Language Policy in South Korea and the Special Case of Japanese
Abstract. At the beginning of the 21st century, South Koreans have embraced foreign languages with almost unbridled enthusiasm. Most of the enthusiasm is directed toward English of course but, for both economic and cultural reasons, Japanese also looms large. Moreover, the decision by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in October 1998 to open up the country to Japanese popular culture has increased the appetite for the Japanese language, especially among the young. Koreans now study Japanese again; they access Japanese Web sites; they travel to Japan. Yet Koreans' enthusiasm for Japanese is qualitatively different from their appetite for English. Japanese may be learned, but it is to be kept out of the Korean language itself. English loans may be adopted "out of necessity," but not Japanese. The South Korean policy of linguistic purism is aimed explicitly at Japanese, and numerous books, manuals, and pamphlets instruct the public on how to recognize and purge Japanese influences from their speech and writing. Newspapers and other media wage periodic campaigns to do the same. The Korean public generally supports and cooperates with these policies and campaigns, which, for the most part, are surprisingly effective. There are numerous problems with Korean linguistic purism, however, and prescriptive intervention in the Korean language by government and media requires a continued investment of research, resources, and public support. How successful these efforts will be in the face of ever-closer ties with Japan remains to be seen.
Keywords: linguistic purism, Sino-Korean, loanwords, language policy, Japanese, kunyomi, prescriptive intervention, Chinese characters, loan translations, calques, onyomi
Published online: 01 January 2004