The two Koreas separated in 1953 and through the decades, a language gap has formed and the gap continues to widen today. South Korea’s standard language is based on the Seoul dialect and has incorporated foreign words into their vocabulary. Whereas North Korea’s standard language is based on the Pyongyang dialect and continues to use native Korean words. Only in recent years did North Koreans start to borrow some foreign words from Russian and has incorporated them into their vocabulary. The differences in the language, along with their Pyongyang dialect, has made it difficult for North Korean defectors to assimilate into South Korean society. These defectors face discrimination in the new society as they try to quickly learn the new language. Even though there are several dialects in South Korea, the Pyongyang dialect has been targeted by the public and thus the defectors are viewed in a negative life. There are resources available to North Korean defectors to help them learn the Seoul Korean standard language that try to help them assimilate to South Korean society. These resources will become the solution to helping the citizens from both Koreas to communicate with each other and to hopefully help reunite the two Koreas in the future.
The colonization of Korea by Japan from 1910 to 1945 has left a significant impact on the Korean language. In 1913, Chu Sigyong coined the term hangul, which was originally called onmun and then kungmun. In 1921, the Korean Language Research Society (KLRS) was founded and then in 1931, the Korean Language Society (KLS) was founded in 1931. During the early years of colonization, Japanese became the national language of Korea and Japanese culture was taught to Koreans to raise loyal and patriotic citizens. Education is the key to assimilation so the Koreans were taught how to write their names in Japanese, historical relationships, national icons, national holidays, myths and stories. The Korean Language Dictionary project had started in 1928 but the project was stopped by the Japanese government in 1942, when they imprisoned the Korean Language Society’s scholars. In 1938, the Korean language was completely banned from public places so the only place that Koreans were allowed to speak their own language was in the safety of their own homes. When the Japanese were defeated in World War II, the U.S. occupied South Korean while the Soviet Union occupied North Korea. When the U.S. took over South Korea, General MacArthur declared English the official language and that all government official documents were to be written in English instead of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. When the Korean War “ended” in 1953, the two Koreas were officially split at the 38th Parallel and this have greatly influenced the development of the Korean language.
In Korean history, the Pyongyang dialect was always prominent in the Korean peninsula. The first translated Korean translated bible by John Ross was written in 1887 in the Pyongyang dialect. The Korean Language Research Society (KLR) advocated for the Pyongyang dialect and was led by Pak Sungbin. The KLRS argued that the Pyongyang dialect preserves historical consonants distinctions and that the orthography should be a system that maintains the richness and distinctions of various dialects. Their arguments against the Korean Language Society (KLS) and the Seoul dialect based orthography was that the KLS was fundamentally destroying the internationalism inherent in Korean, which is hanmun or traditional Chinese characters. Just like how hanmun was difficult to learn, the KLRS argued that the KLS’s orthography would be just as difficult to learn. In the 1960’s, North Korea introduced the concept of juche language, which focuses on self-reliance. The new language reform was used to promote the nation’s communist ideology and to raise nationalism among its citizens. North Korea has taken great pride in preserving the Korean language and has blocked foreign influences from “contaminating” their language.
The Korean Language Society (KLS) was led by Choe Hyonbae and is the leader of linguistic research and reform in South Korea. They argued that a unified orthography would reduce the amount of unnecessary chaotic and corrupt practices of writing and that it would enhance the consistency in writing based on morphophonemic nature. In response to the Korean Language Research Society (KLRS), they argued that the KLRS are ignorant about standard language politics that chooses a dialect of central politics and culture. Just like how the Seoul dialect is a regional dialect, they argued that the Pyongyang dialect is also a regional dialect. Since the separation of the two Koreas, the Seoul dialect is exposed to a lot of foreign influences and has blocked out regional dialects from their language. The Seoul dialect because the standard language and the choice was not democratic nor does it represents the other regions of South Korea. The standardization of the Seoul dialect is enforced through education and students who wrote or spoke their local dialects were embarrassed in front of their peers by their teachers. Local dialects are frowned upon in society and people who spoke their local dialects in public were considered to be uncivilized and uneducated. Due to South Korea’s intolerance of regional dialects, this has become an issue for North Korean defectors.
When the two countries came together in the 1970s, the differences in the language was shown to be a problem in terms of communication. While South Korea has borrowed loanwords from foreign languages, North Korea has gotten rid of loanwords from their language, even Chinese. However, North Korea has made some exceptions and has incorporated some Russian words into their vocabulary. Simple words may be spelled differently in both countries; ? means on or above in South Korea but in North Korea, they use the word ?. Another issue that has developed is that there are certain words that belongs to only one country. In North Korea, the verb ??? means to break and the passive form is ????, which means to be broken. In South Korea, these words are not a part of their dictionary and have no exact corresponding words. In South Korea, the word??is used to say friend and in the north, they use the word??, which has come to mean comrade in the south. The differences in the language has led to miscommunication problems for North Korean defectors who are trying to assimilate into the South Korean society.
As of 2014, there were over 26,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea, with a majority of them being women and children. When they arrive in South Korea, they must go through a background check to ensure that they’re North Korean and that they do not pose a security threat to South Korea. After they pass the background check, they are required to enter Hanawon, a government operated institution that provides housing and educational courses to the refugees, for 12 weeks. While there is no centralized agency that provides assistance programs for refugees, different ministries and local governments do have these programs that are available to help the refugees to resettle and adjust to their new life. The federal government do provide funding and supervise these programs but the quality of these programs falls short of expectations in meeting the needs of the refugees. After resettling into South Korea for five years, the government cuts off access to these programs for refugees, as it’s assumed that that have assimilated into society by then.