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

Contents

Proto-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.

References

  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. 

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