Linguistic Differences in the North & South

It’s not a surprise that, for North Korean defectors, learning the language is the hardest part of adjusting into South Korean society. After the Korean War, North Korean dialect and vocab has pretty much stayed the same while South Korea have adopted thousands of new loan-words.

But how did our language get so divided?

There’s no denying that the difference in the two dialects are more than dialectical and has a lot to do with political policies that were set in place after the Korean War. North Korean dialect (Joseon 조선말) didn’t naturally grow apart from South Korea’s (Korean 한국말). The political distinction is right there in what each country calls their own language. It’s been a conscious decision for North Korean officials since the 1950′s to not allow foreign loan-words. This is very much in line with the rhetoric of national purity at the heart of North Korean ideology.  So the difference in dialect is completely by design and, from a North Korean perspective, makes their language “better” than that of the nasty, capitalistic, pro-American whores to the south. North Korea doesn’t use nearly as many Chinese characters as the South either. Instead of loan-words, neologisms are always created.*

There are many countries around the world that have tried to limit the use of English loan-words into their languages. France, for example, has tried to impose neologized French words for a number of English ones as well as anglicisms, sometimes successfully (e.g. ‘ordinateur’ for computer), sometimes less so (’courriel’ for email, or mél). In fact, there’s hardly a country in the world that hasn’t been impacted by a large number of English loan-words in the last few decades. Several, such as France and North Korea, have taken political measures to limit them.**

Even in the way the alphabet is ordered is slightly different. The ㅇ (ee-eung) character comes last because North Koreans consider it an empty consonant while the same character comes 8th out of the 14 consonants in the South. But the most notable difference come with the vocabulary. Below you’ll find some examples of some of the differences:

Without speaking the language of the land in which they live, North Koreans can never really be fully integrated. But for some defectors, they refuse to completely let go of the dialect of the place they once called home.

Excerpts taken from *wetcasements and **hanguknamja. Thank you.