Are Korean and Japanese related languages?
If you've studied some Korean or Japanese, you might have noticed a few similarities between the two languages (such as similar-sounding words and grammar rules). Could the languages be related to each other? Want to know more? Find out here!
안녕하세요! (An-nyong ha-se-yo!) Hello! I'm Billy from GO! Billy Korean on YouTube.
Check out the video here, and read along with the article below!
Of course, Korean and Japanese are two different languages. Speaking Korean in Japan, or Japanese in Korean, won't get you very far (unless the person you're talking with knows both languages).
However, the two languages do have many similarities. These similarities cause many people to believe that the languages are related to each other.
I've studied both Korean and Japanese, so I want to share with you exactly how the two languages are similar and different from each other.
First let's talk about how Korean and Japanese are similar.
Similarity #1: Syntax
Syntax is the order of words in a sentence. For example, in English the sentence "I like cheese" has correct syntax, but the sentence "I cheese like" has incorrect syntax.
In English, we use a S.V.O. syntax. This means we order our sentences by first putting the Subject, then the Verb, and then the Object. For example, in the sentence "The man shot the gorilla," "the man" is the Subject, "shot" is the Verb, and "the gorilla" is the Object.
But Korean and Japanese both use a S.O.V. syntax. This means they first put the Subject, then the Verb, and then the Object - in that order. So the sentence "The man shot the gorilla" in Korean would be ordered "The man the gorilla shot."
남자가 고릴라를 쐈다 ("nam-ja-ga go-ril-la-reul sswat-da") in Korean, and 男がゴリラを撃った ("otoko-ga gorira-wo utta") in Japanese.
Similarity #2: Particles
Both languages also have particles that seem similar. An example of a particle in English could be "to," such as when you say "I went to the store."
For example, in Korean you can use the particle 에 ("e") to mean "to" when you're going to a location. This particle is used after the location.
And Japanese can use the particle に ("ni") in the same way.
For example, to say "I went to the store" in Korean it could be 저는 가게에 갔어요 ("jeo-neun ga-ge-e ga-sseo-yo"). This literally means "I store to went."
In Japanese, the same sentence could be 私は店に行きました ("watashi-wa mise-ni ikimashita"). This also literally means "I store went."
There are also other particles in both languages that have similar meanings and usage.
Similarity #3: Vocabulary
This is probably the main reason why some people start to think that Korean and Japanese are related. So much of the vocabulary of both languages seems to be similar.
For example, the Korean word for "promise" is 약속 ("yak-sok"), and the Japanese word is 約束 ("yaku-soku"). The Korean word for "relationship" is 관계 ("gwan-gye"), and the Japanese word is 関係 ("kan-kei"). And there are thousands of more words like these which sound similar between Korean and Japanese.
However, there is a simple reason to explain this. Korean and Japanese both took vocabulary words from the Chinese language, a long time ago.
Taking words from other languages is common all over the world. Even English took a lot of its vocabulary from the Latin language, which it got through the French language.
Here's a quick example of an English sentence that uses vocabulary taken from French. All of the words in bold originally came from the French language (originally from Latin).
“I ordered a baguette with an omelet yesterday à la carte from a café. When I left the maître d’ said au revoir. It felt like I was in France!”
Both Korean and Japanese work the same way, using Chinese vocabulary. Now these vocabulary words are pronounced slightly differently due to Korean and Japanese pronouncing words differently over time. As it was a very long time ago, most of these words now sound different than they used to. Some words will sound nearly identical such as "promise," but others might be unrecognizable even though they originally came from the same Chinese word.
A long time ago, in order to get an education in Korea (such as to apply to work for a government position) a person needed to be able to read and write. However, the Korean language didn't even have a writing system before the 15th century when 한글 ("han-gul"), the Korean alphabet, was created. So instead, Koreans simply learned how to read and write the Chinese language. Chinese already had a complete writing system, and Korea and China are literally next-door neighbors.
Japanese also used the Chinese language to read and write before it developed its own version of the Chinese characters, creating Japan's own unique writing system ("Hiragana"). This happened around the 5th century.
Today, over 60% of the Korean and Japanese languages are composed of vocabulary that originally came from Chinese. This means there will be a significant number of words that will seem the same between both languages, because they have the same origin.
But this doesn't mean that Korean or Japanese are related to Chinese. After all, China, Korea, and Japan are located close together, and have shared a lot of their history, culture, and vocabulary words. It also does not prove that Korean and Japanese are related to each other.
Although Korean and Japanese have similarities, they’re also very different. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why.
Difference #1: Sounds
Korean and Japanese use different phonetic sounds from each other.
For example, the Korean language uses many sounds that are not used in the Japanese language. These sounds include vowels such as 어 ("eo") and 의 ("ui"), double consonants such as ㅆ ("ss") or ㅃ ("bb"), and syllables that end with a consonant such as 뷁 ("bwek").
The Japanese language also uses many sounds that are not used in the Korean language. These sounds include つ ("tsu") sounds, "g" sounds such as が ("ga"), ぎ ("gi"), ぐ ("gu"), げ ("ge"), and ご ("go"), as well as "z" sounds such as ざ ("za"), ず ("zu"), ぜ ("ze"), and ぞ ("zo").
Overall, the phonetic sounds of the two languages are quite different.
Difference #2: Particles
Although many particles seem similar in Korean and Japanese, each works differently and can't always be exchanged for the other.
For example, you can also use the Korean particle (으)로 ("[eu]-ro") to mean "to" when used with a location. To say that you went to school, you also say 저는 학교로 갔어요 ("jeo-neun hak-gyo-ro ga-sseo-yo").
In Japanese, you can also use the particle へ ("e") in the same way. To say that you went to school, you could also say 私は学校へ行きました ("watashi-wa gakkou-e ikimashita").
However, the Korean particle (으)로 ("[eu]-ro") can also be used to mean "using," "by," or "with," such as in the sentence "I wrote it using/with a pencil." This would be 저는 연필로 썼어요 ("jeo-neun nyeon-pil-lo sseo-sseo-yo").
But the Japanese particle へ ("e") cannot be used in this same way to mean "using," "by," or "with." It can only be used to mean "to" when used with a location. Instead, to say "using," "by," or "with," you'll need to use a completely different particle - で ("de"). Then you can say "I wrote it using/with a pencil" by saying 私は鉛筆で書きました ("watashi-wa enpitsu-de kakimashita").
This particle で ("de") can be used to mean "using," "by," or "with," but it cannot be used to mean "to" when used with a location. Instead, when used with a location the particle で ("de") means "at."
You can see that although some particles match together in some cases, the particles themselves are not actually interchangeable and do not have the same meanings in all cases.
Not only these particles, but there are also slight differences between every particle in Korean and Japanese.
Difference #3: Native Vocabulary
By "native vocabulary" I mean words that didn't come from Chinese, but were originally in Korean and Japanese from a long time ago.
If Korean and Japanese were related to each other, this is the key place to look for similarities. After all, if they're related then we should find similarities between the two languages' vocabulary before they added so much Chinese vocabulary.
However, there aren't any interesting similarities at all here. Linguists have found some similar-sounding words, but none significant enough to show that the two languages may have been related - even a very long time ago.
Actually, there are similar-sounding words between almost any two languages. These are called "false cognates." False cognates are words in two languages that sound similar, and have similar meanings, but are actually not related at all. For example, the Japanese word 起きる ("okiru") means "to occur," and also sounds similar to the English word "occur." There are large lists of false cognates online that you can find with a quick search.
Korean and Japanese are actually both known as "language isolates." This means their origins are isolated from each other, and they were created separately.
Now, I'm not saying that it's impossible that Korean and Japanese could be related to each other. After all, they're very close together. But I am saying that there is currently no good evidence that would suggest this.
But Korea and Japan have influenced each other, through culture and history, for a very long time.
Especially during the late 1800s until the end of World War II - during this time Korea was being occupied by the Japanese government. Many words that were used in Japanese at this time were brought over into Korea, such as the word for 전화 ("jeon-hwa") meaning "telephone," and thousands more. Even the word 빵 ("bbang") meaning "bread" came through the Japanese language, which was originally brought into Japanese through the Portugese word for bread - "pao."
Japan and Korea have definitely influenced each other. There's plenty of proof to show how they have each affected the other through history, culture, and language. However, the Korean language and the Japanese language themselves are not related to each other beneath the surface.
If you have any questions for me, you can also comment below this article. I love teaching Korean, and I'd love to help you.
If you're learning Korean for the first time, check out my book here. --> Korean Made Simple: A beginner's guide to learning the Korean language
Also visit my YouTube channel, where I upload videos about Korea and Korean every week. --> GO! Billy Korean on YouTube