Korean Socio-Linguistics (한국어 사회 언어학)

Hey everyone! So this semester I’m taking one of the new Korean courses offered at York University, which is Korean Socio-Linguistics (there is also a Korean Film class offered next semester, which is also new to our curriculum). It is taught by Professor Ahrong Lee (who, although I guess I’m biased, is the most incredible and sweetest professor in the world). I took a Korean linguistics course with her two years ago and I loved it, and, I’m proud to say, I have retained the majority of the information I learned in that class.

This new class covers some of the same things I previously learned, but also introduces new and additional information that I did not have access to two years ago.

For example, two years ago we studied the creation of 한글, which was originally called 훈민정음. Do you know what 훈민정음 means? Well, if you look at the meaning given by the Chinese characters, it roughly translates to “the correct sounds for the instruction of the people” (to be completely honest, I don’t remember all of the Chinese characters, but if I’m not mistaken “정” means “correct” (like in 정답!), “음” means “sound”, “민” would represent “people” (like in 국민) and so that leaves me to deduce that “훈” must means something like “instruction”).

Do you know who created 한글? Why it was King Sejong, of course! In the Joseon Dynasty (15th century). When exactly did he create it? Around the end of 1443, but it wasn’t released to the public until 1446.

Did you know that there’s a national holiday for the creation of 한글 called 한글 Day? It’s on October 9! Our Professor explained that, up until 1991, people didn’t have to work on 한글 Day, it was like a statutory holiday, but since 추석 and some other holidays fall around the same time/within the same week, some people were able to get up to two weeks off in a row in October, so the government changed it so that it was no longer a statutory holiday, but still a national one that was recognized and celebrated (you just needed to go to work). Starting from this year, however, 한글 Day will be a statutory holiday again! It’s the only linguistic holiday in the world! This year will be the 567th anniversary of the creation of 한글!

In our new textbooks we also get to look at 해례, which was a list of examples and a kind of instruction manual that came with the original document containing all of the letters of 훈민정음. We don’t have the actual book in all of its entirety, nor in its original form and language, but we get excerpts translated into modern English.

Did you know that 훈민정음 originally had 28 letters, but only 24 of them are in use today? Korean originally had “z” and “q” sounds too! My professor made a joke in class last week, saying that 15th century Koreans would have probably spoken better English than 21st century Koreans. ㅋㅋㅋ!

We also talked about the creation of the consonants and vowels, which I have studied before and so already knew, but it was still fun to talk about! Did you know that the consonants were created based on place of articulation or the shape of your mouth when pronouncing the sound?

For example, ㄴ depicts the tongue touching the roof of your mouth when you make the “n” sound.

We talked about how amazing this is and how King Sejong must’ve been a genius (at least I think so!) because he didn’t have the technology at the time (such as x-rays) to see where in your mouth a sound was being produced or how it was being produced, yet he somehow knew and created an alphabet based on that! Cool, right?

Also, additional strokes added to the five simple consonants (ㄴ, ㄱ, ㅅ, ㅁ,ㅇ) made them more intense somehow.

For example:   ㄴ –> ㄷ –> ㅌ (n – t – t’)

ㄱ –> ㅋ (k – k’)

ㅅ –> ㅈ –> ㅊ (s – c – c’)

ㅁ –> ㅂ –> ㅍ (m – p – p’)

ㅇ (ng) used to have another letter with a little tail at the top that made “q” sound and then : ㅎ (h) (there also used to be double h sound).

The additional strokes means that they’re a stronger sound, e.g. “m” is a more nasally sound that you can hold for a long period of time with the airflow through your nose, while “p” has this obstruction and the airflow is stopped. Aspirated “p” requires a larger release of air.

There are also tense sounds, of course: ㄸ, ㄲ, ㅆ, ㅃ, which, in sound symbolism, give the air of tightness.

Sound symbolism, however, is a whole different thing. Maybe I’ll talk about it some other time :)

The vowels were created based on the earth (ㅡ) , a person (ㅣ) , and the heavens (additional strokes added to the top/bottom/left/right of ㅡ and ㅣ, which were originally dots). The vowels in Korean follow something called “vowel harmony”, which means there are light and dark vowels (yin and yang – 음 and 양). Light vowels combine with other light vowels and dark with other dark within the same syllable. Light vowels are: 아, 오, 외

Dark vowels are: 우, 어, 애, 에, 위

이 and 으 are supposedly “neutral” vowels, and can combine with both light and dark.

Wow! I really went off on a tangent! I’m so excited about Korean linguistics :D I hope I interested you guys too!

This is the textbook we’re using in my class:


I hope you know most of my knowledge comes from my professor, my class, this textbook, or the class and the textbook I used two years ago in my other Korean linguistics course. I’m not inherently a linguistic genius! Though wouldn’t it be nice if I were? ㅋㅋㅋ!

See you guys around!

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