in both Koreas) acts as both “social leveller” and “national cohesion-maker”, sharp differences in English literacy play – and will increasingly continue to play – the role of “social stratifying device”.  Third, so far as the government is supposed to play leading role in stabilising the inevitable tensions in the society, open and wholesale endorsement of “the riches’ language” as official in foreseeable future looks quite unlikely. Very probably, at the first stages of status accumulation by English in South Korea, government’s backing and recognition will be still subtle and restrained, mostly in the form, for example, higher standards of English for the candidates for official career, incentives to leading media to increase and strengthen English broadcasting and publishing, or simplifying the procedure of sending abroad little pre-school children for study. In future also, government’s policy will be determined basically both by the needs of larger corporations, main source of political donations, and the desire of politicians to avoid too high social and political costs.   

      Being pre-eminently two Koreas’ ethnic and national language – codified and standardized by the state organs of the two Koreas and spoken by either their nationals or ethnic Koreans abroad – Korean started its advance to the outside world in late 1980’s, mostly in connection with South Korean conglomerate’s foreign expansion and their government’s determined efforts “to enhance national prestige”.  Precise numbers are hardly available, but judging from the fact that 562 persons went through Korean Language Fellowship (in-country language training course) for advanced university-level learners sponsored by Korea Foundation (Korea’s main state agency for promoting Korean Studies abroad) during years 1993-2000, we can assume that the general number of university-level learners of Korean globally already exceeded, at least, several thousands. In the USA only, around 50 universities, including some of top-notch schools, are offering Korean language training on tertiary level and higher. Still, it should be also remembered that, in many cases, especially in the USA, mostly ethnic Korean teaching staff teaches tertiary-level Korean for second/third generation ethnic Korean learners. Thus, “Korean language globalisation” cited by Korean governmental institutions as the main reason for lavishly subsidising foreign (first and foremost, American) Korean-teaching institutions, in reality is often limited to the preservation of Korean Diaspora’s ethnic legacy against the assimilation trends, and does not influence non-Korean local society too strong. Even simple comparison with the magnitude of the penetration by English into Korea in various forms completely dwarfs this recent “Korean language globalisation” trend, giving to the social critics ample reasons to lament over the essentially unequal and totalising, “core-to-periphery” nature of the globalisation in capitalist world-system.

   Can the trend towards increasing English pervasion into Korean socio-linguistic space be somehow either stemmed or, at least, partly checked? Whatever prospects American hegemony has worldwide, in Korean case, its linguistic influence can be to some degree, limited or moderated by the following factors. First, if North Korea is to be unified with its southern neighbour, the needs of northern populace, with its generally very low level of English skills, are to be seriously considered. From the social and political viewpoint, giving any official status to the language, which is not generally spoken at all by a large and culturally homogenous group of populace, the Northerners, is hardly feasible. And to enhance the English competence of those people, accustomed to viewing the USA as main enemy, at least to the present South Korean level, will require several decades and immense investment. Second, with the increasing importance of East Asian business contacts and growing penetration of Japanese mass culture into Korean society, Japanese and Chinese – both are much easier to learn for a Korean than English – are also vying for their share of influence on Korea’s socio-linguistic space. And, third, with nationalistic trends in both China and Japan on the rise, Korean linguistic nationalism, especially strong among well established academics, will also continue to exercise certain restraining influence on the government’s linguistic policy, whatever the demands of corporations can be. Of course, general trend towards higher status of English hardly can be thwarted, so far as it is backed by economical necessity. Still, the degree of the endorsement and promotion of this trend by government and society can vary, depending on various political and social considerations, as it had been already mentioned above.

  Although the development of Internet is conventionally taken as a factor increasing Koreans’ exposure to English, it should be remembered that Koreans, even the younger and better-to-do zealots of English conversation, spend most of their on-line time accessing Korean-language sites, and usually have mostly Korean Internet media among their best favourites. In fact, in many ways Internet boom increased the importance of Korean language for the “netizens” (“Konglish” abbreviation of “net citizens”, meaning “habitual net users”) in their 20’s and 30’s, providing, for example, ample access to many alternative Korean left-leaning media, scarcely available in their printed form for the majority of non-activists, but highly popular potentially due to their iconoclastic, unorthodox treatment of many issues of Korean life. Through the Internet, great variety of non-orthodox and previously suppressed groups – ranging from radical trade union activists to homosexuals and lovers of abusive language – gained the opportunity to express themselves and compete for the attention of Korean public, using Korean as their main – and usually only – communication tool. Then, the anonymity of Internet chat rooms – also using Korean – gives the rare opportunity of completely free self-expression, precious in the society where the official discourse is still authoritatively dominated by the high-posted “pillars of the society” with high academic credentials. And, in commercial aspect, Korean Internet shopping-malls are usually less expensive (due to lower workforce costs) and better suited to Korean tastes that their English-using foreign competitors. So, on the whole, booming Internet exposes Koreans to Korean rather than to English, and, in the future, can be one of the strongest factors of the vitality of Korean language in increasingly competitive socio-linguistic space of globalising Korea.