See-Gyoon Park


Little authentic documentation is available on the origin of the Korean language. Thus, inferences to the genetic affiliation of the language have been made on the basis of various degrees of linguistic resemblances, often supported by archaeological or ethnological findings. Also, earlier forms of the language are not readily accessible because written historical data for internal reconstruction or comparative work are scarce and cannot be traced far back. Some old language fragments are available only in the literature dating from the eleventh century, such as Gyun-yeo jeon (Life of the Great Master Gyun-yeo, 1075) by Hyeklyen Ceng, Gyerim Yusa (Things on Korea, 1103-4) by Chinese Sung Dynasty scholar Sun Mu, Samguk Sagi (Historical Record of the Three Kingdoms, 1145) by Kim Busik, and Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms, 1285) by Monk Il.yen, all of which are written in Chinese characters. Moreover, much of the earlier vocabulary has been either irretrievably lost or obscured by succeeding waves of linguistic contacts, including a massive influx of Chinese loan words. Lacking solid evidence in establishing the genealogy of Korean, innumerable attempts has been made to relate the language to diverse language families such as the Indo-European, the TibetoBurman, the Dravidian, the Atlantic, the Austronesian, and the Paleosiberian. While there are many ingenious studies based upon the widely accepted principles of comparative method and internal reconstruction, there are also numerous amateurish attempts based merely on accidental lexical resemblances, linguistic borrowings, shared typological features, or anthropological similarities. For instance, Koppelmann (1933) and Eckardt (1966) attempt to relate Korean to Indo-European, observing certain accidental lexical and anthropological resemblances. Hulbert (1905) maintains that Korean is related to the Dravidian languages in India in view of such shared syntactic features as word order and the lack of a gender system. Rahder’s (1956-61) etymological dictionary of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Ainu lists, for each of his lexical entries, forms from a vast variety of the world’s languages not compared in accordance with the established principles of comparative linguistics. This evidential opacity leads some linguists to treat Korean, together with Japanese, as a separate language family along with other major language families such as IndoEuropean, Afro-Asiatic, Uralic, Altaic, Sino-Tibetan, Dravidian, Austronesian, and Amerind (Pei, 1954: 31).

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