The increase in popularity of Asian cultures, as well as rapid economic growth of the region, has brought along with it an increase in the number of people interested in learning Asian languages. There’s a significant demand for translators specialising in languages of the Asian region, with the most popular ones being the languages of East Asia – Japanese, Chinese and Korean. Today we will focus on the Korean language, taking a closer look at its history and basic grammar.


Korean language as we know it today, in particular its alphabet, is relatively young. The modern Korean alphabet, called hangul, has its beginnings in the 15th century. It was created by King Sejong the great, who is considered to be the greatest leader in Korean history. He wanted to create an alphabet which would be much simpler to use than the one that was borrowed from China (Koreans call it hanja). Sejong’s primary goal was making education and literature available to everyone, no matter which social class they belonged to. His idea was met with resistance from the Korean nobility, which believed that lowborn folk should not have access to education. In the end, King Sejong managed to enforce his reform and thus the Hangul was born.

Historical influences

Overall it can be said that Korean is a language used by Koreans, however an attempt at characterising this language should be preceded by an analysis of a few important issues. Due to the current political situation, which is a result of the Korean war, the nation has been split into two – the communist North Korea and capitalistic South Korea. This division has not only affected the sphere of politics and economics, it’s also left an imprint on the language itself, and even though it happened not so long ago, there are some subtle differences between those two versions of this language. The biggest difference between Korean spoken in the north and south are the loanwords. Koreans from the north use words borrowed from Chinese and Russian language, while the ones living in south use borrowings from western languages – mainly English. Additionally, there is
a difference in accent between north and south Korean.

Hangul 101

The Korean alphabet is completely different from its predecessor called Hanja. It discards the symbols of the Chinese alphabet in favour of a system of letters, similar to that of the Latin alphabet, for example: the symbol lㅎ is equivalent to the Latin letter H. Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end. The Korean language doesn’t create its words by writing each letter one by one from left to right. It does so with the usage of ‘blocks’, which represent on syllable, for example: Word one, in Korean hana, is written like this: 하나. Each element of the symbols corresponds to one letter: ㅎ- h, ㅏ- a, ㄴ – n, ㅏ- a, which are then compounded into ‘blocks’ 하 and 나, which are in the end combined into one word -하나. Another difference between the Korean language and most of the European ones is the sentence order. In Korean, the verb is always placed at the end of sentence, for example: The sentence I am Łukasz, in Korean would look like this: I Łukasz am -저는 우가씨 입니다.

Cultural influences

Respect is one of the most important aspects of Korean culture, especially when concerning relations with people that are either older than you or hold a higher position. It’s so important to Koreans that they decided to implement three sets of honorifics in their language which transform words accordingly to the difference in age, hierarchy or relations between people speaking. Let’s take a look at the word annyeonghaseyo (which means hello). Depending on who the receiving person is, this word can take three forms:
• 안녕, annyeong – if spoken to someone who’s younger or a friend.
• 안녕하세요, annyeonghaseyo – if spoken to someone who’s our age and not our friend; to
a stranger or slightly older.
• 안녕하십니까, annyeonghasimnikka – when spoken to someone who’s much older than us, for example your parents or grandparents or to someone who’s higher in the hierarchy, for example your boss or teacher.

So, what’s Korean like? It has an interesting history. It stands out when compared to other languages. It’s creator wanted it to be used by all of his people. All of that leads to one, simple conclusion – Korean is just unique!

(Translation Ł. N.)

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