The separation of the two countries – North and South Korea – has caused a drift in the two cultures and especially in their languages.
Throughout 70 years of separation, the Korean in North Korea has been kept more or less the same, whereas the Korean in South Korea has been constantly changing with the adoption of new vocabularies and grammars. North Korea, has been committed to an unadulterated language that is not influenced by words of foreign roots.
North Koreans would typically use other Korean words in order to get past the use of foreign words. Furthermore, most North Koreans, with the exception of some diplomats and business men and women, are restrained from learning foreign languages because there isn’t much application that benefits their standard of living. This is because most commoners are prohibited from traveling outside their home country and therefore, they tend to have no use for learning new languages.
In contrast, South Korean public schools teach English as one of their main subjects. As of result, learning a foreign language is not only encouraged, but is also helpful. There is a famous phrase among South Korean students that giving up on math is like giving up on college, but giving up on English is like giving up on life. This demonstrates how crucial English is to Korean students in terms of standardized testing for Korean colleges and job finding.
Additionally, there are many South Korean words that originated from the English language, such as ice cream, radio, and news. On the other hand, in North Korea, where their unique language was preserved, ice cream translates to a frozen snack and fan is called a machine that lets out air.
These language barriers directly affect North Korean defectors living in South Korea. Approximately 31,000 North Koreans have made dangerous trips to the South, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification. They escape their hometown in prospects of a better life and to send money back to their family in North Korea. This is rendered difficult because of the language differences between the two countries.
Based on a study conducted on North Korean defector students, these students could understand less than 50 percent of the words on a South Korean textbook. The discrepancies in the two languages were hurting North Korean students who were trying to assimilate in South Korean schools.
Hanawon is a facility run by the Ministry of Reunification and it is created for North Koreans that recently made their way South. North Koreans are given a three month period, where they are taught about South Korean society and culture and given hope that success is possible. This is an example of the South Korean government’s efforts towards helping North Korean defectors adjust.
In addition, a combined dictionary of North and South Korean was started back in 2004, but the project was met with problems when the South Korean navy ship, Cheonan, was sunk by a North Korea torpedo. Although the project did not turn out to be a success, developments are still being made.
Univoca, a smartphone app, translates words for North Korean defectors based on a quick scan and also provides tips for everyday conversations. Created with the help of North Korean fugitives, the app is a promising start to minimizing the language barrier.
Amy Yang, Grade 12
Academy of the Holy Angels