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The Korean language (한국어/韓國語 Hangugeo) is a member of the Koreanic language family and is thought to be a language isolate, meaning linguists have been unable to determine a genealogical relationship with other languages. There are approximately 77 million native speakers of the Korean language, found mainly in both North and South Korea, overseas Korean immigrant communities, and one of two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture and Changbai Korean Autonomous County of Jilin province in the People’s Republic of China.

In the United States, the Korean community includes about 1.8 million people, making it the second largest overseas Korean population, next to China. It is also the fifth largest Asian subgroup in the United States. The largest Korean in the United States can be found in California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, Washington, Illinois, Georgia, and Maryland. The metropolitan regions with the largest Korean communities are the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Region, Greater New York Metropolitan Region, and the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area.

Given the extremely mountainous terrain of the Korean peninsula which limited interactions between different communities throughout Korea’s history, a number of dialects have emerged, corresponding to the different geographical regions. The standard version of the Korean language in the South is based on the dialect spoken in Seoul, while the Pyongyang dialect (known as Munhwaŏ) is the standard variety spoken in the North. While these two standardized dialects are largely mutually intelligible, some notable differences have developed over time as a result of political and physical separation. Most notably, the Korean language spoken in the South contain significantly more foreign loanwords (mostly from English), and foreign loanwords in the North are frequently Russian in origin. Other Korean dialects include Hamgyŏng, P’yŏngan, Yeongdong, and Gyeongsang.

Korean is classified as an agglutinative language; wherein complex words are formed by stringing together morphemes without changing their spelling or phonetics. The basic word order in Korean is subject-object-verb (SOV), although the sentence structure is highly flexible, with the verb being the only required and immovable sentence element. As with Japanese, “honorific” speech is of profound importance in the Korean language, and the grammar includes seven speech levels to indicate the relationship between the speakers. There are four types of verbs in Korean (action, state, existential, and copulas) and verbs require conjugation, with each verb containing a verb stem and a series of inflectional suffixes. Korean verbs can include up to three suffixes in a row which reflect tense, aspect, and mood.

The Korean writing system, known as Hangul (or Chosŏn’gŭl in North Korea), was developed during the 15th century in the time of King Sejong. Prior to that time, the Korean language was written primarily in Classical Chinese and a number of earlier scripts, and it wasn’t until the late 19th century that Hangul officially replaced Chinese characters as the official script of the Korean language. The Korean alphabet includes 14 consonants and ten vowels, and the letters are grouped into syllabic blocks, vertically and horizontally.

FUN FACTS: In North Korea, there is a special verb ending (옵 op) used only for the “Great Leader.” Also, the Korean language includes two systems of numbers, one is Korean in origin (used for smaller numbers), and the other is Chinese in origin (used for larger numbers).

At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in Korean. Whether you need to translate public information notices into Korean, need a Korean medical interpreter for a doctor’s appointment, or want to localize your website into Korean to market your products or services in South Korea, PGLS is here to help with all of your Korean language needs.

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