What was Korea’s first language?

The genesis of Korea’s linguistic culture is embodied in its first language, Old Korean. It’s a consensually agreed view that Old Korean, used until around the 15th century, was the first known language of Korea. Delving into the linguistic roots, we’ll explore Old Korean, its characteristics, and its transition to Middle Korean.

The Genesis of Korean Linguistic Origins: Old Korean

Old Korean is the earliest form of the Korean language that left significant documents behind. It is usually designated as a language used from the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period (1st century BC) to the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (14th century AD). Unfortunately, our knowledge about this language is quite limited due to the scarcity of surviving documents.

This linguistic era was mainly characterized by the use of Chinese characters along with native Korean phonetic systems such as Idu script. Idu system used Chinese characters to represent both their meaning and the sound of Korean phrases. However, the primary challenge comes in documenting the old language linguistically due to its exclusive use of Chinese orthography.

The Shift to Middle Korean

The late 14th to the early 15th century saw the transformation from Old Korean to Middle Korean. The middle language era began with the invention of Hangul, a uniquely Korean alphabet, during the Joseon Dynasty in 1446.

Hangul was designed to be a simple and efficient alphabetic system, unlike the complex Idu script. This reform had profound effects on Korean society as it simplified literacy, allowing common people to read and write, thereby spreading knowledge more widely.

In conclusion, Korea’s linguistic culture has evolved from Old Korean, characterized by Chinese orthography, to Middle Korean, during which a distinct and accessible writing system, Hangul, was developed. This evolution not only marked a significant linguistic transformation but also impacted the socio-cultural structure of Korea, empowering the common people with the power of literacy.