Posted on Thursday, February 2, 2012
Category: Etymology, History, Languages
It should come as no surprise that the Korean language is spoken in both North and South Korea. But there are some differences between the written and spoken word in these areas, despite the fact that both varieties are usually simply called “Korean.”
The first noticeable difference is that in South Korea, the formal name of the language spoken by residents is Hangugeo, while North Koreans call their version Chosŏnŏ. There are other minor differences in how people speak and write in each region, and they should be noted as one learns the language or finds a linguist.
Differences in Korean Vocabulary
One detail to note is that the language used in South Korea is based mostly on the Seoul dialect, and people in this area tend to use words borrowed from the English language quite often. By contrast, North Korean speakers primarily adhere to the Pyongyang dialect and prefer to borrow Russian words rather than English terms, when they incorporate other languages at all. For this reason, the vocabulary is sometimes different depending on whether one is using the North or South Korean language.
Contrasting political structures may give rise to different meanings of the same word depending on whether one is in the North or South, as leaders of each area have tried to make some changes when it comes to vocabulary. For example, leaders in North Korea have urged residents to keep borrowed words out of the Korean language, so one might find fewer such words there than in South Korea.
Dissimilarities in the Written Word
People learning to write in Korean will notice that both North and South Korea use the same letters (called jamo), but they might look different. For example, certain vowels and consonants are considered separate letters in North Korea, while they are kept together as the same letters in the South. Many jamo are also placed in a different order according to the version being used.
The differences do not end with the letters — they apply to whole words, too. For instance, there are usually more spaces in the South Korean language than the North’s version, especially while writing pairs of words that make up a single concept when put together.
Spoken Word Variances
Since the Korean language in each region is based on different dialects, it makes sense that some slight pronunciation differences are present in the spoken word. This means that certain consonants and vowels are pronounced differently from one area to another, and some letters may be ignored completely when residents of either North or South Korea pronounce words.
There is some evidence that the pitch of the North Korean language is slightly different from that of South Korea. In addition, some Chinese characters have been integrated into Korean and are called hanja. These types of characters are often pronounced one way in South Korea and another way in the North, and they are sometimes even written differently.
In most cases, someone well versed in the South Korean variety of the language could understand and be understood by those in North Korea, and vice versa. But a professional interpreter will pay attention to the slight variances between the two Korean language dialects and use the appropriate version, according to the situation and audience.