Korean Peninsula

By Dodds, Klaus | Geographical, October 2014 | Go to article overview

Korean Peninsula


Dodds, Klaus, Geographical


When you mention the 'Korean Peninsula' in a sentence it is often accompanied by words such as crisis, instability, border and tension. The geopolitical narrative reflects a tense situation that was never resolved in the aftermath of the Korean conflict in the early 1950s. The Korean Peninsula continues to be divided into a South (Republic of Korea) and North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea).

One of the most dramatic embodiments of the division is the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which is a 160 mile long buffer zone running along the 38th parallel north. We have become accustomed to thinking of the two Koreas having different political systems, distinct economies, separate capital cities and the associated paraphernalia of nation-states such as national flags, currency, national anthems and the like.

If, however, there is one thing that does unite the two nations, it's a shared language. Korean is the official language of both countries and around 80 million people are Korean speakers.

Recent media reports have alighted upon the testimony of North Korean defectors to reflect on the isolationism of the north. Objects of everyday technology such as mobile phones and computers reveal the division.

But even more fundamental is that after decades of schism, North Koreans find their southern counterparts difficult to understand. One of the more dramatic differences was the incorporation of English terms into everyday South Korean speech. During the Cold War, South Korea became a close ally of the United States with American corporations and militaries entering South Korean society. They brought with them their language and educated South Koreans to speak English as their second tongue. In 2010, further government emphasis was placed on English being taught in schools. By sharp contrast, for North Korean regimes the English language was associated with the hated United States. As a result, South Korean speakers have had more exposure to English words. One example is the use of the word 'stress' by South Koreans, while North Koreans use a Korean expression inferring that their head is in pain.

Fearful of further linguistic separatism, the South Korean government is funding a trans-national Korean language dictionary. Involving scholars on either side of the DMZ, it is hoped that the dictionary will be a vital tool in ensuring that, in the event of reunification, there will be a shared language. …

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