How Korean and Japanese are Similar Yet Different

My first encounter with the Japanese language was when I was a little boy whose eyes were glued to the screen scheduled for a series of non-stop anime. I didn't know what was spoken but I just loved the cartoons. And then, I came across the Korean language when I was in my late teens. At that time, I grew fond of the Korean language because of how it sounded. To me, the melody of the Korean and Japanese language sounds distinct to its uniqueness that intrigued me to become a language nerd.


If you ever had a chance to take a closer look at Korean and Japanese, you may have noticed some similarities between them. However, they are two completely different languages with their unique characteristics. In this article, you’ll understand how Korean and Japanese are both similar in many ways, yet very different.


The Similarities


Generally speaking, the syntax is the order of words in a sentence.


For example, the sentence “Man killed the gorilla”, where “man” is the subject, “killed” is the predicate (verb/action word) and “gorilla” is the object, in Korean and Japanese they will sound literally like this: “Man the gorilla killed”.


First, the sentence has a subject, then an object, and at the very end a predicate (verb/action word).


In Korean, 남자고릴라쐈다 ("nam-ja-ga go-ril-la-reul sswat-da").

In Japanese, ゴリラ撃った (otoko-ga gorira-wo utta).



In English, particles are placed before the word to which they belong (I went to the store), then in Japanese and Korean, they are placed after.


For example, in Korean, a preposition “in” corresponds to the particle (“e”), and the sentence “I went to the store” would sound, 저는 가게 어요 (“jeo-neun ga-ge-e ga-sseo-yo” ), which literally translates as "I went the store to."  is the particle referring to the preposition "in" for this case.


In Japanese, the same sentence will be 行きました ("watashi-wa mise-ni ikimashita"). (wa) and (ni) are both particles placed behind the subject and object respectively. in this case refers to the preposition "in" as well. , on the other hand, is usually used after the word , to indicate the pronoun or subject.



Vocabulary is perhaps the main reason people think Japanese and Korean are similar. Because the pronunciation of words sounds almost the same.


For example:


약속 ("yak-sok") and 約束 ("yaku-soku") - a promise;

관계 ("gwan-gye") and 関係 ("kan-kei") relationships;

인간 ("in-gan") and 人間 ("nin-gen") - a person;

미래 ("mi-lae") and 未来 ("mi-rai") the future;

악마 ("ag-ma") and 悪 魔 ("aku-ma") - a demon;

묵시록 ("mug-si-log") and 黙 示 録 ("moku-shi-roku") - an apocalypse


This similarity is understandable. The fact is that both languages borrowed the vocabulary from the Chinese language a long time ago. Over the course of history, the sound of Chinese words began to differ from how they were pronounced in Korean and Japanese because of the phonetic features of the languages. Some words, such as "promise," sound similar, and some are completely different, despite the fact that their roots are from the Chinese language.


Now let's talk about the differences.


The Differences


Japanese and Korean are phonetically different. There are many sounds In Korean that you cannot find in Japanese. Such sounds consist only of vowels.


For example, 어 (“eo”) and 의 (“ui”); or from double consonants: ㅆ (“ss”) or ㅃ (“bb”). There are also syllables that end with a consonant, for example, 뷁 ("bwek").


In Japanese, there are also many sounds that are absent in Korean. For example, つ ("tsu"), sounds starting with "g", that is, が ("ga"), ぎ ("gi"), ぐ ("gu"), げ ("ge"), ご ( “go”), as well as sounds starting with “dz” - ざ (“za”), ず (“zu”), ぜ (“ze”), and ぞ (“zo”).



Despite the fact that particles in Japanese and Korean seem similar, each of them can be used in different ways and sometimes not the same as the other.


For example, the Korean particle (으) 로 (“[eu] -ro”) can be used as a preposition “in” when we are talking about direction. Thus, the sentence “I went to school” may sound like 저는 학교 어요 (“jeo-neun hak-gyo-ro ga-sseo-yo”).


In Japanese, へ (“e”) or に (“ni”) indicates direction. The same sentence about school, 学校へ(に) 行きました (“watashi-wa gakkou-e (ni) ikimashita”).


Native vocabulary

Native vocabulary” refers to native Japanese or native Korean words.


If we assume that both of these languages ​​are similar, then you need to examine closely the layers of vocabulary for similarities. If there are similarities in terms of native vocabulary, you should be able to find the same primordial words that existed way before the time when both languages ​​borrowed vocabulary from the Chinese.


However, there are no significant similarities between Korean and Japanese in the context of native words. Linguists found only a few words with a similar sound, but this is not enough to say that both languages had some kind of interconnection a long time ago.


In fact, ​​you can find words similar in sound in any pair of languages. They are called "false friends". These are words that sound the same, have the same meaning, but historically have nothing to do with each other.


For example, the Japanese word 起こる ("okoru"), which means "occur" in tune with the English "occur". But it holds a different meaning altogether.


It is worth noting that, although the Japanese and Korean languages are pretty close, at the moment there is no evidence to confirm their direct relationship.


However, both countries have been influencing each other's culture and history for centuries. Especially from the end of the 19th century until the end of World War II, when Korea was annexed by Japan. It was during this period that Korean words appeared in Japanese vocabulary at that time.


For example:

“telephone”; 전화 (“jeon-hwa”); 電話 (“den-wa”).

"bread"; 빵 (“bbang”) — this word came from the Portuguese language (“pao”) through the Japanese language, where it sounds like パン (“pan”).



That said, despite the huge influence on the history and culture of its neighbor by each country, at the linguistic level, Japan and Korea are fundamentally different from each other. Both languages remain as language isolates to this day.

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1 Comment

  1. Damion Schleiff on 13 Dec 2019 at 13:14

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