Hangeul, as the Korean script is known, was formulated in a document called Hunmin Jeongeum by King Sejong in 1443, the 25th year of his reign. It was then tested and improved for another three years. Originally, 28 letters were created, of which only 24 are used today.
Why Korean is such a special language
Hangeul is made up of consonants and vowels. It is a phonetic system, but it is based on the formation of syllabic units. The syllable consists of a first sound, an intermediate sound and a last consonant.
What makes it unique is the fact that the basic consonants were created by reproducing the human organs of pronunciation, mimicking the shapes of the organ of articulation as they are pronounced. Other letters were developed on the basis of these basic characters, taking into account similarities in sounds and stress levels and adding features to the basic characters.
The whole system was developed using the basic consonants and the three vowels and adding strokes to them, making the letters simple to learn. In modern times, Hangeul has been easily combined with digital technologies, making it easier to input.
History of the Korean language
Korean belongs to the Ural-Altaic group of languages, which extends closely across Mongolia and Central Asia to Turkey. The ancestors of modern Koreans are thought to have brought the language to the Korean peninsula from their home in Central Asia. Korean is very similar to Japanese in terms of grammar and sentence structure. Today, Korean is spoken by about 70 million people.
Understanding Korean and Korean culture for successful audio / video translations
It is extremely difficult for most foreigners to master spoken Korean. In contrast, the written Korean language, thanks to the foresight of King Sejong, is relatively easy and can be learned in a few hours of study.
Did you know that, contrary to legend, the Korean language is not related to Japanese? In fact, it is a member of the Altaic language family, which also includes Turkish, Mongolian and Finnish. Or that there are over 80 dialects spoken in Korea? Here are some specific aspects that make the language unique. Information to better understand this society and to succeed with audio / video translations into Korean.
1. There are minor linguistic differences between North and South Korea
The biggest influences on the Korean language come from English and Chinese, respectively. While the South Korean language reflects these influences, North Korea strives to keep the language free of loanwords. This means that there may be different ways of saying things in the North and South.
But don’t worry, the differences are not so great that you can’t learn and use Korean. It is still the official language of both countries.
2. The written language is based on an alphabet, not just illustrations
Many people look at the Korean script and think that it is based on pictures or ideograms, like Chinese and Japanese characters. However, what you see when you look at one of their characters is not a picture; it is a combination of sounds, and the letters that make up a syllable.
3. The honorific system can make all the difference
There are also the more advanced nuances that come from the honorific system. This system determines how you address someone, depending on your relationship with that person. There are different levels of language, each corresponding to a different level of respect. To find out more about Korean language levels, click here.
For example, you will use completely different words when addressing a relative than when speaking to your employer. This system can be quite complex.
4. Singular and plural nouns are not always different
In English, words change depending on whether the subject is singular or plural. For example, if there is a distinction between one book and four books, we add an “s” to the end of the word. In Korean, not all words take a different plural form to indicate more than one person, place or thing. Most of the time, it is the context of the sentence that indicates whether the subject is singular or plural.
5. The context is very important
In much of everyday Korean language, the subject and object can be removed from a sentence. The person you are addressing will understand because of the context.
In English, the basic sentence consists of the 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 feeds the dog
In Korean, you can often drop the subject and object as long as the context is present. In almost all cases, the verb is the most important part.
6. The language is influenced by Chinese
The Korean language is interesting in that it has been heavily influenced by Chinese throughout its history. In fact, a large part of the Korean vocabulary consists of words of Chinese origin.
This is because for centuries Korea was a vassal state of China. As a result, the two cultures had a profound impact on each other. Even today, many Koreans use Chinese characters in their writing.
However, the Korean language has also been influenced by other languages, such as English and Japanese. As Korea continues to modernise and globalisation takes hold, it will be interesting to see how the Korean language develops in the future.
7. It is an “isolated language”.
The Korean language is unique in several ways. First, it is what linguists call an “isolated language”, i.e. it is not closely related to any other known language. This is in contrast to languages such as English, French and Spanish, which all belong to the Indo-European language family.
The Korean language is also believed to have remained relatively unchanged for over 2,000 years. This stability is unusual for languages, which generally evolve and change over time.
In addition, the Korean alphabet (known as Hangul) is particularly distinctive. It was invented in the 15th century by King Sejong the Great and consists of 24 letters (14 consonants and 10 vowels). Finally, Korea has a complex system of honorific formulas used to show respect to elders or superiors. All these features make the Korean language unique and interesting.
8. There are two counting systems
Korean has two different numbering systems: native Korean and Chinese-Korean. Korean numbers are used to count things like people and animals, while Chinese-Korean numbers are used to count everything else, like money and days of the week.
The two numbering systems are completely different, which can be confusing for Korean learners.
For example, the number “eleven” is “ship” in native Korean, but “pal” in Chinese-Korean. In addition, some words can be counted using either system. For example, the word “person” can be counted as “one person” or “ten people”. Therefore, it is important to learn both numbering systems in order to count correctly in Korean.
9. Until the 15th century, the language did not have an alphabet
Before that, Koreans used Chinese characters to write. In 1443, King Sejong the Great commissioned a team of scholars to create a new alphabet for the Korean language.
They developed a 28-letter system called “hangul”. This new alphabet enabled people from all social classes to learn to read and write. Today, Hangul is still used in North and South Korea. It is considered one of the most logical and easy to learn writing systems in the world!
10. … But there is now a Korean holiday celebrating the alphabet
The Korean government has decided to create a public holiday called “Hangeul Day”. Hangeul Day is celebrated on 9 October, the day the Korean alphabet was created in 1446. On this day, Koreans around the world celebrate by learning more about the Korean language and culture. If you want to learn more about the Korean language, Hangeul Day is a good time to start!
11. Hangeul is considered the “best alphabet in the world”
The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, is often considered the “best alphabet in the world”. And it’s not hard to see why. Hangul was specifically designed to be easy to learn and use, and is considered one of the most scientific writing systems available.
The alphabet consists of just 24 letters, which can be combined to form thousands of different words. And unlike many other writing systems, there is no ambiguity in the way the letters are pronounced. In addition, the alphabet is very efficient and uses far fewer symbols than most other languages. As a result, it is estimated that the average Korean can read and write twice as fast as an English speaker.
12. Korean is considered a “collectivist” language
In Korean, there is no word that corresponds to the English “I”. Instead, the pronoun “우리(uri)”, which means “we”, is used to refer to oneself. This usage reflects the collectivist nature of Korean society. Collectivism is a social philosophy that emphasises the needs of the group rather than the individual.
In collectivist cultures, people are expected to work together for the common good. Individual success is often secondary to the success of the group. The collectivist orientation of Koreans is evident in their family relationships, their interactions with friends, and their attitude towards work. In many ways, collectivism is the cornerstone of Korean society.
13. Consonants can confuse you
If you’re thinking of learning Korean, be warned: consonants may give you a hard time. Unlike English, which has a relatively simple consonant system, Korean has a much more complex system. There are 19 different consonants in Korean, each with a unique sound.
What is more, these consonants can be combined to form even more complex sounds. Therefore, mastering Korean pronunciation can be a challenge for even the most experienced learners. But don’t let this discourage you! With a little practice, you’ll be speaking like a native speaker in no time.
14. There are many dialects
The Korean peninsula is a unique place because it is home to multiple dialects of the Korean language. Although they are separated by only a few hundred kilometres, these dialects can be very different from each other. This is one of the many interesting facts about the Korean language!
For example, the people of Jeju Island have their own way of speaking, which includes several words borrowed from the Jeju dialect of the Chinese language. In addition, there are also differences between the standard Korean spoken in North and South Korea. These differences date back to the division of the peninsula into two separate countries after the Second World War.
As a result, the Korean language has developed into a rich and diverse mosaic, with many dialects and variations.
15. K-Pop and Korean television programmes have increased interest in learning Korean
Over the past decade, the popularity of Korean pop music (K-Pop) and Korean TV shows has increased significantly worldwide. This has led to a growing interest in learning the Korean language. Indeed, many people who would never have considered studying Korean are now enrolling in courses or taking online courses.
There are several reasons for this trend. Firstly, Korean K-Pop and soap operas are extremely popular and widely available. They are an enjoyable way to learn about Korean culture and acquire basic language skills. Secondly, the rise of social media means that it is easier than ever to connect with Korean speakers and learn directly from them. Finally, more and more people are realising that knowledge of Korean can be a valuable asset in an increasingly globalised world.
16. There are many words that belong to other languages
Korea has been occupied or influenced by other countries for much of its history. As a result, the Korean language has borrowed heavily from other languages, especially Chinese. According to one estimate, almost 60% of Korean vocabulary consists of words borrowed from Chinese.
However, Korean has also borrowed words from Japanese, Mongolian, English and other languages. These borrowings often reflect the technological or economic dominance of the borrowing culture at the time.
For example, many Korean words for modern technological devices are borrowed from English, while older words for traditional Korean objects are more often of Chinese origin. As Korean evolves, it is likely that more loanwords will appear in the language.
17. Korean has no grammatical gender
Korean has no grammatical gender, which means that there are no masculine or feminine forms for nouns. This can be a bit shocking for learners of Korean who are used to English, where almost all nouns have a gender.
For example, the word for ‘book’ is 책 (chae), which is neuter, while the word for ‘bird’ is 새 (sae), which is feminine. The lack of grammatical gender in Korean means that there are no pronouns like “he” or “she”, and all verbs and adjectives are conjugated the same, regardless of the gender of the subject.
Although it takes some getting used to, not having to worry about gender can, in some ways, make learning Korean easier. So don’t worry if you can’t tell if a Korean noun is masculine or feminine – it’s likely to have no gender at all!
Here are a few things we hope will help you develop your presence in Korea, or adapt your audio / video content. Do not hesitate to consult LenseUp for all your audio / video projects.