Japanese and Korean Languages: Similarities

UnusualBean

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#1
Taking the word "etymology" here a little loosely, hope that's okay.


This post is just going to be a casual (read: lazy) exploration into the similarities between Japanese and Korean. I'm not the first person to notice these similarities, or even the first person to come to the conclusion that I'll present at the end, but I thought some of you here might find it interesting (y)

Writing Systems
漢字 - kanji/hanja
These are Chinese characters. Japanese and Korean both were (at least canonically) written in Chinese originally, which is a written language used by a number of different spoken languages historically and in modern times, wherein each character represents an individual meaning or concept. It takes many years to learn enough of them to be useful, but it's a great tool for being able to communicate across cultures. Over time, Japan and Korea have modified some of the characters to be more to each of their liking, but most of them are still recognizable, unlike what modern China did with its simplified character system (e.g. 漢字→汉字).

In Japan, students learn upwards of 3,000 kanji by the time they finish high school, but they're only expected to be able to consistently read around 2,000 without a pronunciation guide. In Korea, they learn upwards up 2,000 by the time they finish high school, but the usage of these characters is limited to mere dozens in modern Korean, with most people preferring the phonetic writing system called hangul.

아히루/한글 - ahiru/hangul
These are a script (purportedly) invented by Korean emperor Sejong in the early 15th century to increase literacy among the masses. It's a phonetic alphabet that is so simple you can learn it in a day.

This script has appeared on a number of documents and monuments in Japan, and there are various estimates of when they were created, but the most common estimates seem to be in the 18th and 19th centuries (surprise surprise, the 19th century rears its ugly head once again).

Here is a picture of hangul:

main-qimg-f0d89e302287907744bd3b249438a3f8.jpg

And here are two different styles of ahiru script:

22a0b0ab-8285-4a16-8ba2-7021fc5395de_base_resized.jpg


7d078778-f9d4-4c47-b143-e2bc63eb4c7a_base_resized.jpg

The variations can likely be chalked up to the fact that hangul originally had very poor standardization. But how did these non-standardized forms end up in Japan? Hmm....

Romaji/romaja
This is the romanization of Japanese and Korean, and is mainly used for the benefit of foreigners or because people think it looks cool. Both are technically standardized, but it's mostly only foreigners who actually know how to use it properly thanks to it being used for language learning purposes. You see some really confusing devil-may-care spellings from Koreans in particular, like Kim Jong Un, which should be Kim Jeong Eun. Even hangul should technically be spelled hangeul :censored:

Japanese has two additional phonetic writing systems, but these are (at least to my knowledge) unrelated to Korean.

Loanwords
Chinese
These words make up a massive 60% of both languages, and are derived from written Chinese words that were ascribed local pronunciations. They're used much more in writing than in speech, but even then they still make up around 1/5 of spoken words. Almost all names in both countries are based on the Chinese writing system. Some of the Chinese vocabulary words are different between Japanese and Korean, but most are identical.

English
Both languages are estimated to be up to 10% English in practice, largely thanks to US influence after WW2. Most of these words are also identical.

Other
A number of words are borrowed from other languages, especially Dutch, Portuguese, and German. These words are also, you guessed it, mostly identical.

Grammar
*Slaps Japan and Korea* these babies can fit so much identical grammar ;)

I won't go into too much detail (unless anybody wants me to), but let's just take a look at a short sample sentence:

ハングルは韓国語を表記する表音文字である。
한글은 한국어를 표기하는 표음문자 이다.

Okay, so most of you probably can't actually read those, and so now you're thinking "those don't look very similar at all...", and you're right, but let's break them down a little just to be sure. The order will go Japanese/Korean - Japanese romanization/Korean romanization - word parts broken down (if relevant) - meaning.

ハングル/한글 - hanguru/hangeul - han guru/han geul - hangul
は/은 - wa/eun - (topic marker)
韓国語/한국어 - kankokugo/hangukeo - kan koku go/han guk eo - Korean language
を/를 - wo/reul - (direct object marker)
表記/표기 - hyouki/pyogi - hyou ki/pyo gi - transcription
する/하는 - suru/haneun - su ru/ha neun - that does/that is
表音文字/표음문자 - hyouonmoji/pyoeummunja - hyou on mo ji/pyo eum mun ja - phonetic symbols
である/이다 - dearu/ida - de aru/ida - is/to be

Oops, they're actually twins. With their power combined, they form: "Hangul is phonetic symbols that transcribe the Korean language." :geek:

Now, the languages aren't completely identical. There are some small differences in the word choices people use, and in grammar, but these differences aren't too much bigger than the vocabulary and grammar differences of some American and British English dialects. The biggest gap between Japanese and Korean is the different pronunciation. Which brings us to...

Phonology
Thanks to having at least 3/4 of their vocabulary in common (some might argue more), some words end up being mutually intelligible, but most are mutually unintelligible due to differing pronunciation.

The first major difference is that in Korean, pretty much every consonant can be used at the end of a syllable. In Japanese, only n can be used at the end of a syllable, meaning the majority of Japanese syllables end in vowels.

A smaller difference is in the number of vowels and consonants. Korean has more vowel sounds than Japanese (around twice as many in total), while Japanese has more consonant sounds than Korean. As such, Koreans tend to struggle with learning to pronounce Japanese consonants, while Japanese people tend to struggle with learning to pronounce Korean vowels. It looks like Korean has a pretty messy consonant history though, so OG Koreans probably would've had an easier time.

Both languages have glottal stops, but only Japanese has elongated vowels (although really it's not hard to just write a vowel twice).

And now for a fun little thing called consonant shifting. This is a phenomenon wherein consonants can end up transforming into different consonants that are pronounced with very similar mouth posture. Some common shifts are B/P/F/V, G/K, T/D/TH, R/L/D/N, M/B, CH/SH and so on. This usually occurs as a permanent change to a language or dialect, but some languages and dialects feature flexible shifting for some sounds (Korean is a notorious culprit of this, and Japanese isn't fully innocent either :mad:).

Vowel shifting is also a thing, but let's be honest, it's not nearly as exciting as consonant shifting (n)

Let's take a look at that sentence from up above again and see if we can notice any (exciting) shifts:

ハングルは韓国語を表記する表音文字である。
한글은 한국어를 표기하는 표음문자 이다.

韓国語/한국어 - kan koku go/han guk eo
K and H may be one. Both languages feature KH sounds that aren't actually represented phonetically, but they're there in spirit. And in people's throats. Khhh.
G and K are such an easy shift that they're often interchangeable in Korean.

表記/표기 - hyou ki/pyo gi
According to whoever invented the Japanese phonetic writing system, H and P are similar sounds. The P sound is formed in written Japanese by modifying the written H, e.g. は→ぱ (ha→pa).

表音/표음 - hyou on/pyo eum
The syllable-ending N in Japanese is entirely nasal and can sound like M to the untrained ear.

Well, that was fun! (y)

Okay I'm actually getting really tired, so I'll wrap this up. My conclusion, if you haven't guessed, is that Japanese and Korean are recently separated branches of the same language. I think what little differences there are probably happened during sakoku, and then there was a vocabulary update during and after WW2 to bridge most of the gaps that may have formed, but pronunciation wasn't one of the gaps that got bridged. I think the classification of them as different languages instead of dialects of the same language is entirely political (n)

Do let me know if you want me to expand on any of the above!
 
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UnusualBean

UnusualBean

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#3
I like where it's going. Could there be any Chinese language connection as well?
I see you with the sneaky re-title :sneaky:

But yeah, probably yes. The grammar is completely different, but there are clear strong influences. For example, a lot of the obsolete characters from old hangul existed to write "Chinese" (probably Mandarin) sounds, which supposedly was for the sake of trade and all that, but I have my suspicions. Korea was portrayed as part of China on some old maps.

(I put Chinese in quotes there because Chinese doesn't have sounds, since it's purely a written language :censored:)
 
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UnusualBean

UnusualBean

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#5
So if you were to put any historical significance into this Japanese/Korean similarities, what would that be?
That the Yayoi migration, which was a migration of mongoloid people from Korea to Japan, happened much more recently than 2,300 years ago.

I have a post I've been writing up about this, but I keep not finishing it because a lot of the details are so murky, so I might as well dump some of it here. I think several things were pushed back more than a thousand years, and periods were stretched to fill the gaps.

In the official narrative we have the following historical periods in Japan:

Yayoi period. The word Yayoi probably means something along the lines of "much growth" or "many births", and it's also used to refer to the mongoloid people mentioned above and their migration. This period supposedly lasted roughly from 300 BCE to the 3rd century, but that's just a guess because this is supposedly before recorded history in Japan.

Yamato period. The original meaning of Yamato is unknown, but at some point the Japanese decided it meant "great harmony". It was halfway during this period that the Chinese influence came, and then towards the end Japan's name changed from Wa to Nihon. The etymology of Wa is also unknown, but the Chinese decided it meant "subservient" (not "dwarf" like some people think), and the Japanese later decided it meant "harmony" instead. This is the first period of recorded history, estimated to be from the 3rd to the 8th century, but that estimate is pretty flexible since historical records of that time aren't fully considered reliable even by mainstream standards.

Nara period. This period is said to have only lasted around 80 or so years, all during the 8th century, and there are a lot of competing theories about what "Nara" is supposed to mean. The reason the records of the Yamato period are considered not fully reliable is because they were written during this period. Great efforts were put forth to transform Japan into an empire during this time.

Heian period. This is the "peace" era, and the period of the highest level of Chinese influence in recorded Japanese history. This era was the foundation of many things we consider quintessentially "Japanese", and they were ironically mostly influenced by China. This period lasted roughly until the 12th century.

Kamakura period. Another one that's not really known what it was supposed to mean, and probably because this period marked the beginning of the military rule of Japan that we call the shogunate, and the Japanese call the bakufu or "tent government". The shogunate is said to have been a military dictatorship, but the shogun's full title translated to "commander in chief warring against the barbarians". It's commonly accepted that the "barbarians" were the native Japanese in the north, and yet that word mysteriously can also translate to "foreigners". Hmm :unsure: Anyway, this period lasted until the 14th century.

After that there was a brief 3 year "restoration" where there was an attempt to re-establish imperial rule.

Muromachi period. This the name of the location of the headquarters of the shogunate during that time. This period lasted until the 16th century, and the latter half was basically total anarchy and near constant war.

Azuchi-Momoyama period. The name comes from the castles of the two guys who are credited with ending the chaos. The period lasted until the beginning of the 17th century.

Edo period. Edo was the name of the new capital, established under the Tokugawa shogunate. This is the period when sakoku, the isolation of Japan, began. This period lasted until the mid 1800s, when the shogunate was finally defeated, the empire was restored, and the country was forced back open. The restoration of imperial rule was called the Meiji Restoration.


So here's my rough take:

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but it seems that the Yayoi migration may have been Koreans fleeing Chinese warmongering.

The southern portion of Japan welcomed the Koreans, but the Ainu weren't really having it. Yamato Kotoba (aka a dialect of Korean) became the language of the southern 2/3ish of Japan, while Ainu dialects remained prominent in the north.

Sooner or later the Chinese advanced into Japan and attempted to establish rule. It can't have been a full 400 years until people got tired of being referred to as the "subservient country", so after this point things probably progressed pretty quickly. A resistance cropped up, they warred for a while, and then suddenly word of the Catholics going around inquisiting came in and everybody shifted focus.

Japan, being an island nation, closed its borders. During this time the Ainu and the Yamato people (the integrated Koreans and native Japanese living in harmony) started getting friendlier, but that came to an abrupt end when (the new and "improved") America came knocking and forced Japan to open its borders back up.

And that was basically officially the end of old Japan. After that there were massive efforts to rewrite history. Korea ended up in the same boat not long after.
 

Ishtar

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#6
As someone who majored in East Asian studies in college, this thread warms my heart. My main focus was Japanese, since my Korean pronunciation sucked. I studied many other languages as well, and definitely feel that Korean and Japanese are as similar as Scandinavian languages are to each other, and if our intuition on politics is correct, maybe as similar as the ex-Yugoslavian dialects?

During my childhood I knew a couple who were North Korean refugees. They were very anti-Japan after what “the empire did to their country”. However, the man was also half-Manchurian, which “was in China” and something he felt uncomfortable talking about.

Based on art and wardrobe changes, I also feel like there may have been some very late Turkic or Semetic immigration to Japan.

Lots of material to uncover in East Asian history, I’m sure of it!
 

kentucky

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#7
My conclusion, if you haven't guessed, is that Japanese and Korean are recently separated branches of the same language. I think what little differences there are probably happened during sakoku, and then there was a vocabulary update during and after WW2 to bridge most of the gaps that may have formed, but pronunciation wasn't one of the gaps that got bridged. I think the classification of them as different languages instead of dialects of the same language is entirely political (n)

Do let me know if you want me to expand on any of the above!
Fascinating write-up, I love seeing such broad subject matter and expertise on this board that I wouldn't have expected to find, thank you.

I have also noticed such similarities (especially in grammar) although I really never questioned it. To be sure, I had just assumed that they both shared such similar Sino- origins that it shouldn't have been a surprise to see such commonality between the two languages. But after reading your post and doing a quick search online, finding a genetic relationship between the two languages does become a little more controversial than I had expected, as there seem to be many theories, with many ideas having been deemed "inconclusive" or "discredited" - two words designed to shut down non-institutionalized thinking.

I've also noticed that Thai numbers, which a majority are also are based in Sino- roots, sound very much like Sino-Korean numbers. Again, this shouldn't be a surprise, but they do sound similar, particularly more so than with Japanese numbers, at that. Regarding pure Korean numbers and words, I've found that there is speculation out there that it derives from the Altaic language family (Mongol/Siberian) or the "Ariane" (Aryan?) family, so says a random internet comment.

Again, thanks for bringing this up as it does seem worthy to entertain and explore further, for sure. 고마워요
 
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UnusualBean

UnusualBean

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#8
As someone who majored in East Asian studies in college, this thread warms my heart. My main focus was Japanese, since my Korean pronunciation sucked. I studied many other languages as well, and definitely feel that Korean and Japanese are as similar as Scandinavian languages are to each other, and if our intuition on politics is correct, maybe as similar as the ex-Yugoslavian dialects?

During my childhood I knew a couple who were North Korean refugees. They were very anti-Japan after what “the empire did to their country”. However, the man was also half-Manchurian, which “was in China” and something he felt uncomfortable talking about.

Based on art and wardrobe changes, I also feel like there may have been some very late Turkic or Semetic immigration to Japan.

Lots of material to uncover in East Asian history, I’m sure of it!
You're right about that immigration. In the Japanese population there's detectable Aryan, Semitic, and Austronesian DNA that I'm aware of (although good luck getting the mainstream to admit it). The Aryans would've been the main inhabitants (such as the Ainu), the Austronesians would've been down to the south towards Southeast Asia, and the Semitic people clearly showed up at some point and made quite the splash, the question is just when.

Aside from the DNA, Shinto is obviously influenced more than a little bit by ancient Semitic practices, and then there's the whole story of Jesus faking his death and spending the rest of his life in Japan...

Fascinating write-up, I love seeing such broad subject matter and expertise on this board that I wouldn't have expected to find, thank you.

I have also noticed such similarities (especially in grammar) although I really never questioned it. To be sure, I had just assumed that they both shared such similar Sino- origins that it shouldn't have been a surprise to see such commonality between the two languages. But after reading your post and doing a quick search online, finding a genetic relationship between the two languages does become a little more controversial than I had expected, as there seem to be many theories, with many ideas having been deemed "inconclusive" or "discredited" - two words designed to shut down non-institutionalized thinking.

I've also noticed that Thai numbers, which a majority are also are based in Sino- roots, sound very much like Sino-Korean numbers. Again, this shouldn't be a surprise, but they do sound similar, particularly more so than with Japanese numbers, at that. Regarding pure Korean numbers and words, I've found that there is speculation out there that it derives from the Altaic language family (Mongol/Siberian) or the "Ariane" (Aryan?) family, so says a random internet comment.

Again, thanks for bringing this up as it does seem worthy to entertain and explore further, for sure. 고마워요
Chinese had a very strong impact across Asia, but mostly in the form of vocabulary, and mostly nouns at that. Nouns are really easy to incorporate because they don't require any grammar adjustments (like "kimchi" or "karaoke").

It seems like the biggest argument against Japanese and Korean being from the same origin is that they don't have any native cognates, but there have been hundreds of words found to be suspiciously similar. It makes you wonder how many "coincidences" are allowed until it's no longer considered a coincidence :unsure:
 

CyborgNinja

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#9
Edo period. Edo was the name of the new capital, established under the Tokugawa shogunate.
It has been rumored that the Tokugawa dynasty were perhaps Tartar people from Russia. Some how they were fleeing a larger force and settled in Japan were they established a island fortress.

Is there any truth to that theory?
 
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UnusualBean

UnusualBean

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#11
It has been rumored that the Tokugawa dynasty were perhaps Tartar people from Russia. Some how they were fleeing a larger force and settled in Japan were they established a island fortress.

Is there any truth to that theory?
I honestly have no idea, I've never even heard that rumor before. Any more info?
 

CyborgNinja

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#12
There is little to no information, the Meiji period was a time of great historical revisionism. I was wondering if you had any information, I'll get back to you on this.

I've also been told that Mei has many chinese translations but could be translated as "without" or "is not" and Ji can be translated as "machine".

So Meiji could be translated as "without machines". Some kind of period of removal of technology.

Any truth to that?
 
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UnusualBean

UnusualBean

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#13
There is little to no information, the Meiji period was a time of great historical revisionism. I was wondering if you had any information, I'll get back to you on this.

I've also been told that Mei has many chinese translations but could be translated as "without" or "is not" and Ji can be translated as "machine".

So Meiji could be translated as "without machines". Some kind of period of removal of technology.

Any truth to that?
You are correct that in Mandarin it can be spelled to mean "without machines", but that wouldn't be possible in Japanese. That same spelling in Japanese would be read "mokki".

The Japanese spelling of Meiji means "enlightened rule", which makes sense as a name that they would've chosen to make it seem as if the emperor at that time was this great and wise ruler that everybody should respect and be thankful for.
 

in cahoots

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#14
I was quite into linguistics in my teens and has a ready grasp of French due to Canadian required courses. My interest in animation lead me to study Japanese, which proved much, much more challenging to learn than French. Multiple alphabets, non-phonetic ideograms. From everything else I've studied about developmental psychology, complex language breeds complex mind. When your basic writing system requires every child to consult a massive inner lexicon of rote-memorized facts every time they read a signpost, you probably have an expanded, innate capacity for abstraction and memorization which we see carried out in certain cultural stereotypes (math skills, discipline etc.)... It's hard to tease cause from correlation here, but I found it interesting. The basic psychological affordances of English imply a fundamentally different mental typing than those afforded (or rather required?) by Japanese and I assume this will hold for all the ideogrammatic languages of the East. I would love to know of similar discussions occurring online, in those languages -- imagine how much more we could learn of stolen history if we could bridge the language barrier!

This is trivial, but it's something I've never been able to shake: when studying introductory Japanese vocab, I cam across a single word that pretty much exactly matched its English translation. And the strangest thing was, this is a significant word, a really important, if-you-only-use-250-words-this-is-probably-one-of-them word: English 'name' / Japanese 'namae'. The odds of such a thing are calculable, but disturbingly low. When you look into PIE language (theoretical historical construct of structural commonalities among all proto-indoeuropean languages) you see it's possible to at least theorize a common ancestor to all the great languages.
 
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UnusualBean

UnusualBean

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#15
I was quite into linguistics in my teens and has a ready grasp of French due to Canadian required courses. My interest in animation lead me to study Japanese, which proved much, much more challenging to learn than French. Multiple alphabets, non-phonetic ideograms. From everything else I've studied about developmental psychology, complex language breeds complex mind. When your basic writing system requires every child to consult a massive inner lexicon of rote-memorized facts every time they read a signpost, you probably have an expanded, innate capacity for abstraction and memorization which we see carried out in certain cultural stereotypes (math skills, discipline etc.)... It's hard to tease cause from correlation here, but I found it interesting. The basic psychological affordances of English imply a fundamentally different mental typing than those afforded (or rather required?) by Japanese and I assume this will hold for all the ideogrammatic languages of the East. I would love to know of similar discussions occurring online, in those languages -- imagine how much more we could learn of stolen history if we could bridge the language barrier!
I've never come across any dedicated forums or communities for discussing this kind of stuff (of course that doesn't mean they don't exist, somewhere, maybe...). It's usually blogs or one-time discussion threads. Japanese people generally seem to be more open than westerners to the idea of the history books not being 100% correct, but not many are actively interested in it.
This is trivial, but it's something I've never been able to shake: when studying introductory Japanese vocab, I cam across a single word that pretty much exactly matched its English translation. And the strangest thing was, this is a significant word, a really important, if-you-only-use-250-words-this-is-probably-one-of-them word: English 'name' / Japanese 'namae'. The odds of such a thing are calculable, but disturbingly low. When you look into PIE language (theoretical historical construct of structural commonalities among all proto-indoeuropean languages) you see it's possible to at least theorize a common ancestor to all the great languages.
Apparently "namae" is a pretty recent word, and only became widespread during the Meiji era. Before that it was just "na". That being said, the pronunciation is totally different (neh-eem vs nah-mah-eh).

Something you might find interesting is that languages often tend to use similar sounds for the same common words. It's thought to have to do with the order in which babies and children are able to pronounce sounds (mama first, then dada, etc) and the psychological interpretation we have of different sounds (r is round, etc).
 

kentucky

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#16
Something you might find interesting is that languages often tend to use similar sounds for the same common words. It's thought to have to do with the order in which babies and children are able to pronounce sounds (mama first, then dada, etc) and the psychological interpretation we have of different sounds (r is round, etc).
Commonalities among the words for mother/father in other languages was something that broadened my perspective when I started observing that myself, for sure. Omma/appa (Korean), Baba (Farsi), etc.
 

ISeenItFirst

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#17
There was (is) a most fascinating site, called Forgotten language. In delving into that rabbit hole I came across two studies that really struck me.

The first had to do with translations. They did some kind of biometric/brain scans on people from various cultures, using various words. If you were from one kind of culture, learning the other language, would not make your brain patterns look like a native speaker. It would seem that a "true" translation is not possible, "happy" to you will never ever be the same thing as "feliz" to a Spanish speaker. In spite of, or possibly in support of that, depending on how you look at it, is the other study.

In this one they invented a bunch of random objects, they that created images of. They showed the images to lots of people of all different cultures and backgrounds and asked each of them to assign a name the item in the image. The words themselves were often different, but there was a statistically significant (puts it lightly, iirc), correlation between the actual sounds used to make the words. Such that MAY indicate that the very sounds have some kind of inherent or universal meanings to us as well.
 
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