Posted by: rbbadger | April 27, 2009

Korean numbers, Chinese numbers

The Korean language has adopted a few things from the West.  And it is not just in terms of vocabulary.  Things such as punctuation and spaces between words are now commonplace.  And books are now read from left to right.  Not terribly long ago, newspapers and books used to be printed vertically.  Readers would start from the right side of the page and read down, go over to the next column and read down, and so forth.  Now, they are printed from left to right.  Additionally, they were printed in a mixture of Chinese characters and Korean alphabetic script.  Here’s a couple of pages of the Choson Ilbo, one of the most prominent newspapers in Korea reporting on the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the election of Kim Dae Jung in 1997.


Newspapers don’t look like this anymore.  If they use Chinese characters, they tend to use them in the headlines such as 韓美 FTA (Korea-USA FTA) and to clear up any troublesome homonyms (words that sound the same but have different meanings).  And even then, they now put them in parentheses.  So the President of Korea, upon the first time he is referred to will be referred to as 이명박 (李明博).  I think you’ll agree that the new, current format of the Chosun Ilbo is much easier on the eyes.


Korean currently uses the same arabic numbers that we use in print.  In speech, it is a different matter.  There are two sets of numbers, one of pure Korean origin and the other of Chinese derivation (Sino-Korean).  The pure Korean set only goes up to 99 for some reason, though in North Korea, they might have extended it considerably, given their drive to purify the language of all Chinese elements.  (It didn’t work and North Korean students currently learn more Chinese characters than their brethren here in the South do.)  When we tell time, we say the hours using pure Korean numbers and the minutes using Sino-Korean numbers.  The Sino-Korean set goes from one to infinity, I suppose.  However, nobody writes them out in Chinese characters here.  In China, on the other hand, it is a different story.

Today’s date on a Chinese newspaper might appear 二ㅇㅇ九日 四月 二七日.  However, here it just would be 2009년 04월 27 일.


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