WORD Wednesday - A Korean language history lesson

Still plugging away on some very basic Korean phrases here. While trolling around to learn some words, I've been really interested in the history of the language. It's spoken by an estimated 72-million people!

One important thing to know is that the language is not called Korean (although it seems pretty commonplace now). According to the Korean History Project site:

Koreans do not refer to their language as "Korean." What it's called depends on where you are. In North Korea, the language is frequently called Joseonmal, or more formally, Joseoneo. In South Korea, it is known as Hangungmal, or more formally, Hangugeo. The language is sometimes colloquially called Urimal, "our language."

They also cite that the Korean language is ranked among the top 3 most difficult languages to learn! (I'm officially using that as my excuse for not retaining this stuff!) One of my favorite things about Hangungmal is that it is so rooted in Korean culture and reflects their deep respect for the rank and position of those around them. You cannot say the same things to everyone--so you must learn several phrases to say the same thing and use the appropriate one depending on the rank of whomever you are speaking with.

Cultural distinctions reflecting relative levels of superiority are so strong and the language is so honor sensitive that failing to use the proper honorific phrases can be very disturbing and lead to social conflict. Young Koreans learn to use the proper honorific phrases quickly, often by getting roughed up by an older friend or sibling for being disrespectful.

Of course this makes learning it much more challenging and I'm sure that I'll get the honorifics wrong all the time!

A few specifics about the language are the 14 "normal" consonants and 5 "double" consonants (letters that are stressed), 10 basic vowel sounds, and 11 dipthongs (double vowels). It is usually written from left to right like English, but can also be written from top to bottom like Chinese. (Here's a great site that explains consonants and vowel use, but quite honestly, my brain turns to mush when I try to get through it.)

Korean language also borrows heavily from other languages, specifically Chinese (referred to as Sino-Korean words) and also Western words (referred to as Oi-rae-eo). Some of the Western adaptations are quite recognizable, such as kopi (coffee).

OK, enough of the history lesson. Back to learning how to speak!

Want to learn more? Here's some links:

(image credit: http://www.wright-house.com)

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