Korean: 사랑해!

I’m starting my Korean post on several coincidental notes.

First, my really good friend just flew back to the peninsula yesterday (or, she is still flying as I type this) as part of an educational program she’s completing since she graduated from college. I will miss her terribly, but I know she will continue to have the time of her life there.

Second, South Korea apparently launched its first carrier rocket into space, called the Naro-1. Pretty great ways to “launch” into this, right? Right? Ok, no more jokes.

REGIONAL HISTORY: Korea’s old, y’all. The first kingdom, called Gojoseon, was founded in 2,333 B.C. Eventually there were city states formed from this kingdom until the emergence of three main kingdoms — Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla — which were formed around the last century BC. These kingdoms competed with each other for a while throughout the beginning half of the first millennium AD, until the Silla kingdom took over the South and Balhae, formed from the former Goguyeo kingdom, controlled a huge portion of the North. Around the 900s, the Sillia kingdom had tumbled and gave way to the Goryeo dynasty, from which modern-day Korea gets its name.

Lots of great things happened during this 400-year period. Korea developed the first movable metal type in the 1200s, way before the Gutenberg press. Also, the Tripitaka Koreana, the oldest and most thorough canon of Buddhism in Chinese in the world, was also published onto more than 80,000 wooden blocks (there are known to be no errors in the canon). However, the influence of Buddhism was countered by the beginning of the Joseon dynasty and the spread of Neo-Confucianism, which lasted until the 1800s. During this dynasty, King Sejong the Great developed Hangeul, the alphabet used in Korean today. This dynasty also saw a flourish in academia and the sciences, especially astronomy.

Japan had been trying to invade Korea to get to China and Korea had successfully held its ground. In the late 1800s to 1900s, Japan had won wars against China and Russia and took control of Korea, leading to a period of brutal rule and suppression of Korean culture, including the banning of Korean language in schools. Despite a peaceful demonstration in 1919, Korea wouldn’t be free from Japanese rule until the end of WWII. After the war, the Northern half fell under Communist rule while the south formed a republic. The climate of the Cold War and the north/south division led to the Korean War, a devastating one which lasted about three years. The aftermath resulted in a permanent demarcation of the peninsula, as North and South Korea continue to be divided.

WRITING SYSTEM: As mentioned before, Korean uses Hangeul (called Josoenguel in North Korea), an alphabet that  was developed in the 1400s.

It has 14 consonants and 10 vowels, which are combined into blocks when written, read left to right (or, more  traditionally, vertically from right to left). One thing to note is that the vowels come in three types, which represent elements: a vertical line (man), a horizontal line (earth) and a dot or dash (heaven). The consonants were also meant to resemble the body parts used when saying them.

ㄱ – k as in kick / g as in god
ㄴ – n as in now
ㄷ – t as in to / d as in do
ㄹ – r as in run, ll as in bell
ㅁ – m as in make
ㅂ – p as in put / b as in by
ㅅ – s as in see / sh as in she
ㅇ – ng as in sing
ㅈ – j as in jail
ㅊ – ch as in chew
ㅋ – c as in cow
ㅌ – t as in tie
ㅍ – p as in pool
ㅎ – h as in how

ㅏ – a as in father
ㅓ – u as in but
ㅗ – o as in row
ㅜ – oo as in moon
ㅡ – oo as in brook
ㅣ – ee as in meek
ㅑ – ya as in yawn
ㅕ – yu as in yuck
ㅛ – yo as in yodel
ㅠ – ew as in pew

Hanguel also uses diphthongs (not listed). Chinse characers called hanja are used in Korean documents, although less exclusively in informal writing.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: I’m really surprised by how many people  speak Korean (roughly 70 million). Despite some influences from Japan and China, Korean is technically nothing like its neighbors. It sounds more polysyllabic than Chinese and is not tonal, at the same time, I have trouble recognizing it in speech. If anything, it sounds like a weird derivative of Japanese. Sort of. But the alphabet makes sense and doesn’t seem too hard.

Korean is in its own little world (linguistically, it could be considered a language isolate) and I plan on exploring it. Until then, enjoy this awesome mashup I found of Korean pop music hits from this year!

NOTE: I am also happy to announce that I will be doing video recaps again, as I have purchased a new camera!


The official website of the Republic of Korea
Learn Korean Alphabet
Omniglot’s Page on Korean

Wikipedia (Korea, Korean alphabet, Hangul)

One thought on “Korean: 사랑해!

  1. I also love Korean….

    I’ve been anxiously waiting until it would be featured on your blog! I spent 2 years living and working in Seoul, and absolutely fell in love with the people and the language. Afterward, I tried to seriously study Spanish for a few months…and it was just nowhere near as fun as Korean.

    화이팅! (‘hwa-ee-ting’ a Koreanized “fighting,” a cheer of good luck and support)

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