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What Language Do They Speak in North Korea?

What Language Do They Speak in North Korea

Key Takeaways:

Official LanguageKorean (조선말 or 조선어)
Writing SystemHangul
DialectHamgyŏng, Pyongan, and Central dialects
Foreign LanguagesRussian and English taught in schools
Cultural InfluenceKorean language has been influenced by Chinese


The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly known as North Korea, is a country with rich cultural and linguistic heritage. The official and most widely spoken language in North Korea is Korean. However, the way Korean is spoken and written in the North has some distinctions from its southern counterpart.

The Historical Evolution of the Korean Language in North Korea

Pre-modern Era

Historically, the Korean language was heavily influenced by Classical Chinese. Before the creation of the Korean script, known as Hangul, Korean was primarily written in Classical Chinese characters called Hanja.

Modern Era

With the division of Korea into North and South post World War II, the languages in the two regions began to diverge. North Korea started a movement to purify the Korean language, removing foreign words and reintroducing native Korean terms.

Dialects in North Korea

In North Korea, there are three primary dialects:

  1. Hamgyŏng Dialect: Spoken in the northeastern provinces. This dialect is distinct and can be challenging for speakers of other dialects to understand.
  2. Pyongan Dialect: Spoken in the areas around the capital, Pyongyang. This dialect has become the standard form of Korean in North Korea.
  3. Central Dialect: Spoken in the central regions of North Korea.
DialectRegionDistinctive Features
HamgyŏngNortheastern ProvincesFast speech pace, unique vocabulary
PyonganAround PyongyangConsidered the standard in North Korea
CentralCentral regionsModerate pace, blends features of other dialects

The Writing System: Hangul

Hangul, the Korean script, was introduced in the 15th century by King Sejong the Great. Its purpose was to provide a writing system that was easier to learn than Classical Chinese.

In North Korea, Hangul is exclusively used for all writings. Hanja, the use of Chinese characters, has been almost entirely phased out.

Features of Hangul

  • Alphabetical System: Unlike Chinese characters, Hangul is an alphabetic system.
  • Syllabic Blocks: Letters are grouped into syllabic blocks rather than written linearly.
  • Phonetic: Hangul is designed to represent the phonetic sounds of the Korean language.
Hangul FeatureDescription
AlphabeticalConsists of 14 consonants and 10 vowels
Syllabic BlocksGrouping of letters to form syllables
PhoneticRepresents the sounds of the Korean language

Foreign Language Influence

While Korean is the dominant language, North Korea has integrated the study of foreign languages into its education system. Russian was a significant foreign language during the Soviet era. However, English is now widely taught in schools, emphasizing reading and writing rather than conversational skills.

Commonly Taught Foreign Languages:

  • Russian
  • English
  • Chinese


The Korean language in North Korea, while sharing its roots with South Korea, has undergone unique changes due to historical, political, and cultural influences. The removal of foreign influences, the exclusive use of Hangul, and the emphasis on pure Korean dialects highlight North Korea’s commitment to preserving its linguistic identity. The study of foreign languages, particularly English, also showcases North Korea’s acknowledgment of global languages.