Past, Present, and Future: Korean in the World
North and South Korea, the two countries found on the Korean peninsula, have a unique political history not only with each other but also with the rest of the world. Over the last few decades, the demand for Korean translation and interpretation has grown exponentially.
Language and Politics – From One Korea to Two
With an estimated 60 million Korean speakers around the world, the Korean language has a long history. With roots as far back as 300 BC, the Korean language evolved through two millennia, and today still uses a unique and efficient writing system carefully developed by scholars and a king in the 15th century.
The victors of World War II split the Korean peninsula in half along the 38th parallel, and the two sides soon morphed in 1948 into North and South Korea during the Cold War conflict.
While today South Korea enjoys a vibrant democratic society and one of the top 20 economies in the world – home to successful technology companies of international renown such as Samsung and LG – North Korea is known as the “Hermit Kingdom,” its government having taken an isolationist approach to international politics for much of its history. Together with a scarcity of resources, most North Koreans never learn to speak another language.
North Korea’s history of isolation from the world, however, is quickly changing. Several world leaders have expressed a renewed interest in integrating the country into the international community, contributing to a growing need for Korean translation and interpretation. Especially when it comes to politics and world relations, the language of peace and diplomacy needs to be reliably translated, with a high degree of quality and fidelity.
Even if both countries speak Korean, the isolation of North Korea has caused its language to evolve and change differently than the South into dialects, but speakers are still able to understand each other. Differences resulting from official policy, as well as simply in their everyday lives, such as access to TV, the internet, or other media, can sometimes be quite marked, especially between younger generations.
The symbols of the Korean alphabet are the same in both countries, but there are variations between North and South in how they are written. In North Korea, consonants and vowels are often written separately or in a different order than the way they are written in the South. South Koreans typically use more spaces between the symbols and might also connect the words of certain concepts or ideas.
The pronunciation of vowels and consonants is also different between the two countries. South Koreans in Seoul often shorten or cut out certain sounds as the language has modernized and changed over the years. South Korean accents are also very different, especially between those from the Southern capital, Seoul, and the Northern capital, Pyongyang. Speakers in Seoul, for example, often incorporate many English loan-words for certain items or ideas, while those in Pyongyang incorporate many Russian loan-words into their vocabulary.
Korea and the 2018 Winter Olympics
In 2018, the Winter Olympics were hosted in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As a symbol of peace and hope, the North Korean and South Korean women’s ice hockey teams joined forces, putting the politics of the Korean nations in the world spotlight. The athletes even walked together in the opening ceremony to show their unity and the promise to keep the relations between the two countries open.
The 2018 Winter Olympics likely boosted the South Korean economy and contributed to making the country a more popular tourist destination. With more people traveling and wanting to do business in South Korea, and the legacy started by the Olympics having struck a friendly tone between the two countries, the need for language services in North and South Korean has grown rapidly.
The widespread news coverage of the event also left other countries and news networks for a larger need of translation services. People in other parts of the world wanted to know what was happening between North Korea and South Korea and looked to interpreters to follow the event as well as the aftermath it had on political relations.
The rise of K-pop
You don’t have to have visited Korea or have Korean friends to know that K-pop music has been all the rage over the last few years. K-pop bands like BTS and Blackpink perform all over the world to sold-out shows in front of thousands of fans. This popular music genre has made many people interested in the Korean language and learning more about it to understand these new songs they have come to love.
Korean soap operas have viewership all over the world on platforms such as Netflix and other streaming services. Popular award-winning films such as “Parasite” and “Minari” have also put the Korean language on the world stage. Foreign viewers usually watch shows and movies with subtitles, but many have started to take an interest in Korean language learning apps so they can learn what the actors are saying.
Some K-Pop singers and Korean actors do not speak English or any other language besides Korean. When they travel or hold conferences or interviews in other countries, they often use translators and interpreters. The desire for people to speak to famous Koreans and understand their language and culture has also accelerated the need for better translation services. Nowadays, Korean is actually one of the emerging languages in the United States, with more than one million speakers.
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