Just like there is a saying that language is a mirror of culture, language always reflects many aspects of the culture of a country in which the language is used. Korean also reflects many unique aspects of Korean cultures. Let’s examine some characteristics of Korean and observe how Korean culture is embedded in the language.
First of all, one of the most noticeable characteristics of Korean is that Koreans use the word “our” a lot more often than “my.” Some English phrases like “my home,” “my school,” and “my country” would be translated into “our home,” “our school,” and “our country” in Korean even when you are only talking about yourself without the actual existence of others to refer to “our.” It is because of the conscience of the common race in Korea, which is constituted of only one race. Korean culture is more collectivistic than Western cultures. It is also the result of Korean’s way of thinking that a group in which an individual is involved is more important than the individual itself. This culture, the tendency to regard a group’s profit more valuable than an individual’s profit, has helped Korean society grow a lot economically. However, at the same time, Koreans’ strong exclusive tendency that would not allow any foreign people in “our society” has been criticized a lot abroad.
Another noticeable characteristic of Korean is its polite forms. Korea is traditionally regarded as the country of courteous people in the East. Different from Japanese and Chinese, which influenced the language greatly, Korean possesses several different expressions for the same word. You have to choose the appropriate word according to a person whom you are speaking to. For example, you can say “Na-Yi (age)” and “Bab (meal)” to your friend, but you should say “Yeon-Sae(age)” and “Jin-ji(meal)” if you are speaking to your grandfather. Korean polite forms also vary ranging from simple polite forms to extreme polite forms. This is the result of the culture of filial duty to elder people and of bureaucratic culture.
Lastly, Korean has good economical efficiency reflecting Korean people’s preferences to do things quickly. Foreigners in Korea say that the most frequently heard Korean expression is “Bbali Bbali (quickly, quickly).” Korean language also reflects this aspect of culture, and many Korean expressions are said without mentioning the subject. However, omitting subjects in Korean sentences usually does not cause any confusion or difficulty in understanding the meaning. For example, “Hak gyo da nyeo o ge sseum mi da (I’m going school)” and “jal muk ge sseum mi da (I will eat it, appreciating)” do not have subjects and have no problem conveying the meaning.
As illustrated above, many characteristics of Korean language are the results of Korean culture. This is probably why learning foreign language is exciting. With academic knowledge, you can also learn about a foreign culture. I hope this article helps you to learn Korean and understand Korean society.