Posted by: rbbadger | October 31, 2009

Dialects, Konglish, and language purity

The Korea Times published an interesting article about the Korean language recently.  It looks at how the Korean language changes amongst Koreans who live overseas as the phenomenon known as Konglish.  The Korean language has borrowed rather heavily from English.  Unlike Chinese, which generally tends not to use any words of foreign origin at all because of the great difficulty in assigning characters for them, Korean is more easily able to accomodate foreign words, mostly thanks to the Korean alphabet.  While in Korean, a computer is refered to as as 컴퓨터 (keompyuteo), in Chinese it becomes diànnâo (電腦) or “electric brain”.  (In Korean, this could be rendered 전뇌.)  While Korean maintains 電話 (전화, Kor. jeonhwa, Chi. diànhuà) for telephone, for a lot of things, Konglish tends to predominate.

It is an interesting article.  Best of all, they interviewed one of the foremost scholars of the Korean language, Dr. Ross King of the University of Victoria, British Columbia.  Dr. King has written one of the best Korean textbooks around and is an authority on dialects of Korean spoken amongst Koryo-saram, Koreans who ended up in Russia during the days of Japanese colonialism.  It also highlights attempts by the National Institute of the Korean Language to propose new Korean words drawn from the native vocabulary rather than just by borrowing from English.  However, Konglish has become so pervasive that such endeavours, praiseworthy though they might be, will probably never become widely accepted. 

You can read the article by clicking here.



  1. Korean language has maintained its grammar, while it adopted foreign vocabularies from China, Japan and English.

    Now the effort to turning back to pure Korean language is hard to gain big support at least in South Korea (In North Korea, there are more words of pure Korean translation of English), because Koreans consider learning English as a mandatory in their education.

    That does not mean that English proficiency of Koreans is high, though.

  2. And English pronunciation also matters to Koreans. My mother-in-law who has lived in America almost 40 years called her husband “my ‘rubbery'(lovely) husband”. She also named “cottage cheese” as “Karate Cheese”, and “Portobello mushroom” as “Polar bear mushroom”.

    • English pronunciation is difficult, but then so is Korean for English speakers. Learning to differentiate between 오 and 어 can be hard. Hardest of all, perhaps are the double consonants. Learning to make the sounds ㅃ,ㅉ,ㄸ, and ㄲ is hard for English speakers not to mention the dreaded 의.

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