Jejueo, Korea's endangered language

Moira Saltzman
Tuesday, November 12, 2019 -
7:30pm to 9:00pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
10,000won for non-members and 5,000won for student non-members (with student ID); free for members

Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch lecture series

이미지: 사람 6명, 웃고 있음, 사람들이 앉아 있는 중, 테이블, 실내

* Photograph (above): 'Retired Divers' (Credit by Giuseppe Rositano) 

Jejueo, Korea's endangered language


South Korea is considered one of the most linguistically homogenous countries worldwide, and this image is promulgated by governmental policies, the educational system, and linguistic scholars. When South Korea regained its independence after the Japanese occupation in 1945, language standardization and the ‘purity’ of the Korean language became a governmental priority (Song 2012). In South Korean schools, the majority of classroom hours are allocated to “correct use of the Korean language” (Song 2012:30) and popular television shows promote prescriptivist grammar and lexicon (Seth 2011:25). In his oft-cited reference grammar of the Korean language, Sohn (1999:12) writes, “Despite [...] geographical and sociopolitical dialectal differences, Korean is relatively homogenous, with excellent mutual intelligibility among speakers from different areas.”

However, Jejueo, the indigenous language of Jeju Island, is less than 12% mutually intelligible with Korean (O’Grady 2015). Jejueo is classified as critically endangered, with approximately 5,000 fluent speakers over the age of 75 (UNESCO 2010) and language use rapidly shifting to Korean. What, then, is Korea’s responsibility toward its second language? What can Jejueo reveal about the history of the Korean language family and cultural diversity? More broadly, what is lost when a language dies?


Moira Saltzman is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Michigan. She earned her MA in Linguistics from Wayne State University. Moira’s PhD research focuses on the historical development of Jejueo, the indigenous language of Jeju Island. She is interested in language contact and change, and the interplay of social forces such as language use and power relationships in linguistic and cultural contact environments. Moira’s research includes the ongoing development of a talking dictionary of Jejueo, a free online multimedia database of the language. Her work has most recently been supported by the Nam Center for Korean Studies, the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies and the Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan.

Venue:          Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace,

                      Gwanghwamun (near Anguk Station, across street from Japanese Embassy)

                      * Somerset Palace is no longer providing free parking. 


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Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch
Room 611, Korean Christian Building, Daehak-ro 19 (Yeonji-dong), Jongno-gu, Seoul 03129
[03129] 서울시 종로구 대학로 19 (연지동) 한국기독교회관 611호

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