North–South differences in the Korean language

The Korean language has changed between the two states due to the length of time that North and South Korea have been separated.[1]

Korean orthography, as defined by the Korean Language Society in 1933 in the "Proposal for Unified Korean Orthography" (Hangul: 한글 맞춤법 통일안; RR: Hangeul Matchumbeop Tong-iran) continued to be used by the North and the South after liberation of Korea in 1945, but with the establishments of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea in 1948, the two states have taken on differing policies regarding the language. In 1954, North Korea set out the rules for Korean orthography (조선어 철자법 Chosŏnŏ Chŏljabŏp). Although this was only a minor revision in orthography that created little difference from that used in the South, from then on, the standard language in the North and the South gradually differed more and more from each other.

In the 1960s, under the influence of the Juche ideology came a big change in linguistic policies in North Korea. On 3 January 1964, Kim Il-sung issued his teachings on "A Number of Issues on the Development of the Korean language" (조선어를 발전시키기 위한 몇 가지 문제 Chosŏnŏrŭl Paljŏn Siki'gi Wihan Myŏt' Kaji Munje), and on 14 May 1966 on the topic "In Rightly Advancing the National Characteristics of the Korean language" (조선어의 민족적 특성을 옳게 살려 나갈 데 대하여 Chosŏnŏŭi Minjokchŏk T'ŭksŏngŭl Olge Sallyŏ Nagal Te Taehayŏ), from which the "Standard Korean Language" (조선말규범집 Chosŏnmalgyubŏmjip) rules followed in the same year, issued by the National Language Revision Committee that was directly under the control of the cabinet. From then on, more important differences came about between the standard language in the North and the South. In 1987, North Korea revised the aforementioned rules further, and these have remained in use until today. In addition, the rules for spacing were separately laid out in the "Standard Spacing Rules in Writing Korean" (조선말 띄여쓰기규범 Chosŏnmal Ttŭiyŏssŭgigyubŏm) in 2000 but have since been superseded by "Rules for Spacing in Writing Korean" (띄여쓰기규정 Ttŭiyŏssŭgigyujŏng), issued in 2003.

South Korea continued to use the Hangeul Matchumbeop Tong-iran as defined in 1933, until its amendment "Korean Orthography" (한글 맞춤법 Hangeul Matchumbeop), together with "Standard Language Regulations" (표준어 규정: pyojuneo gyujeong), were issued in 1988, which remain in use today.

As with the Korean phonology article, this article uses IPA symbols in pipes | | for morphophonemics, slashes / / for phonemes, and brackets [ ] for allophones. Pan-Korean romanized words are largely in Revised Romanization, and North Korean-specific romanized words are largely in McCune-Reischauer. Also, for the sake of consistency, this article also phonetically transcribes as /ʌ/ for pan-Korean and South-specific phonology, and as /ɔ/ for North-specific phonology.

Hangul (Chosŏn'gŭl)

The same hangul (Chosŏn'gŭl) letters are used to write the language in the North and the South. However, in the North, the stroke that distinguishes ㅌ || from ㄷ |t| is written above rather than inside the letter as in the South.

In the South, the vowel digraphs and trigraphs|ɛ|, ㅒ ||, ㅔ |e|, ㅖ |je|, ㅘ |wa|, ㅙ ||, ㅚ |ø|, ㅝ ||, ㅞ |we|, ㅟ |y|, ㅢ |ɰi| and the consonant digraphs ㄲ ||, ㄸ ||, ㅃ ||, ㅆ ||, ㅉ |tɕ͈| are not treated as separate letters, whereas in the North they are. Some letters and digraphs have different names in the North and in the South.

Letter North Korean name South Korean name
|g| 기윽 [kiɯk̚] 기역 [gijʌk̚]
|d| 디읃 [tiɯt̚] 디귿 [diɡɯt̚]
|s| 시읏 [ɕiɯt̚] 시옷 [ɕiɯt̚]
|gg| 된기윽 [tøːnɡiɯk̚] 쌍기역 [ssaŋɡijʌk̚]
|dd| 된디읃 [tøːndiɯt̚] 쌍디귿 [ssaŋdiɡɯt̚]
|bb| 된비읍 [tøːnbiɯp̚] 쌍비읍 [ssaŋbiɯp̚]
|ss| 된시읏 [tøːnɕiɯt̚] 쌍시옷 [ssaŋɕiot̚]
|tɕ͈| 된지읒 [tøːndʑiɯt̚] 쌍지읒 [ssaŋdʑiɯt̚]

The names used in the South are the ones found in the Hunmongjahoe (훈몽자회, 訓蒙字會, published 1527). The names used in the North are formed mechanically with the pattern "letter + 이 + 으 + letter". Also for the tensed consonants, in the South, they are called "double" (쌍- /s͈aŋ-/) consonants, while in the North, they are called "strong" (된- /tøːn-/) consonants.

Sorting order

  1. North: ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖ ㅚ ㅟ ㅢ ㅘ ㅝ ㅙ ㅞ
    |a ja ɔ jɔ o jo u ju ɯ i ɛ jɛ e je ø y ɰi wa wɔ wɛ we|
  2. South: ㅏ ㅐ ㅑ ㅒ ㅓ ㅔ ㅕ ㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢ ㅣ
    |a ɛ ja jɛ ʌ e jʌ je o wa wɛ ø jo u wʌ we y ju ɯ ɰi i|
  1. North: ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ ㅇ
    |k n t l m p s ŋ tɕ tɕʰ kʰ tʰ pʰ h k͈ t͈ p͈ s͈ tɕ͈ ∅|
  2. South: ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ
    |g gg n d dd l m b bb s ss ∅/ŋ tɕ tɕ͈ tɕʰ kʰ tʰ pʰ h|

In the North, consonant vowel digraphs are treated as letters in their own right and are ordered after the end of the simple consonant and vowel letters. In the South, the digraphs come between the basic letters. For example, after |a| comes the diphthong |ɛ|, the combination of and |i|; or after |o| come the diphthongs |wa|, || and |ø|, which begin with , and so on. Also, the consonant letter (|| and |ŋ|) is placed between |s| and || in the North when pronounced |ŋ|, but after all consonants (after |tɕ͈|) when used as a placeholder indicating a null initial consonant (for syllables that begin with a vowel).


Dialects of Korean

The standard languages in the North and the South share the same types and the same number of phonemes, but there are some differences in the actual pronunciations. The South Korean standard pronunciation is based on the dialect as spoken in Seoul, and the North Korean standard pronunciation is based on the dialect as spoken in Pyongyang.


The following differences are recognised in the consonants. In the Seoul dialect, ㅈ, ㅊ and ㅉ are typically pronounced with alveolo-palatal affricates [tɕ], [tɕʰ], [tɕ͈]. In the Pyongyang dialect, they are typically pronounced with alveolar affricates [ts], [tsʰ], [ts͈]. Also, and can be pronounced without palatalisation as [tsi] and [si] in the Pyongyang dialect.

In Sino-Korean words, some of |n| and all of |l| that come in the beginning of a word are dropped in pronunciation and not written out in the South, but all initial and are written out in the North. For instance, the common last name 이 [i] (often written out in English as Lee, seemingly staying true to the North Korean typography and pronunciation), is written and pronounced as 리 [ɾi] in North Korean. Furthermore, the South Korean word 여자 [jʌdʑa], meaning woman, is similarly written as 녀자 [njɔdʑa] in North Korea. But as this latter pronunciation was artificially crafted in the 1960s, it is common for older speakers to be unable to pronounce initial and properly, thus pronouncing such words in the same way as they are pronounced in the South.

In South Korea, the liquid consonant [ɾ] does not come after the nasal consonants [m] and [ŋ]. In this position, is pronounced as [n] rather than [ɾ]. But in North Korea, remains [ɾ] in this context.

Word Pronunciation in South Pronunciation in North Hanja
통로 [tʰoŋno] tongno [tʰoŋɾo] t'ongro 通路
침략 [tɕʰimnjak̚] chimnyak [tɕʰimɾjak̚] ch'imryak 侵略
독립 [toŋnip̚] dongnip [toŋɾip̚] tongrip 獨立
협력 [hjʌmnjʌk̚] hyeomnyeok [hjɔmɾjɔk̚] hyŏmryŏk 協力


The following differences are recognised in the vowels. The vowel ㅓ /ʌ/ is not as rounded in the Seoul dialect as it is in the Pyongyang dialect. If expressed in IPA, it would be [ʌ̹] or [ɔ̜] for the one in Seoul dialect and [ɔ] for the one in Pyongyang dialect. Due to this roundedness, speakers of the Seoul dialect would find that ㅓ as pronounced by speakers of the Pyongyang dialect sounds close to the vowel ㅗ /o/. Additionally, the difference between the vowels /ɛ/ and /e/ is slowly diminishing amongst the younger speakers of the Seoul dialect. It is not well known if this is also happening with the Pyongyang dialect.


The pitch patterns in the Pyongyang and Seoul dialects differ, but there has been little research in detail. On the other hand, in the Chosŏnmal Taesajŏn (조선말대사전), published in 1992, where the pitches for certain words are shown in a three-pitch system, a word such as 꾀꼬리 ([k͈øk͈oɾi] – Korean nightingale) is marked as having pitch "232" (where "2" is low and "3" is high), from which one can see some difference in pitch patterns from the Seoul dialect.


Inflected words

어 / 여

In words in which the word stem ends in ㅣ |i|, ㅐ |ɛ|, ㅔ |e|, ㅚ |ø|, ㅟ |y|, ㅢ |ɰi|, in forms where -어 /-ʌ/ is appended to these endings in the South, but -여 /-jɔ/ is instead appended in the North. In actual pronunciation, however, the [j] sound often accompanies the pronunciation of such words, even in the South.

Inflected word North inflection South inflection Meaning
피다 [pʰida] 피여 [pʰijɔ] p'iyŏ 피어 (펴) [pʰiʌ] ([pʰjʌ]) pieo (pyeo) bloom
내다 [nɛːda] 내여 [nɛjɔ] naeyŏ 내어 [nɛʌ] naeeo take out
세다 [seːda] 세여 [sejɔ] seyŏ 세어 [seʌ] seeo count
되다 [tøda] 되여 [tøjɔ] toeyŏ 되어 (돼) [tøʌ (twɛ)] doeeo (dwae) become
뛰다 [t͈wida] 뛰여 [t͈wijɔ] ttwiyŏ 뛰어 [t͈wiʌ] ttwieo jump
희다 [çida] 희여 [çijɔ] hiyŏ 희어 [çiʌ] hieo white

ㅂ-irregular inflections

In the South, when the word root of a ㅂ-irregular inflected word has two or more syllables (for example, 고맙다 [komap̚t͈a] gomapda), the ㅂ is dropped and replaced with 우 in the next syllable. When conjugated to the polite speech level, the ㅂ-irregular stem resyllabifies with the 어요 -eoyu conjugation to form 워요 -woyu' (as in 고맙다 komapta → 고마우 komau → 고마워요 komawŏyu), appearing to ignore vowel harmony. ㅂ is not replaced with 우 in the North (as it also was in the South before the 1988 Hangeul Matchumbeop). The vowel harmony is kept in both the South and the North if the word root has only one syllable (for example, 돕다 [toːp̚t͈a] topta/dopda).

Inflected word North inflection South inflection Meaning
고맙다 [komap̚t͈a] 고마와 [komawa] komawa 고마워 [komawʌ] gomawo thankful
가깝다 [kak͈ap̚t͈a] 가까와 [kak͈awa] kakkawa 가까워 [kak͈awʌ] gakkawo near

Indication of tensed consonants after word endings that end with ㄹ

In word endings where the final consonant is ㄹ |l|, where the South spells -ㄹ까 |-l.k͈a| and -ㄹ쏘냐 |-l.s͈o.nja| to indicate the tensed consonants, in the North these are spelled -ㄹ가 |-l.ka|,-ㄹ소냐 || instead. These etymologically are formed by attaching to the adnominal form (관형사형 gwanhyeongjahyeong) that ends in ㄹ, and in the North, the tensed consonants are denoted with normal consonants. Also, the word ending -ㄹ게 |-l.ɡe| used to be spelt -ㄹ께 |-l.k͈e| in the South, but has since been changed in the Hangeul Matchumbeop of 1988, and is now spelt -ㄹ게 just like in the North.

Sino-Korean words

Initial ㄴ / ㄹ (두음법칙[頭音法則, dueum beopchik], "initial sound rule")

Initial ㄴ |n| / ㄹ |l| appearing in Sino-Korean words are kept in the North. In the South, in Sino-Korean words that begin with ㄹ which is followed by the vowel sound [i] or the semivowel sound [j] (when ㄹ is followed by one of ㅣ |i|, ㅑ |ja|, ㅕ ||, ㅖ |je|, ㅛ |jo| and ㅠ |ju|), ㄹ is replaced by ㅇ ||; when this ㄹ is followed by other vowels it is replaced by ㄴ |n|. In the North, the initial ㄹ is kept.

North South Hanja Meaning
리성계 [ɾisɔŋɡje] Ri Sŏnggye 이성계 [isʌŋɡje] I Seonggye 李成桂 Yi Seong-gye
련습 [ɾjɔːnsɯp̚] ryŏnsŭp 연습 [jʌːnsɯp̚] yeonseup 練習 practice
락하 [ɾakʰa] rak'a 낙하 [nakʰa] naka 落下 fall
랭수 [ɾɛːŋsu] raengsu 냉수 [nɛːŋsu] naengsu 冷水 cold water

Similarly, in Sino-Korean words that begin with ㄴ |n| and is followed by the vowel sound [i] or the semi-vowel sound [j] (when ㄴ is followed by one of |i|, ||, |jo| and |ju|), in the South, this ㄴ is replaced by ㅇ ||, but this remains unchanged in the North.

North South Hanja Meaning
니승 [nisɯŋ] nisŭn 이승 [isɯŋ] iseun 尼僧 priestess
녀자 [njɔdʑa] nyŏja 여자 [jʌdʑa] yeoja 女子 woman

These are thus pronounced as written in the North as ㄴ |n| and ㄹ |l|. However, even in the South, sometimes in order to disambiguate the surnames 유 ( Yu [ju]) and 임 ( Im [im]) from 유 ( Yu [ju]) and 임 ( Im [im]), the former may be written or pronounced as 류 Ryu ([ɾju]) and 림 Rim ([ɾim]).

Hanja pronunciation

Where a Hanja is written |mje| or |pʰje| in the South, this is written |me|, |pʰe| in the North (but even in the South, these are pronounced /me/, ) /pʰe/.

North South Hanja Meaning
메별 |mebjʌl| mebyŏl 몌별 |mjebjʌl| myebyeol 袂別 sad separation
페쇄 |pʰeːswɛ| p'eswae 폐쇄 |pʰjeːswɛ| pyeswae 閉鎖 closure

Some hanja characters are pronounced differently.

North South Hanja
|| |kjak̚| gyak
|ø| oe || wae

Also in the North, the hanja is usually pronounced as su [su], except in the word 怨讐/원쑤 wŏnssu ("enemy"), where it is pronounced as su' [s͈u]. It is thought that this is to avoid the word becoming a homonym with 元帥 ("military general"), written as 원수 wŏnsu |wɔ|.

Compound words

Sai siot (사이 시옷, "middle ㅅ")

When forming compound words from uninflected words, where the so-called "sai siot" is inserted in the South: this is left out in the North, but the pronunciation is the same as in the South.

North South Pronunciation Meaning
저가락 |tɕɔ.ka.lak| 젓가락 |tɕʌs.ka.lak| 젇까락 [tɕʌt̚k͈aɾak̚] chŏtkkarak/jeotkkarak
or 저까락 [tɕʌk͈aɾak̚] chŏkkarak/jeokkarak
나무잎 |ʰ| 나뭇잎 |na.mus.ipʰ| 나문닙 [namunnip̚] namunnip (tree) leaf

Word stems in compound words

While the general rule is to write out the word stem from which the compound word is formed in its original form, but in cases where the etymological origin is no longer remembered, this is no longer written in original form. This happens both in the North and in the South. However, whether a compound word is seen to have its etymological origin forgotten or not is seen differently by different people:

North South Meaning
옳바르다 |ɯ.ta| 올바르다 |ɯ.ta| upright
벗꽃 |pɔs.k͈otɕʰ| 벚꽃 |pʌtɕ.k͈otɕʰ| cherry blossom

In the first example, in the South, the |ol| part shows that the etymological origin is forgotten, and the word is written as pronounced as 올바르다 [olbaɾɯda] olbareuda, but in the North, the first part is seen to come from 옳다 olt'a |olh.ta| and thus the whole word is written 옳바르다 olbarŭda (pronounced the same as in the South). Conversely, in the second example, the South spelling catches the word as the combination of beot and kkot, but in the North, this is no longer recognised and thus the word is written as pronounced as 벗꽃 pŏtkkot.


In the South, the rules of spacing are not very clearcut, but in the North, these are very precise. In general, compared to the North, the writing in the South tends to include more spacing. One likely explanation is that the North remains closer to the Sinitic orthographical heritage, where spacing is less of an issue than with a syllabary or alphabet such as Hangul. The main differences are indicated below.

Bound nouns

Before bound nouns (North: 불완전명사: purwanjŏn myŏngsa/不完全名詞 "incomplete nouns"; South: 의존 명사: uijon myeongsa/依存名詞 "dependent nouns"), a space is added in the South but not in the North. This applies to counter words also, but the space is sometimes allowed to be omitted in the South.

North South Meaning
내것 naegŏt 내 것 nae geot my thing
할수 있다 halsu itta 할 수 있다 hal su ittda to be able to do
한개 hangae 한 개 han gae one thing (counter word)


Before auxiliaries, a space is inserted in the South but not in the North. Depending on the situation, however, the space may be omitted in the South.

North South Meaning
먹어보다 mŏgŏboda 먹어 보다/먹어보다 meogeo boda/meogeoboda to try to eat
올듯하다 oldŭt'ada 올 듯하다/올듯하다 ol deutada/oldeutada to seem to come
읽고있다 ilkkoitta 읽고 있다 ilkko ittda to be reading
자고싶다 chagosip'ta 자고 싶다 jago sipda to want to sleep

In the above, in the rules of the South, auxiliaries coming after -아/-어 or an adnominal form allow the space before them to be omitted, but the space after -고 cannot be omitted.

Words indicating a single concept

Words formed from two or more words that indicate a single concept in principle are written with spaces in the South and without spaces in the North like Japanese and Chinese.

North South Meaning
국어사전 kugŏsajŏn 국어 사전 gugeo sajeon Korean dictionary
경제부흥상황 kyŏngjepuhŭngsanghwang 경제 부흥 상황 gyeongje buheung sanghwang state of economic recovery
서울대학교 인문대학 Sŏultaehakkyo Inmuntaehak 서울 대학교 인문 대학/서울대학교 인문대학 Seoul Daehakgyo Inmun Daehak/Seouldaehakgyo Inmundaehak Faculty of Humanities of Seoul National University

Note that since the spacing rules in the South are often unknown, not followed, or optional, spellings vary from place to place. For example, taking the word 국어 사전 gugeo sajeon, people who see this as two words will add a space, and people who see this as one word will write it without a space. Thus, the spacing depends on how one views what "one word" consists of, and so, while spacing is standardised in the South, in reality the standard does not matter much.


In the North, names of leaders 김일성 (Kim Il-sung), 김정일 (Kim Jong-il) and 김정은 (Kim Jong-un) are always set off from surrounding text, typically by bolding the characters, increasing the font size, or both.


The standard language in the South (표준어/標準語 pyojuneo) is largely based on the Seoul dialect, and the standard language (문화어/文化語 munhwaŏ) in the North is largely based on the Pyongyang dialect. However, both in the North and in the South, the vocabulary and forms of the standard language come from Sajeonghan Joseoneo Pyojunmal Mo-eum 사정한 조선어 표준말 모음 published by the Korean Language Society in 1936, and so there is very little difference in the basic vocabulary between the standard languages used in the North and the South. Nevertheless, due to the difference in political systems and social structure, newly created words give rise to differences in vocabulary, and the number of these will probably increase further in the future.

Differences due to the difference in political system or social structure

North South Meaning
조선반도 (朝鮮半島) Chosŏnbando 한반도 (韓半島) Hanbando Korean Peninsula
조국해방전쟁 (祖國解放戰爭) Choguk'aepangjŏnjaeng 한국 전쟁 (韓國戰爭) Hanguk jeonjaeng Korean War
소학교 (小學校) sohakkyo 초등학교 (初等學校) chodeunghakkyo elementary school
동무 (同務) tongmu 친구 (親舊) chingu Friend

The word 동무 tongmu/dongmu that is used to mean "friend" in the North was originally used across the whole of Korea, but after the division of Korea, North Korea began to use it as a translation of the Russian term товарищ (friend, comrade), and since then, the word has come to mean "comrade" in the South as well and has fallen out of use there.

Differences in words of foreign origin

South Korea has borrowed a lot of English words, but North Korea has borrowed a number of Russian words, and there are numerous differences in words used between the two coming from these different borrowings.[2][3] Even when the same English word is borrowed, how this word is transliterated into Korean may differ between the North and the South, resulting in different words being adapted into the corresponding standard languages. For names of other nations and their places, the principle is to base the transliteration on the English word in the South and to base the transliteration on the word in the original language in the North.

North South Meaning
Korean Transliteration Origin Korean Transliteration Origin
뜨락또르 ttŭrakttorŭ Rus. трактор (traktor) 트랙터 teuraekteo Eng. tractor tractor
스토킹 sŭt'ok'ing Br. Eng. stocking 스타킹 seutaking Am. Eng. stocking stocking
뽈스까 Ppolsŭkka Pol. Polska 폴란드 Pollandeu Eng. Poland Poland

Other differences in vocabulary

The other differences between the standard languages in the North and in the South are thought to be caused by the differences between the Seoul and Pyongyang dialects.

North South Meaning
Korean Transliteration Korean Transliteration
강냉이 'kangnaeng-i 옥수수 oksusu corn
달구지 talguji 수레 sure cow cart
케사니 kesani' 거위 geowi goose
마치 machi 망치 mangchi hammer
부루 puru 상추 sangchu lettuce
u wi on, above

Words like 강냉이 gangnaeng-i and u are also sometimes heard in various dialects in South Korea.

There are also some words that exist only in the North. The verb 마스다 masŭda (to break) and its passive form 마사지다 masajida (to be broken) have no exactly corresponding words in the South.

See also


  1. Sang-Hun, Choe (30 August 2006). "Koreas: Divided by a Common Language". The New York Times/ International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  2. Bärtås, Magnus; Ekman, Fredrik (2014). Hirviöidenkin on kuoltava: Ryhmämatka Pohjois-Koreaan [All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea] (in Finnish). Translated by Eskelinen, Heikki. Helsinki: Tammi. pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-951-31-7727-0.
  3. Strother, Jason (19 May 2015). "Korean Is Virtually Two Languages, and that's a Big Problem for North Korean Defectors". PRI. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/30/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.