4 Interesting Facts About The Korean Language You Should Know

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Written by: Thanh Trâm + Thùy Linh


Korean is a fascinating language with a rich history and complex variants. The system of honorifics in Korean is also a challenging aspect of the language for any Korean learners. In this article, we will explore about 4 aspects of Korean:

  1. History
  2. Variation
  3. Popularity
  4. Honorifics
Korean families and clans

1. History

The modern Korean writing system, han’gul, was devised in 1443 during the reign of King Sejong, perhaps the greatest monarch of the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910). 

Before han’gul, other Korean scripts used a complex system of Chinese characters to represent the sounds of Korean. But because of the differences between Chinese and Korean, Chinese characters could not adequately denote Korean speech. 

Further, only the elite could afford the time necessary to study Chinese, so King Sejong (1397-1450) commissioned the invention of a phonetic script both more efficient and more accessible to the common people.

Described as one of the most scientific alphabets ever devised, Han’gul consists of 24 letters: 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Combinations of these letters represent 5 double consonants and 11 diphthongs. The letters, grouped in clusters of 2, 3, or 4, form syllables and words. 

The invention of the Han’gul marks a major achievement in the history of Korean culture because it has contributed to one of the highest literacy rates in the world

Modern Korean still reflects China’s deep influence over centuries. Roughly half the Korean vocabulary consists of words derived from Chinese, mainly through the Confucian classics.

 Today South Koreans generally use a hybrid writing system in which words derived from Chinese are written with Chinese characters, while Korean words are written in han’gul. (North Koreans totally eliminated Chinese characters and wrote even Chinese words in Han’gul.)

 Despite word borrowing, Korean is completely distinct from Chinese, in sound and in sentence structure.

korean language

2. Language Variation

South Korea, located in the center of the Korean peninsula, has maintained a centralized and nationalist political system. They have been united in using a single language for more than 5000 years. In addition, the territory there is also narrow, so there are no factors that cause sudden linguistic segregation.

Koreans, from time immemorial, have begun to use Korean as their signature language. 

However, because the users of the unified language are scattered in many areas and do not have a contact for a long time, depending on the region, the Korean language gradually changes. Words with these differences are called “dialects”, and the dictionary defines them as “words used in a particular area, not in a standard language.”

The obvious difference between each local language is vocabulary. It can be clarified with expert knowledge of phonemes, intonations, and pitches, but the part that the average person finds difficult or enjoyable is vocabulary or grammar.

Officially, there are two standard varieties of Korean in Korea: the Seoul dialect in South Korea and the Phyong’yang dialect in North Korea. The dialects are distinguished and regulated by each country’s national language policy.

Regional dialects roughly correspond to province boundaries. Thus, South Korean regional dialects are Kyonsang, Chungchong, Cholla, and Cheju Island. The North Korean regional dialects are Hamkyong, Pyongan, Hwanghae. Some of the dialects are not easily mutually intelligible.

The Korean language is part of a northern Asian language known as Altaic, that includes Turkish, Mongolian, and Japanese, suggesting early Northern migrations and trade. Korean was also heavily influenced by the Chinese, but have adopted its own writing system in the 16th century.

3. Popularity of Korean

Korean is the official language both in North Korea( The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and South Korea( Republic of Korea)

 It is also the official language in the Yanbian region of China. It is spoken in many other parts of the world but is not an official language.

Korean is spoken by more than 75 million people worldwide. The majority of speakers live in South and North Korea, where it is the official language.

In addition to the Korean Peninsula, the cities with the most South Koreans are Beijing, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Osaka, Atlanta, America, China, and Japan with the largest total Korean speakers.

Nowadays, Korean is better known, in areas such as:

Economy : Samsung, Huyndai

Scenery: Gyeongbok palace, Haeudae beach, Namdeamun market

Culture: K-pop, Hanbok, K-dramasdramas

Food: Kimchi, Tokkboki, Fried Chiken

The above areas and many other factors make Korean more popular in the world.

korean language

4. Korean Honorifics

Honorifics are the most characteristic feature in Korean and it has seven levels of honorific

Korean uses honorifics and voice levels to express the relationship between the speaker and the person to whom they are speaking or speaking.

Speakers should use honorifics when talking about people of higher or older status.

Different voice levels are used depending on who you are talking to. If they are older and have a higher status than you, then 존댓말 (jondaetmal) should be used. That’s because 존댓말 (jondaetmal) is the level of polite speech.

With friends and people younger than you, it is possible to use the intimate voice level 반말 (banmal).

In addition, there is a level of neutral voice used by speakers in general situations. This level of speech can be used with people of the same age and status as you but are not close friends (Note that the age of Koreans is different from the international age).


This article gives us an overview of the history of the Korean language, its variants, how Korean has spread and integrated with the world, and the honorifics used with each communication object.

Feel free to share your knowledge about Korean in the comment section. Opinions and thoughts are welcome!

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