The Korean language has about 77 million native speakers and is the official and national language in South and North Korea. It is also spoken by people of Korean heritage in many countries worldwide, notably the US, China, Japan, Russia and Ukraine.
Korean is especially exciting to linguists as it is a “language isolate” — meaning it has never been proven to be related to any other languages or language families.
Various linguistic studies over the years have tried to link Korean to other languages and language families like the Altaic family, which includes Turkish, the Paleo Siberian languages and even the Dravidian languages of Southern India. There has never been any real conclusive evidence to link it to anything else.
Some linguists have also noted that compared to Japanese, it is similar in structure but not in vocabulary. Korean is also different phonetically to Japanese having a much larger range of consonant and vowel sounds. The collective thought on this is that both languages have co-existed for thousands of years in close proximity and have likely borrowed features from each other over the years.
Both Korean and Japanese also borrow many words from the language of their huge and influential neighbor, China. Korean and Japanese use Chinese words and roots in a similar way to how English has borrowed from Latin and Greek. Many scientific, artistic, and higher-level literary words and terms in both languages originally derive from Chinese.
Another unique feature of Korean is its very distinctive alphabet called, Hangeul. It is one of few languages in the world which has a writing system specifically designed for it.
It is certainly the only language in the world whose alphabet was invented by a king! It was devised by King Sejong in the 15th Century. The Korean alphabet is often cited as being one of the most perfect writing systems in the world. It is very easy to learn, read and write as it is almost completely phonetic and makes no distinction between upper- and lower-case letters.
Another interesting point to note about Korean is that it is a language which spans two different political systems of a once united country, now divided into capitalist South Korea and communist North Korea. Overall Koreans from the North and South understand each other but there are many differences in vocabulary especially when it comes to the political sphere.
The Koreans love and revere their alphabet so much that it even has its own special day! It is celebrated on 9th October every year in South Korea and 15th January in North Korea. It has been a National Holiday in South Korea since 2013. Below is a photo of South Koreans celebrating the day in front of a statue of King Sejong in the capital, Seoul.
Researched and written by Jon Kuykendall-Barrett