History of the Korean language

History of the Korean language

The Korean language is attested from the early centuries of the Common Era in Chinese script. The featural hangul script is only introduced in the Middle Korean period, in the 15th century.

The periodization of the historical stages of Korean is as follows:

  • Before 1st century: Proto-Korean
  • 1st to 10th century: Old Korean (Three Kingdoms of Korea period)
  • 10th to 16th century: Middle Korean
  • 17th century to present: Modern Korean



Controversy remains over the proposed classification of Korean as Altaic. Korean being a language isolate, "Proto-Korean" is not a well-defined term, referring to the language spoken in Prehistoric Korea during the Bronze and Iron Age.

The classification of Korean as Altaic was introduced by Gustaf John Ramstedt (1928), but even within the Altaic hypothesis, the position of Korean relative to Japonic is unclear. A possible Korean-Japonic grouping within Altaic has been discussed by Samuel E. Martin,[1] Roy Andrew Miller[2] and Sergei Starostin,[3] but others, notably Alexander Vovin, interpret the affinities between Korean and Japanese as a sprachbund effect.[4]

Old Korean

Old Korean (고대국어, 古代國語) corresponds to the Korean language from the beginning of Three Kingdoms period to the latter part of the Unified Silla period, approximately from 1st to 10th century.[5] Phonological writing in Idu script develops by the 6th century.

It is unclear whether Old Korean may have been a tonal language.[6] It is assumed that Old Korean was divided into dialects, corresponding to the three kingdoms. These hypothetical subdivisions of Old Korean are also known as Buyeo languages. Of these, the Silla language is the best attested due to the political domination of Unified Silla by the 7th century.

Only some literary records of Unified Silla, changed into Goryeo text, are extant and some texts (written in their native Writing system) of the Three kingdoms period are mostly available in form of inscriptions at present. Thus, the languages of the Three Kingdoms period are generally examined through official government names and local district names.

The point at which Old Korean became Middle Korean is assessed variously by different scholars. The line is sometimes drawn in the late Goryeo dynasty, and sometimes around the 15th century in the early Joseon Dynasty. But it is usually thought that Middle Korea started at the establishment of Goryeo, and the standard language of Old Korean was changed from the Silla dialect to the Goryeo dialect.

There is very little literature for research of Old Korean. The first texts in Old Korean written using hanja to represent the sound and grammar of the local language.

Additional information about the language is drawn from various proper nouns recorded in Korean and Chinese records, and from etymological studies of the Korean pronunciations of Chinese characters.

Various systems were used, beginning with ad hoc approaches and gradually becoming codified in the scribal idu system and the hyangchal system used for poetry. These were arrangements of Chinese characters to represent the language phonetically, much like the Japanese kana.

Middle Korean

A page from the Hunmin Jeong-eum Eonhae. The Hangul-only column, fourth from left, (나랏말ᄊᆞ미), has pitch-accent diacritics to the left of the syllable blocks.

Middle Korean (중세국어, 中世國語) corresponds to Korean spoken from the 10th to 16th centuries, or from the era of Goryeo to the middle of Joseon.

The language standard of this period is based on the dialect of Gaeseong because the new Goryeo Dynasty moved its capital city to the north area of the Korean peninsula.

One of the main sources for information on Middle Korean is the Gyerim Ryusa (계림류사, 鷄林類事), a collection of several hundred items of Korean vocabulary with the pronunciation indicated through the use of hanja written in 1103. Anyone studying this work must of course be aware of the limits in the hanja's ability to transcribe foreign sounds.

The Hunminjeongeum (lit. The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People), original name of Hangul, was made in 1443, and promulgated in September or October 1446 by Sejong the Great, the 4th king of the Joseon Dynasty.

Hunminjeongeum was an entirely new and native script for the Korean people. The script was initially named after the publication, but later came to be known as hangul. It was created so that the common people illiterate in hanja could accurately and easily read and write the Korean language. Its supposed publication date, October 9, is now the "Hangul Day" in South Korea.

Modern Korean

Modern Korean (근대국어, 近代國語) corresponds to Korean spoken from the 17th century onward.

Over the decades following the Korean War and the division of Korea, North–South differences in the Korean language have developed, including variances in pronunciation, verb inflection and vocabulary.


  1. ^ eg Martin 1966, 1990
  2. ^ eg Miller 1971, 1996
  3. ^ Sergei Starostin. Altaiskaya problema i proishozhdeniye yaponskogo yazika (The Altaic Problem and the Origins of the Japanese Language). http://www.alib.ru/findp.php4?author=%D1%F2%E0%F0%EE%F1%F2%E8%ED&title=%C0%EB%F2%E0%E9%F1%EA%E0%FF+%EF%F0%EE%E1%EB%E5%EC%E0+%E8+%EF%F0%EE%E8%F1%F5%EE%E6%E4%E5%ED%E8%E5+%FF%EF%EE%ED%F1%EA%EE%E3%EE+%FF%E7%FB%EA%E0+. 
  4. ^ Vovin 2008
  5. ^ 최기호, 국어사 서설(The History of Korean Language), 제8회 국외 한국어교사 연수회 (8th Research Conference of Korean Language Teacher in Abroad), 2004년
  6. ^ Kim (2004), p. 80.
  • Kim, Mu-rim (김무림) (2004). 국어의 역사 (Gugeo-ui yeoksa, History of the Korean language). Seoul: Hankook Munhwasa. ISBN 89-5726-185-0. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • History of the Welsh language — The history of the Welsh language spans over 1400 years, encompassing the stages of the language known as Old Welsh, Middle Welsh, and Modern Welsh …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Hungarian language — The Funeral Sermon and Prayer . This text, dated to 1192, is the oldest longer Hungarian only document. Earlier, Hungarian sentences and words appeared in Latin context. Hungarian is an Ugric language. It has been spoken in the region of modern… …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Spanish language — The Spanish language developed from vulgar Latin, with loan words from Basque in the north and Arabic in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula (see Iberian Romance languages). Typical features of Spanish diachronic phonology include lenition …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Irish language — fol. 170r of the Book of Ballymote (1390), the Auraicept na n Éces explaining the Ogham script. The history of the Irish language covers the period from the arrival of speakers of Celtic languages in Ireland to the present day. The earliest known …   Wikipedia

  • History of the English language — English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic invaders from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the Netherlands. Initially, Old English was a diverse group of… …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Chinese language — Most linguists classify all of the variations of Chinese as part of the Sino Tibetan language family and believe that there was an original language, called Proto Sino Tibetan, analogous to Proto Indo European, from which the Sinitic and Tibeto… …   Wikipedia

  • Korean language — This article is about the spoken Korean language. For details of the native Korean writing system, see Hangul. Korean 한국어, 조선말 Hangugeo, Chosŏnmal …   Wikipedia

  • History of the alphabet — The history of the alphabet begins in Ancient Egypt, more than a millennium into the history of writing. The first pure alphabet emerged around 2000 BCE to represent the language of Semitic workers in Egypt (see Middle Bronze Age alphabets), and… …   Wikipedia

  • Korean language — Official language of North Korea and South Korea, spoken by more than 75 million people, including substantial communities of ethnic Koreans living elsewhere. Korean is not closely related to any other language, though a distant genetic kinship… …   Universalium

  • History of the United States Marine Corps — The United States Marine Corps was originally organized as the Continental Marines in 1775 to conduct ship to ship fighting, provide shipboard security and assist in landing forces. Its mission evolved with changing military doctrine and American …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.