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Korean (한국어/조선말) is the official language of North Korea and SouthKorea. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers. In the 15th century a national writing system was developed by Sejong the Great, currently called Hangul.
The genealogical classification of the Korean language is debated. Some linguists place it in the Altaic language family, while others consider it to be a language isolate. Some believe it to be distantly related to Japanese. Like Japanese it isagglutinative in its morphology and SOV in its syntax.
The classification of the modern Korean language is uncertain, and due to the lack of any one generally accepted theory, a cautious classification will describe it as alanguage isolate.
On the other hand, since the publication of the article of Ramstedt in 1928, some linguists support the hypothesis that Korean can be classified as an Altaic language or as a relative of proto-Altaic. Korean is similar to the Altaic languages in that they both lack certain grammatical elements, including articles, fusional morphology and relative pronouns. However, linguists agree today on the fact that typological resemblances cannot be used to prove genetic relatedness of languages as these features are typologically connected and easily borrowed. Such factors of typological divergence as Middle Mongolian’s exhibition of gender agreement can be used to argue that a genetic relationship is unlikely.
The hypothesis that Korean might be related to Japanese has had some more supporters due to some considerable overlap in vocabulary and similar grammatical features that have been elaborated upon by such researchers as Samuel E. Martin and Roy Andrew Miller. Sergei Starostin (1991) found about 25% of potential cognates in the Japanese-Korean 100-word Swadesh list, which – if true – would place these two languages closer together than other possible members of the Altaic family.
Other linguists, most notably Alexander Vovin, argue, however, that the similarities are not due to any genetic relationship, but rather to a sprachbund effect and heavy borrowing especially from Korean into Western Old Japanese.A good example might be Middle Korean sàm < Proto-Korean asam ‘hemp’ and Japanese asa ‘hemp’.This word seems to be cognate, but while it is well-attested in Western Old Japanese and Northern Ryūkyū, in Eastern Old Japanese it only occurs in compounds, and it is only present in three subdialects of the South-Ryūkyūan dialect group. Then, the doublet wo ‘hemp’ is attested in Western Old Japanese and Southern Ryūkyū. It is thus plausible to assume a borrowed term. See East Asian languages for morphological features shared among languages of the East Asian sprachbund, and Classification of Japanese for further details on the discussion of a possible relationship.
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