Judy Um

The Linguistic Divide of the Two Koreas

At the end of World War II, when Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, the Korean peninsula was split into two zones of occupation; North and South Korea. Ever since, the two Koreas have developed into two separate worlds, not only politically and ideologically but also linguistically. Over the past seventy years, the Korean language has greatly varied mainly due to opposite political ideologies. South Korea, upon adopting western values and market economy, has coined neologism and loanwords, whereas North Korea, has implemented a stringent linguistic policy that limits the use of foreign words and Chinese characters. The linguistic difference between the two Koreas is a window into the clash of ideologies, cultures, and leadership.

Despite various differences between the two Korean languages, it is still possible to understand one another. However, the lexical and expression gap makes it difficult for many North Korean refugees in South Korea to adjust to society as their accent often makes them victims of discrimination.

In this presentation, I will briefly review the history of the political divide, discuss the causes of the linguistic differences and demonstrate the differences by relating them to political, ideological, and cultural roots. I wish to utilize this as an opportunity in which language lovers, Korean learners and history/ politic fans ponder upon the values of languages, not merely as a tool of communication, but rather, a window into the world.

Ask the speaker a question


  • MsPolyglot says:

    Kansamida, Judy!

  • Anonymous says:

    흥미 있는발표를해주서소,감사합니다.사투리에는 흥미가 있는데,매우 참고가 되었어요..

  • Thomas H Bak says:

    But I have also a question. Korean is well know for a complex system of linguistic politeness, with different forms being used to address people of different status in different contexts. Has this system changed in North Korea, in favour of using more informal styles? This would be an interesting question as, as far as I understood your talk, North Korea seems to be promoting a more conservative type of Korean (e.g. less loanwards etc), but in this case it would be change rather than conservation.

  • Thomas H Bak says:

    There is a more general point I would like to make here: I would be cautious to apply the term “ideological” to North Korea alone. How can we decide whether the use of borrowings from English in the South is in any way less ideological than their avoidance in the North? In my view, borrowing heavily from world’s main colonial language, namely English, is an expression of an ideology too, it might be just less conscious.

  • Thomas H Bak says:

    Very interesting. Coming from Poland, I would like to clarify one detail from your presentation. The North-Korean rendering of the name of my country is not Russian (in Russian, Poland is called “Polsha”), but comes from the word we use ourselves for our country, namely “Polska”. Similarly, Ceskoslovensko is not Russian, but is quite an exact rendering of the name which was used in Czech and Slovak for the country. So in a way I would say that North Koreans show more respect for the countries by trying to refer to them in the names used by them, rather than in English translations, which are usually very different from the original names.

  • Great presentation Judy, as you know this is a favorite topic of mine! Keep up the good work.

  • AnaIZ says:

    Very interesting, thank you!

  • Sadelle says:

    Thank you so much for your fascinating presentation, Judy! I think you may just have whet the appetites of many of us to know more about Korean as well as its history. Definitely want to watch “Crash Landing on You” now.

  • Nathalia says:

    thank for your presentation! I’m currently learning Korean and I love getting to know more about the history and culture of Korea, and the topics you talked about were really interesting! (and I loved the Crash landing on you example, really loved that drama ❤)

  • hoopstats says:

    Thank you! Gracias! Merci beaucoup! Obrigado! 고맙습니다!
    I like it a lot!

  • StevenT says:

    Thank you, really interesting. Sadly, the only exposure most of us get to N Korean speech are the clips of news/announcements they sometimes show on the western TV news during crises, where the N Korean newsreaders/announcers often sound very aggressive. Do you think that is solely or mainly due to the phonetic differences (like the doubling of consonants you describe) or do you think the announcers are told to try to sound even more aggressive?

  • Matthew says:

    Fabulous talk. Really enjoyable and easy to follow! I learnt a lot. 🙂

  • Thanks for your presentation Judy! I loved learning more about Korean.

  • heatherjay94 says:

    Thank you for this wonderful presentation!

    I second Kerushol’s question – was the ‘r’ originally present in the Pyongyang dialect and later removed from the South Korean language (perhaps to simplify pronunciation? seeing as it only happens at the start of a word)?

  • RonP says:

    Thank you for a very informative presentation, I learned some new things. 감사합니다.

  • EstherB says:

    Even though I’m not learning Korean, I’m fascinated by the North/south issue. I enjoyed learning the specific differences, like Extra R, extra consonants on war related words, Russian influence.

  • I learned so much. The reunification project to make a unified language is great. Thank you for your presentation.

  • So insightful, thank you Judy! *adds Crash Landing On You to Netflix watchlist* 😉

  • Kerushol says:

    Thank you for this talk Judy Um.

    I was wondering, is the presence of the “r” and double consonant in North Korean due to a difference of dialect which already existed before the division of the country? Or is it a change that was “forced” into the language to reinforce the national identity and generate obvious differences with South Korea?

  • paulineisabel says:

    Thank you for an insightful talk, Judy! Definitely gives me more of an appreciation since I’m currently learning Korean right now.

  • ivany78 says:

    Thank you for the insightful presentation. Am learning Korean now as I am quite enthralled by your countries creativity and culture.

    Just followed you on IG.


  • rekatorda says:

    This was such an interesting talk thank you so much. 🙂

  • Takashi says:

    재미있는 발표 정말 고맙습니다 ^^ 실은 “뽈스까”도 “체스꼬”도 러시아어가 아닙니다. “뽈스까”는 폴란드어이고 “체스꼬”는 체코어입니다.

  • Ewan Smith says:

    아주 흥미로워요 – 저도 서울에 살고 있거든요. 사랑의 불시착을 봤을때 언어 차이를 보기 재밌었어요. 발제를 보면서 ‘해빛’이라는 단어에서 사이시옷이 없는데, 그 이유를 설명해주실 수 있어요?

  • Amanda Gillis says:

    Very interesting and informative. Thank you!

  • says:

    Fascinating talk:)

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