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The Koreanic languages are a language family consisting of the modern Korean language together with extinct ancient relatives closer to it than to any other proposed links.

South Korea, North Korea, Northeast China, Far East Russia
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's primary language families
During the 5th century AD, the Koreanic languages were spoken in the Three Kingdoms of Korea – a much wider area than modern Korea.

The Jeju language of Jeju Island, considered by some as a dialect of modern Korean, is distinct enough to be considered a language in its own right by other authorities. Some consider that rather than being a language isolate, Korean forms a small language family, together with Jeju.


External relationshipsEdit

Among extant languages, Korean is considered by most linguists to be a language isolate and by some as part of the widely rejected Altaic family or the Dravido-Korean languages.[2]Alexander Vovin (2015)[3] notes that Koreanic shares some typological features with the four Paleosiberian language groups (e.g. lack of phonemic voiced stops, verb compounding, earlier ergativity), and suggests that it actually has more in common with "Paleosiberian" (which is a geographical and areal grouping rather a genetic one) than with the putative Altaic group.

Koreanic also has some loanwords from Paleosiberian languages.[4] Vovin notes that Koreanic has some Tungusic loanwords, but is not genetically related to Tungusic.

The unclassified Khitan language has some vocabulary similar to that of Korean and not found in the Mongolian or Tungusic languages. This suggests to some a strong Korean presence or that Khitan was in fact a Koreanic or para-Koreanic language.[5]


The periodization of the historical stages of Korean is as follows:

  • Before 1st century: Proto-Korean
  • 1st to 10th century: Old Korean
  • 10th to 16th century: Middle Korean
  • 17th century to present: Modern Korean

Ancient Koreanic languagesEdit

Several ancient languages of the Korean peninsula—Silla, Buyeo, Goguryeo, Dongye, Okjeo, Baekje, Gojoseon and Ye-Maek—may have been ancestral to, related to, or part of Old Korean. Two branches are sometimes posited, Goguryeo and Han.[6]

In ancient times, Koreanic languages, then established in southern Manchuria and the northern Korean peninsula, expanded southward to the central and southern Korean peninsula, displacing the Japonic languages spoken there and possibly causing the Yayoi migrations.[7][8][9][10][11] There is disagreement over the protohistorical or historical period during which this expansion occurred, ranging from the Korean Bronze Age period to the Three Kingdoms of Korea period.

Modern Koreanic languagesEdit

Modern Korean is traditionally considered a single language. However, Jeju (Cheju) is sometimes classified as a distinct language, for example in the UNESCO atlas on endangered languages. If that is accepted, there are two modern Koreanic languages, Jeju and Korean proper.[12]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Koreanic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Kim, Chin-Wu (1974). The Making of the Korean Language. Center for Korean Studies, University of Hawai'i.
  3. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2015). "Korean as a Paleosiberian Language". 알타이할시리즈 2. ISBN 978-8-955-56053-4. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  4. ^ Vovin, Alexander. 2003. ‘Etymological notes on some Paleosiberian and Tungusic loanwords in Korean’, in Proceedings for Korean Language and Culture 5/6: 57-60, St. Petersburg, Russia.
  5. ^ Vovin, Alexander (June 2017). "Koreanic loanwords in Khitan and their importance in the decipherment of the latter". Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. 70 (2): 207–215. doi:10.1556/062.2017.70.2.4. ISSN 0001-6446.
  6. ^ Young Kyun Oh, 2005. Old Chinese and Old Sino-Korean
  7. ^ Bellwood, Peter (2013). The Global Prehistory of Human Migration. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 9781118970591.
  8. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2013). "From Koguryo to Tamna: Slowly riding to the South with speakers of Proto-Korean". Korean Linguistics. 15 (2): 222–240.
  9. ^ Lee, Ki-Moon; Ramsey, S. Robert (2011). A History of the Korean language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-66189-8.
  10. ^ Whitman, John (2011). "Northeast Asian Linguistic Ecology and the Advent of Rice Agriculture in Korea and Japan". Rice. 4 (3–4): 149–158.
  11. ^ Unger, J. Marshall (2009). The role of contact in the origins of the Japanese and Korean languages. Honolulu: University of Hawai?i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3279-7.
  12. ^ Janhunen, Juha, 1996. Manchuria: an ethnic history
  13. ^ a b Lee & Ramsey, 2000. The Korean language