June 6, 2018By legaltranslationsGeneral

The Korean Language: The Key Differences Between North and South


There are two Koreas, namely North Korea and South Korea, much in the news recently, of course! They share a common language, which is Korean. There are however a few differences between the North Korean and South Korean languages, both the spoken and written word.
The first key difference is in the South Korean language, where the formal name used for the language spoken by its citizens is Hangugeo. In North Korea, it’s called Chosŏnŏ.

Differences in the Korean Vocabulary

The language spoken in South Korea is basically a Seoul dialect, and the speakers often do use words borrowed from English. In contrast to this trend in North Korea its leaders have encouraged its citizens not to use any borrowed words, so the Pyongyang dialect is mainly in use. Sometimes, North Koreans include words from other languages and Russian in this case is the preferred language.

Differences in Written North Korean and South Korean Languages

Anyone who is learning to write Korean is sure to notice that both in North and South Korea they use exactly the same letters, which is called “jamo,” but they might not look quite the same. For example, some consonants and vowels are considered to be separate letters in the North Korean version of the language, while in South Korea they are connected together as the same letters. At times some “jamo” are put in a different order, depending on the version in use.
There are not just differences in letters, but some complete words are different as well. There are normally more spaces in the South Korean language than in North Korean, especially when writing pairs of words that when assembled together show a single concept.

Differences in the Spoken Word of North Korean and South Korean Languages

As the Korean language in both regions isn’t the same dialect, it’s no surprise that there are also some differences when it comes to pronunciation in the spoken words. In effect some vowels are consonants are not pronounced the same in the different regions. Even to the point that some letters might be completely ignored when the residents of either South or North Korea pronounce the words. There is also evidence present that the North Korean language’s pitch isn’t quite the same as in South Korea. A few Chinese characters are also used in Korean and are referred to as “hanja.” These characters are commonly pronounced a certain way in South Korean and in another in North Korean. On occasions they can even be found written differently.
Usually, anyone who is fluent in South Korean should be understood in North Korea and vice versa. But any professional interpreter should be aware of even slight differences between the two Korean dialects so that translations can be adapted accordingly in order to meet the targeted audience.

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