The two Koreas

According to an article in The Boston Globe, the Korean spoken in North Korea has drifted apart from the Korean spoken in South Korea. This is hardly surpising as there has been very little contact between the two sides for over 60 years. They both jam each other’s radio signals, and it used to be a serious crime in the South to watch television, read literature or to communicate with people from the other side. It still is in the North.

Some words have different meanings on each side of the border. For example, if you ask a North Korean how they are, they’ll probably say ‘ilupsopneda’, which literally means ‘not much’ and is the equivalent of ‘I’m fine, thanks’. In South Korea this phrase means ‘Mind your own business!’, which goes some way to explaining why South Koreans think North Koreans are quite rude.

In order to prevent the language drifting further apart, the authorities in both Koreas are currently working on a unified dictionary.

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

4 Responses to The two Koreas

  1. Sam says:

    How far apart linguistically were North and South Vietnamese or East and West Germans?

    My gut feeling is that reunificiation isn’t going to be easy. The language is different, and the culture is similarly different. A unified dictionary might help to prevent the language from drifting further apart, but if North Korea would allow communication with South Korea that would be even more helpful.

  2. Frost says:

    I was a Korean linguist in the Marine Corps. While we mostly focused on the standard South Korean spoken in Seoul, we did learn about some variations in the North Korean dialects. North Koreans add different endings to words than South Koreans do, though context and simple endings memorization can overcome the difference. What’s more challenging is the fact that North Koreans believe in the usage of “pure” Korean words, i.e. those not taken from Chinese vocabulary. My assumption is that North Koreans would have greater difficulty understanding their southern counterparts due to the South’s tendency towards Sino-derived vocabulary.

    If (or hopefully WHEN) reunification occurs, I believe the Koreas will have a definite awkward period in their communication.

  3. Simon says:

    A lot of loan words from English are also used in South Korea, but not in North Korea. This is another source of misunderstandings.

  4. Frost says:

    That’s a good point that I forgot.