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Korean is the official language of South Korea and North Korea as well as one of the two official languages in China's Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. Approximately 78 million people speak Korean worldwide. For over a millennium, Korean was written with adapted Chinese characters called hanja, complemented by phonetic systems like hyangchal, gugyeol, and idu. In the 15th century, a national writing system called hangul was commissioned by Sejong the Great, but it only came into widespread use in the 20th century, because of the yangban aristocracy's preference for hanja. While (apart from certain ancient languages of Korea) the majority of linguists consider Korean to be a language isolate, there have been attempts to link it with other languages in the region. Korean is similar to the Altaic languages in lacking certain grammatical elements, including articles, fusional morphology and relative pronouns. Since Ramstedt's 1928 article, some linguists support the hypothesis that Korean can be classified as an Altaic language or as a relative of proto-Altaic. However, linguists agree today that typological resemblances cannot be used to prove genetic relatedness of languages, as these features are typologically connected and easily borrowed. Such factors of typological divergence as Middle Mongolian's exhibition of gender agreement can be used to argue that a genetic relationship is unlikely.

Also Called:

Chaoxian, Hanguk Mal, Hanguk Uh, Hanguohua

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