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12/11/2016 Special > Special


Contrast between Korean and English

The most scientifically-superior language


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On October 9th, 1446, Hangul was formulated by King Sejong, the 4th monarch of Joseon Dynasty. It was created as an attempt to make education achievable by more people. Using Chinese as the nation’s language, learning to read and write was a difficult task in those times, inevitably rendering poor peasants illiterate due to their social status and circumstances. Originally holding the name Hunminjeongeum, the Korean language now has its own distinctive features that was recognized internationally as 'the most-scientifically-superior language among world languages', as stated by some Harvard University professors.

The explanation behind this is the unique phonetic system of Korean language. The shapes of the letters are related to the features of the sounds they represent. The letters for consonants, each pronounced in a distinct place in the mouth, are built on the same underlying shape as the place where it is pronounced. Additionally, vowels are made from vertical or horizontal lines so that they are easily distinguishable from consonants.
Shapes of Korean alphabets are resemblant to that of the mouth shape.
(Photo courtesy of

Basic components

Korean has 14 consonants and 10 vowels, which can be put together horizontally or vertically—from left to right or from top to bottom—to form a syllable. English has 26 alphabets—5 vowels and 21 consonants—that are all written horizontally.
     10 vowels and 14 consonants of Korean.
     (Photo courtesy of

It is critical to note that English has both monophthongs (a vowel sound that has single perceived auditory quality) and diphthongs (a vowel sound that has two perceived auditory quality), while Korean only has monophthongs with no diphthongs. This is one decisive feature that distinguishes the two languages from one another when it comes to pronunciation.

Lastly, the use of honorifics, which is the degree of formality or familiarity between the person speaking and the person the speaker is addressing, is an indispensable component in Korean. Such a factor is absent in English language. Honorifics is an essential aspect of Korean language and needs to be taken into consideration when conversing with anyone. Consequently, pronouns and verbs have several forms that vary based on the degree of respect whereas English grammar and speech do not require different forms of referent.

Asymmetry between the two languages

Consonants and vowels are inseparable in Korean.
            (Photo courtesy of
One noticeable difference between Korean and English can be decoded in terms of phonology. Korean is a syllable-timed language in which individual word stress is insignificant, whereas English is a stress-timed language. In other words, the rhythm and intonation of Korean language are based on each syllable while English derives its own from the distribution of stressed and unstressed syllables. This is largely accountable for the extra syllable added by Koreans who are learning English as their second language; the syllable-timed structure of the language necessitates a vowel sound to be attached to a consonant sound.

Moreover, syntax is also a significant characteristic. In Korean, the sentence order is subject, object, and verb, when English puts verb before object. For instance, a Korean would say “Mary coffee drank” while an English speaker would say “Mary drank coffee.” Besides, lack of subject and object markers in English makes Korean unique.

Subjects and objects in Korean are always followed by their makers, either by “ie” or “ga” or by “eun” or “leul,” respectively. Taking the previous example, the simple sentence in Korean would be “Mary-ga coffee-leul drank” while in English it is “Mary drank coffee” without a marker attached to the subject and the object of the sentence. Similarly, one element that English has but Korean does not is articles such as a, an, or the. For this reason, Korean learners of English have significant and often permanent problems with the complexities of the English article system.

Perhaps the biggest difference comes when Korean verbs are considered. They are used to convey information. Subject and tense are all added onto the verb, making it longer in length. English uses separate words known as auxiliaries instead of the way Korean language does. Also, Korean does not conjugate verbs using agreements with the subject: “he like” is grammatically correct in Korean when it is not in English.

What is more is the difference in alphabet sounds. English sounds such as /f/, /v/, /th/, and /z/ are missing in Korean inventory, leading to the substitution of those sounds with the most similar ones. For example, a Korean might pronounce coffee as “coppee”, Vancouver as “bancouber”, think as “sink”, this as “dis”, pizza as “pija” and so on. There is a certain degree of overlap in terms of vocabulary, especially in modern times, as Korea has been subject to American influence over the years following the Korean War.

Jeon Chae-yun

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