Every week we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
This week Patrik, originally from Sweden, asks:
How do the North and South Korean ways of speaking differ? Is there a lot of slang that is different?
North and South Koreans use a common language, Korean. They use the same writing system, called Hangeul.
However, more than half a century has passed since Korea was divided into two different countries. Since the two Koreas have been separated for so long, the way South Koreans speak and write greatly differs from that of North Koreans.
Following the end of annexation by Japan, Korea was divided into two countries under different governments and ideologies. While South Koreans can freely travel to other countries, there has been one place on earth they weren’t allowed to visit – North Korea. While South Koreans were allowed to consume popular culture from countries such as the United States and Western Europe, they weren’t allowed to watch movies, listen to songs or read books from North Korea.
This separated for so long has resulted in a number of differences between the languages in two countries.
First, North Korean and South Korean have different ways of spelling. For example, the “r” sound can come at the beginning of a word in North Korean. However, the “r” sound can never come at the beginning of a word in South Korean. One notable example is the word “ryori/yori,” which could be translated as “cooking” in English. Therefore, it’s “ryori” in North Korean but “yori” in South Korean. This is just one example of a word North Koreans spell differently from how South Koreans spell. This difference is similar to differences between the American way of spelling and the British way.
Actually, North Koreans and South Koreans already spoke with different accents before the Korean War
Second, North Koreans and South Koreans speak with different accents and intonation. Actually, North Koreans and South Koreans already spoke with different accents before the Korean War. In fact, different accents and dialects exist just within South Korea. So, it’s not surprising that North Koreans and South Koreans speak with different accents, right?
Think of it this way: In the United States, northerners speak with a different accent from southerners. Americans, Canadians, British, Australians and New Zealanders speak a common language, English, but they speak with different accents. Koreans living in the northern part of Korea spoke with different accent from Koreans living in the southern part.
Third, the South Korean language has an abundance of slang North Koreans can’t understand. The younger generation in South Korea uses a lot of slang and abbreviations from the Internet and instant messenger. Slang is made up of words that have come into use recently. So it’s not strange that North Koreans who have newly arrived in South Korea have a hard time understanding the slang in South Korean language.
Lastly, the most striking difference between North Korean and South Korean is the existence of loanwords. The South Korean language has borrowed many words from the English language. South Koreans still have words made from with Chinese characters while the North changed those words to pure Korean ones. The North Korean government has continuously made efforts to get rid of words influenced by foreign languages and change them to pure Korean words. When South Koreans read or hear those words, they can’t understand them at all.
Such striking differences will be an obstacle to communication between North and South Koreans
There are many English words in South Korean language such as “shower,” “cafe,” “radio,” “hairdryer” and so on. North Koreans have made extra efforts to “purify” their own words and they haven’t adopted any words from English. However, despite these efforts at purification, there are some North Korean words which sound similar to English ones but which were actually acquired through Russian. For example, “group” is “group” in South Korean. But, it’s “groupa” in North Korean. As well, “tractor” is “tractor” in South Korean while it is “trak-tor” in North Korean. Such striking differences will be an obstacle to communication between North and South Koreans.
There are other things to be taken care of before the unification of Korea, but such differences in the languages of the two Koreas should definitely be something in need of careful consideration.
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Editing and translation by Elizabeth Jae
Artwork by Catherine Salkeld
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