Rescribe: Korean Translation Notes

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The Korean Language is spoken by over 72 million people, mostly in North and South Korea.


The Korean language has a long history, with many varied influences from Chinese. Originally written using Chinese characters, the Korean writing system known as Hangul was invented in 1443. Chinese remained dominant for centuries for political and social reasons, and the dominance of Hangul was not assured until the Korean language was charged with emotional significance in the face of Japanese cultural and military incursions.

In 1910 the long standing Choson or Yi dynasty fell to the Japanese and in the 1930s and 1940s the Japanese prohibited Koreans from speaking the language at schools and from publishing books in Korean. During this time Koreans recognized the importance of using Hangul and established Korean linguistic independence. Japan pulled out of Korea at the end of WWII (1945).

Following the Korean War (1950-1953), the nation was split into two and the language has accordingly developed differences. In North Korea the dialect of the capital, P'yongyang, became the official language and was named Munhwao. South Korea retained the Standard Language spoken in the capital, Seoul, as the official tongue. There are five other major dialect areas in the country: northwestern, northeastern, southwestern, southeastern, and Cheju Island.

The presence or absence of tone and pitch accounts for the major differences between the dialects. The most conspicuous divergence between the Cultured Language of North Korea and the Standard Language of South Korea is in vocabulary, largely because North Korea has a policy of eliminating words of foreign origin. Over the years in North Korea many words have been replaced by newly coined native-sounding words.

Romanization System

There are two systems used to express Korean in English letters:

  • McCune-Reischauer—used in South Korea by academic and governmental publications. It represents the sound of the Korean word using the Roman alphabet.
  • Yale—places more emphasis upon the Korean orthography and so reflects more accurately the form that would appear in Hangul.

McCune-Reischauer is more popular amongst English speakers.


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