The Differences Between North Korean and South Korean Languages

Korea is one of the most popular countries in Asia, drastically known for its cosmetic and surgical industry and the new entrée of K-Pop music and K-dramas. The enticing culture of Korea is what beguiles international businesses to dive into the Korean market. But wait for a second, which Korean market are you referring to? Is it North Korea or South Korea?

Despite the differences in the governing law and the governmental stature, language is a common factor between North Korea and South Korea.  Korean is the basic language format for both countries, however, it does come with a set of differences that is hard to tell apart by a non-native. 

Beginning from the Historic Times

Because of the different world superpowers ideologies (after WWII), the political issues rose until it cemented a wall of huge conflicts that could be resolved only in the shape of two Koreas. A demilitarized zone, now, neutrally separates North Korea and South Korea. This division occurred in the 1950s where 9 million people were automatically divided under the roof of the northern peninsula, i.e., North Korea. 

Now, it’s not only the ideology or land that has created a difference in both nations. But the language also plays a crucial role, as both sides have a unique culture despite their shared history. 

Origin of Korean language

It wasn’t always North Korean or South Korean. Before the division, Standard Korean was the official language defined by the National Orthography in 1933. This was known as Hangeul Matchumbeop Tong-Iran (한글 맞춤법 통일안). Soon after the establishment of South Korea (Republic of Korea) and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), the language policies also got submerged. 

Based on the soviet model, North Korea created their language system while South Korea continued the previous language score. After 70 years of separation, one can identify a clear amount of difference in Northern Korean and Southern Korean. 

The major differences exist because of the influence of Japanese and English in the South and Russian in the North. 

Therefore, the most common dialects spoken these days include;

  • Hamgyŏng dialect: also known as the northeastern dialect, is spoken in Kwannam and Kwanbuk regions. 
  • Pyong’an dialect: also known as the northwestern dialect is spoken in the northern peninsula, in the province of Chagang and Pyongan.
  • Central dialect: the Seoul dialect a.k.a Gyeonggi dialect is used in various regions of South Korea and provincial boundaries. 
  • Chungcheong dialect: spoken in the province of Chungcheong in South Korea, although some speakers are also found in North Korea. 

Prominent differences in North Korean and South Korean

There are a few Chinese characters in use as well known as “hanja”. These characters have specific pronunciation in South Korean and North Korean. They were used until the new Korean form of writing system developed known as “hangul”.  Besides the change in the writing system, the minute differences were also seen in the characters “jamo”. If you have the chance to hire a Korean interpreter he/she would know the slightest of the differences between the two Korean dialects.

Since Seoul is the capital and largest city of South Korea, several “loanwords” from English are commonly spoken around. Besides one thing common on both sides is that they use characters instead of a Latin or Cyrillic writing system. 

By taking a look at the above-mentioned dialects one can easily say that even region wise the dialects differ a lot. Between the languages spoken on both sides, here are some of the qualified differences;

  1. South Korean often use their version of some of the English words. Juseu is an English loanword while in North Korea, danmul is commonly used. 
  2. Korean English dictionary represents the word “musical” as ”eumhakwi” in south Korean while in North Korean as ”myujikeol.”
  3. The assertion of vowels differs too. For South Korea, it is ㅐ ㅑ ㅒ ㅓ ㅔ ㅕ ㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢ while for North Korea it is ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖ ㅚ ㅟ ㅢ ㅘ ㅝ ㅙ ㅞ.
  4. The differences in spelling are quite prominent too as the use of foreign words makes the pronunciation difficult. 
  5. The digraphs and trigraphs are not used as a separate letter in South Korean while in North Korean they are used separately. 
  6. Because of the difference in vowels and words, North Korean sounds old-fashioned compared to South Korean. 
  7. In Seoul, the usual consonants ㅈ, ㅊ, and ㅉ are pronounced with alveolo-palatal affricates [tɕ], [tɕʰ], [tɕ͈].

This produces the “ch” sound when translated (interpreted) into English. 

Whereas in the North Korean dialect, the consonants are predominantly pronounced with alveolar affricates [ts], [tsʰ], [ts͈]. It produces the “s” sound in English. 

  1. The pronunciation in North Korea is based on Pyong’an dialect while the Seoul dialect is used in South Korea. 
  2. Because of the difference in the dialects and pronunciations, it may feel like North Korean is a bit harsh even if they are speaking in a friendly way. 
  3. South Korean sounds smoother and drastically more humble compared to North Koreans. 

Conclusion

The differences in North Korean and South Korean both create a unique identity for both sides of the country. It has also affected their business culture and popularity thanks to globalization. 

Languages play a powerful role in advancing a nation’s culture. Imagine if Korea remained a united front, what impact of language could have been for the future generations? Besides, doing business in South Korea or North Korea is not without their fair share of linguistic barriers. It can be really fun and enticing to translate from English to the Korean Language. So if you are a daredevil investor or an entrepreneur this might be your chance to prove your entrepreneurial skills alongside a perfect translation partner. 

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