THE KOREAN LANGUAGE
First, Korean was a spoken language. As strange as it may be at first glance, the Korean language belongs to the Ural Altaic group, just like the Finnish or Turkish. Second, while it is not a part of the Sino Tibetan group, Chinese greatly influenced it. The power of the ex Chinese empire then spread its culture at the time. Also, Korean seems close to Japanese which is a part of the same language group. But, only in terms of grammar as the rest is too poor to make a real link between them.
Actually, its origins remain obscure. That is why some linguists even think that Korean emerged from itself as a single source. What is sure is that Chinese words still make half Korean lexicon, mainly through the Confucian classics. Most of the time, South Koreans now use a hybrid writing system. This consists for words derived from Chinese to be written with Chinese signs, while Korean words respect the "hangul". In spite of that, Korean is very distinct from Chinese, in both sound and sentence structure.
If all Korean people speak the same language, we can found 9 dialects depending on the region. All of them are actually quite similar to each other. Of course, Seoul is the main one, spread over the capital's district as its name suggests. In the same vein, we then have Pyongan which if the official dialect of North Korea. These are the two standard dialects.
After that come 7 other dialects, called by the name of the province or island they are (refer to the map).
South vs North Korea
As it covers North and South Korea, it unified these two countries in the past. Its coverage area eats a bit of China and Russia as well, at the border. Since this time has passed, some changes have occured.
First, North Korea has made the choice to remove all Chinese signs to then write them in hangul. Second, the division between North and South Korea has increased even more. As the South part grows a lot and imports hi-tech, many English terms appeared. In the meantime, the North part borrowed a bit from Chinese and Russian. Plus, Korean spoken in the North has no longer evolved for decades. Closed borders, lack of will to open up to the world and absence of contact with the South, explain that. Thus, their accents sound ruder and more tonal than in the South where the language is more adapted to business.
In the past
If Korea has got its own writing system for a very long time, it used hanja until early last century. Actually, hanja are and sound like Chinese signs. But these were slightly different from those used in China. This, from the 6th to the early 20th century. Since then, the very famous Korean script has replaced the Chinese script.
SUCH A SMART WRITING SYSTEM
A great alphabet
Too complex, only people of high rank were able to learn hanja. In fact, the Korean language alphabet, Hangul, has existed for about 600 years. Hangul came from the bid to educate all people, to then compete with Korea's neighbors.
While Koreans used hundreds of Chinese signs, hangul gathers 24 letters only (14 basic and 5 double consonants, plus 10 basic and 11 compound vowels as well). Here is the first point and we just have to combine all of them to go deeper. Second, the Hangul is a phonetic script with syllabic division. Thus, each hangul sign is a syllable, made from 2 to 4 letters. Third, while the shape of the consonants refers to the organs of speech, the vowels' one uses 3 symbols of Taoist origin. The latter evokes the Sun, the Man and the Earth, in this same order.
For decades, King Sejong worked hard on this great project with some experts to finally find out the best writing system ever. As he knew about the high risk to build the Hangul, he made it in secret. Indeed, scholars considered hanja as the only true script, and the Hangul, an affront against Confucius and Bouddha's precepts. The king exposed his new writing system on Oct 9, 1946. As expected, as soon as people be aware of it, he met strong rejection from scholars. As a result, the next king just forbade it. It had to wait until the very end of the 19th century to appear again. It then spread from the end of the WW2.
To start with the Korean writing system, just click here. Also, watch Tree With Deep Roots, a brilliant K Drama. Indeed, this TV series relates the creation of Hangul and all serious issues met to be able to achieve it.
Loaned by Latin
In East Asia, Korean differs from the other Asians dialects by the fact that it borrowed some from Latin. First, we place a space between two words. Second, it uses Western marks, even if they are less used than in the West. Third, note that we now write it in rows from left to right. As you know, it is supposed to be written in columns from top to bottom.
TO GO DEEPER
A deep meaning
Many facets of grammar reveal the high value Koreans placed on showing respect. For instance, verbs have different forms to indicate the low, equal, or high status of one speaker to another. Due to the growth of the middle class and more balanced social levels , this tends to be less and less true.
Not only the Hangul is quite easy to learn, but also are its syntax and tenses. Also, we conjugate verbs according to aspect, tense, or degree of respect, but not the person. Plus, some particles tell about the role of the word in a sentence. An other point is that verbs include parts linking two clauses. Finally, Korean does not include gender unlike Romance.
Korean has no gender. However, we can mark it through formality, tone, choice of words, etc. For instance, people thus use a softer tone when talking to a woman. Plus, as Korea is a strong patriarchal country, the distinction between women and men remains quite strong. And the ending choosen at the end of words reveals that women still have fewer chances to speak in formal settings. Actually, the male speech is seen as the standard one and people see any other form that diverges from this as lesser than.
A bit trendy
We can say that there has been some interest in Korean since the mega hit song Gangnam Style. After what, K-pop and K-dramas' boom and success have helped to confirm this trend.