Corean language

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Language family
Writing system
Hankoel (predominant)
Ônhanmoen hybrid script
Handja (limited usage)
Cyrillic (Poeja, Russia, Alyeska)
Latin (Tauland, New Batavia, Tussenland)
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in

Corean (Hankoel: 한국어, hangoeg-ô; Handja: 韓國語) is a language indigenous to and predominately spoken in Corea. Significant communities of Corean speakers also exist in neighboring Poeja, Japan, Tauland, New Batavia, and the western provinces of Tussenland. The language is thought of as an isolate, meaning it is unrelated to other existing languages; however, multiple theories have been proposed postulating its connection to Japanese, the Dravidian languages of the Carnatic, and various Siberian lects.

The language is predominately written with Hankoel, a script invented in the 15th century by King Sedjong. Hanja, or Chinese characters, have traditionally been used to write Corean, though its usage has gradually diminished since the 18th century. Cyrillic began to be used during Russia's expansion into northeast Asia, while Latin has been applied to Corean since first contact with colonial Tauland in the 17th century. Since the mid-19th century, Keukenkamp and then Revised Keukenkamp have been the dominant systems of romanization for Corean.


Early Modern Corean, the predecessor to modern Corean, began in the 17th century, roughly coinciding with the rise of the Qing state in China, their invasions of the Djosôn dynasty, as well as the European colonization of Tauland and the first contact between Dutch and Corean speakers. Numerous changes, both in phonology and orthography, occurred during this time period. The consonant ᅀ /z/ and the vowel ᆞ/ʌ/ disappeared from peninsular Corean altogether, with the latter largely merging intoㅏ /a/ in the Central dialects. Additionally, consonant clusters were also replaced by modern Corean's reinforced consonants (ᄻ sh- > ㅆ ss-).

Consistent contact with Dutch colonists on Tauland exposed Corean speakers to the Dutch language and the Latin alphabet. Hendrick Hamel and Jan Janse Weltevree, shipwrecked Dutchmen who were the first Europeans to set foot in Corea, were also the first to transcribe Corean into the Latin alphabet, most notably recording the informal name for the city of Hansjang at the time as Sior (서울, sô-oel). Later in the century, scholars in the Dutch outposts of Desjima and New Hague used texts such as the 1676 Corean-Japanese wordbook Tjôbhêsjin-ô (첩해신어, 捷解新語) to create an impromptu writing system for Corean. This would later form part of the source material of the original Keukenkamp romanization, leading to the official Corean romanization system a century later being de facto inaccurate.

The Tjôbhêsjin-ô, a Corean-Japanese textbook published in 1676.

In the 18th century, the diphthongs ㅔ /ej/ and ㅐ/aj/ were transformed into /e/ and /ɛ/ respectively, closely accompanied by a process of i-umlaut similar to that of Germanic languages. Additionally in southern dialects south of the Dêdong River, palatalization followed by a large lexical restructuring swept southern Corean speakers. Another effect was /s/ and /n/ being palatalized to [ʃ] and [ɲ] before front vowels. This was the last major phonological change in the language that directly affected the sound of the Corean standard dialect.

Simultaenously, Corean began to utilize Classical Chinese and Mandarin (and to a much lesser extent, Dutch and Japanese) loanwords more often. A number of sinicisms and hollandicisms were coined and commonly used by Coreans, even if the speaker was not always aware of the word's origin. For example, the 1793 text Aôn Gagbi (아언각비, 雅言覺非) discusses the loanwords bori (Chinese 玻瓈, 'glass') and gebdi (Dutch keeft, 'lobster').

The influx of Corean speakers into Poeja (then known as Manchuria or Chinese Tartary) in the 19th century led to the proliferation of northern un-palatalized dialects that were being increasingly endangered by the dominant Central variety. The Pjôngan, Hamgjông, and Rjoekdjin dialects, with their distinctive phonological and lexical characteristics, were carried north by waves of emigrants. After the First Sino-Corean War and the annexation of Poeja by the Sôgwang dynasty, the spread of what were considered lowly lects and the creation of new contact varieties put pressure on the Corean state to accomodate these new varieties into the everyday affairs of the central government.


Standard Corean phonology, phonemically, consists of 19 consonants, 2 glides, 10 vowels, and 12 diphthongs. Propagated nationwide in the early 20th century, it is a phonologically conservative and regionally neutral lect based on the historically supreme Giho dialects.


Bilabial Alveolar Alveolo-palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal ㅁ /m/ ㄴ /n/ ㅇ /ŋ/
Plosive plain ㅂ /p/ ㄷ /t/ ㅈ /t͡s~t͡ɕ/ ㄱ /k/
reinforced ㅃ /p͈/ ㄸ /t͈/ ㅉ /t͡s͈~t͡ɕ͈/ ㄲ /k͈/
aspirated ㅍ /pʰ/ ㅌ /tʰ/ ㅊ /t͡sʰ~t͡ɕʰ/ ㅋ /kʰ/
Fricative plain ㅅ /s(ʰ)/ ㅎ /h~ɦ/
reinforced ㅆ /s͈/
Approximant /w/ /j/
Liquid ㄹ /l~r/


Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close ㅣ/i/ ㅟ /y/ ㅡ /ɨ/ ㅜ /u/
Close-mid ㅔ/e/ ㅚ /ø/ ㅓ /ɤ/ ㅗ /o/
Mid ㅐ/ɛ/
Open ㅏ /a/
ㅑ/ja/ ㅛ /jo/ ㅖ /je/ ㅒ /jɛ/
ㅘ /wa/ ㅝ /wo/ ㅞ /we/ ㅙ /wɛ/
ㅕ/jɤ/ ㅠ /ju/ ㅢ /ɰi/ ㅟ /wi/



In 1974, the National Forum for the Corean Language (공립 한국어 학부, Gongrib Hangoeg-ô Hagboe) postulated the implementation of reforms of the Keukenkamp romanization, a system which had been official in Corea since 1854. Subsequently, the National Congress of Corea approved and adopted the Revised Keukenkamp scheme with the Amendment of 18 July 1974.

Since the early 20th century, other romanization systems had been proposed as complete rehauls of the Keukenkamp system. By the early 1970s, however, a consensus on reform rather than renovation had been reached. This had been so for multiple reasons, including Keukenkamp orthography's intelligibility to much of the Batavosphere and its ability to accurately represent both palatalized and non-palatalized Corean dialects. For example, the Sino-Corean word heaven 天 in palatalized dialects is 천 /t͡ɕʰɤn/, while non-palatalized dialects have 텬 /tʰjɤn/. Both are romanized as tjôn; the digraph tj could be interpreted as either /t͡ɕʰ/ or /tʰj/.

It addressed numerous issues such as inconsistency between graphemes and phonemes, unnecessarily long combinations of letters, and a marked lack of distinction between numerous vowels. Among its new features include the use of diacritics in non-academic Corean orthography for the first time with the French-inspired use of the circumflex ◌̂ to distinguish similar sounds that were previously conflated. Additionally, ㄱ is written g while is written b despite not corresponding to the original Latin phonetic values.

Revised Keukenkamp, unlike its predecessor, is a partial transliteration system where each Latin grapheme mostly corresponds to a Hankoel letter. Exceptions to this include ㅅ, which is transcribed as -t in final position (e.g 곳 got); ㄹ, written as r before a vowel or glide; and ㄴ, written as l when pronounced /l/. In order to avoid confusion, hyphens and much less often apostrophes may be used to separate syllables within the same word.

See also