Japanese Learning Korean— 5. What Should We Call Korean Language In Japanese?

A few weeks ago I went to the art exhibition of North Korean’s junior high & high school in Tokyo. My friend introduced me to the art teacher of the school. I greeted him in Korean and told him

“I am learning Korean.”

…It seemed there was no problem, writing this episode in English. But we were talking in Japanese.

Was there any problem?

Actually I said “I am learning kankoku-go… Sorry, Chousen-go!”

Kankoku-go means language of South Korea (go means language). I usually use this word as Korean language, but that time I talked to North Korean. So I collected myself saying “Chousen-go”.

Chousen… in Korean Choseon, indicates the past kingdom of Korea. It was called so after Japan occupied Korea. And now, North Korea is called so.

rainbow kidKankoku-go and Chousen-go… are they different languages?

Same language. Though there are a few difference in rule of pronunciation…

So Japanese learning Korean like me always worry what we should call Korean language.

For Japanese, Chousen-go seems to be fair term because we called the peninsula of Korea Chousen peninsula.

But as we’ve interacted with people of South Korean (yet we don’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea), we found that term wasn’t comfortable for them. Because They called the peninsula of Korea Han-bando, in Japanese Kan-hantou, means the peninsula of Kankoku.

So most Japanese people called Korean kankoku-go. But we know it isn’t used in South Korea.

It’s not like the term “English”. English is used also in America, Canada, Australia or any other country. But the origin was in England, I believe.

But Korean language has been used in all of Korean peninsula. Though it is divided now, it was one country for a long time.

rainbow kid disappointedHmmm… what should we do?

There were some funny solutions.

Some education TV program was named “Hangul Lesson”. It taught Korean language, conversation in Korean.

rainbow kidWhat’s hangul?

Hangul is Korean alphabet. Characters.

Can we converse in alphabet?

It must be difficult…

Or, someone said we should Korean language “urimal” as both North and South Korean people do.

rainbow kid surprisedUrimal… Sounds good! Why don’t you call Korean language urimal?

I don’t because it means “our language” in Korean.

Oh, not suitable for foreigners… other solution?

Some people call Korean language “Korean”. Or Korea-go.

…Not bad solution, isn’t it?

Well, not bad… but not good…


Though there were unhappy, bad history between Korea and our country (I know of course our country is to blame), we are neighbors, aren’t we? Why should we use far country’s language to call neighbor’s language?

So you usually call kankoku-go, South Korean language.

Yes. It’s because the reason I started to learn this language was meeting with South Korean people, and love for South Korean movies. Though I know it’s the best term… And I was polite enough to call it Chousen-go in front of people who have North Korean nationality.