korean language

5 Surprising Facts About the Korean Language

korean language

The Korean language is a rich one with a long history. Like any language, the Korean language has gone through many changes over time. When you’re learning Korean,  it can be fun and helpful to learn about the history and intricacies of the language. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about the Korean language.

1. There are Minor Language Differences Between North and South Korea

The biggest influences on the Korean language come from English and Chinese, respectively. While the language in South Korea reflects this, North Korea has tried to keep the language free of loan words. This means there may be different ways of saying certain things in the north versus the south.

Don’t worry though, the differences aren’t so major that you can’t learn and use Korean. It’s still the official language of both areas.

2. The Written Language is Based on an Alphabet, Not Just Pictures

Many people see Korean writing and assume it has roots in pictures or ideographs, like Chinese and Japanese characters. What you see when you look at one of their characters isn’t a picture, though; it’s a combination of sounds, and the letters that make up a syllable.

3. The Honorifics System Can Make All the Difference

There is also the more advanced nuances that come from the honorifics system. The honorifics system dictates how you address someone, depending on your relationship with that person. There are several speech levels, each one for a different level of respect. Learn more about the Korean speech levels here.

For example, you would use completely different words to  address a relative than you would to speak with your employer. This system can be quite complex. Learn it, and you won’t accidentally slip and show disrespect when you use familiar phrasing rather than a deferential one.

4. Singular and Plural Nouns Aren’t Always Different

In English, words change depending on if the subject is singular or plural. For example, there is a distinction between one book versus four books, we add an “s” to the end of the word. In Korean, not every word changes to a different plural form to indicate more than one person place, or thing. For the most part, the context of the phrase will indicate if the subject is singular or plural.

5. Context Goes a Long Way

In a lot of everyday Korean speech, the subject and object can be dropped from a sentence. The person you’re speaking to will understand because of the context.

In English, the basic sentence is subject, verb, and object. In Korean, the basic word order is subject, object, verb.

  • S-V-O – He feeds the dog
  • S-O-V – He the dog feeds

In Korean, you can often drop the subject and object as long as the context is there. In almost all cases, the verb is the most important part.

Learning Korean is challenging, but it is also fun and rewarding. You can apply many of these principles as you learn the language and use them to help you advance.


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Photo by Emmanuel DYAN

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