The Language in Disappearance – Koryo-mal (The Korean language used by Koreans living in Central Asia)

Kim Byung Hak - poet, writer

Koryo-mal is one of the dialects used by Koreans who lived in the Soviet Union, except Sakhalinsk City, in the past. Koreans named their language to honor their origin, and from their forcible deportation in 1937 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the concepts of that language were clearly formed.

Koryo-mal originates from the provinces of the northeastern part of the Korean peninsula. Most of these CIS(Commonwealth of Independent States) Koreans moved to the Far East from Northern Hamgyeong Province in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The dialect was passed on to the next generation and in this way Koryo-mal was established. In the USSR there were immigrants from other provinces of the Korean Peninsula, and there were also Koreans who used other dialects, which also affected Koryo-mal. Koryo-mal is very similar to the language of Koreans in China whose dialect has the same origin and who had a similar history of migration.

Koreans who lived in Far East in the early 20th century were forcibly deported to Central Asia. As a result they lost all contacts with their homeland - the Korean peninsula. This separation lasted for more than half a century. Such an isolated life in the CIS, however, contributed to the preservation of the lexis of their ancestors without any transformations. Furthermore, Koreans from the former USSR, while living in the Far East and in the region of Central Asia, created unique words or translated Russian words into their language, and thus enriched the vocabulary of the Korean language. But on the other hand, due to the influence of Russian culture and language, the mother tongue started to fade and pronunciation deteriorated. Additionally, new words developed with Russian roots. The influence of Russian culture and language became more evident with each generation. But writers - Koreans who are living in the CIS, who publish literary works in their own language, always tried to follow the original spelling and grammar that is used in the central part of the Korean peninsula. Newspaper or literary works published by Koreans from the CIS contain the correct spelling, the same as in the Korean peninsula.

Below are some examples of dialect features of Koryo-mal in pronunciation, vocabulary, and spelling:

1. Double Sound
Koreans from the CIS use double sounds in their speech, which is more typical for the older generation.
Example: nodongza (rodongza) – worker

2. Insert “ㄱ(g)”
CIS Koreans, except Sakhalinsk inhabitants, commonly use an inserted “ㄱ(g)”. An inserted “ㄱ(g)” is mostly used with nouns and verbs, but may sometimes be included in other parts of speech.
Example: dolguda (dolida) - to twist; ttalgueora (ttarara or ttarajabara) - catch or catch up; ulguda (ullida) – to freeze; bulguda (bulida) – to soak; gumgi (gumeong) – a hole; namgi (Namu) – a tree; galgi (garu) – a powder; bulgi (bullae), bulgeoji (buruji) – an insect

3. Misuse “ㅂ(b)”
After declination attributive words are pronounced with “ㅂ(b)”, by rules they should be used without “ㅂ(b)”.
Examples: jeulgeobun (jeulgeoun) - cheerful; arumdabeun (arumdaun) - beautiful; gobun (goun) - fine; gwiyeobun (gwiyeoun) - cute; bulbopda (bureopda) – to envy.

4. Palatalization
In Russian, palatalization is a common phenomenon. For this reason, CIS Koreans’ pronunciation also acquired this phenomenon. However, the Korean language also contains words, which should be pronounced with palatalization.
Examples: sangsajiyo (sangsadiyo), Eheyajiya (Eheyadiya) - interjection; jisaeng (gisaeng); jil (gil) - road

5. Pronunciation of subscript consonant grapheme "ㅇ(ng)" as “ㄴ(n)”
Affected by Russian language bracket "ㅇ(ng)" gradually changed to “ㄴ(n)”.
Examples: Yeoncheon Arirang (Yeongcheon Arirang); dancho (dangcho) – initial; Jondalsae – Jongdalsae - lark; dajeonhan(dajeonghan) – kind

6. Dropping the last consonant “ㄴ(n)” and “ㅇ(ng)".
CIS-Koreans replace endings in words with the subscript consonant “ㄴ(n)” or “ㅇ(ng)"with the vowel "ㅣ(e)".
Examples: sai (san) - mountain; jeongsi (jeongsin) – spirit; na (nai) – age; sadui (sadon) - relatives of the groom or bride; jai (jang or doenjang) - soybean paste

7. Replacement sound “ㅎ(h)” with “ㄱ(g)”.
Due to the influence of the Russian language the sounds “ㅎ(h)”” weakens and becomes “ㄱ(g)”.
Examples: aksureul gani (aksureul hani) - you shook hands; Gwango, Songgo, etc. - Names of people: Gwanho, Songho etc.

8. Dialect and specific words
A major part of the lexis consists of vocabulary that originated from Hamgyeng province. However, there are also some words from other areas. Some specific words may also be considered dialectical if they can be connected with a particular location inhabited by Koreans.
Examples: pari (sseolmae) – sled; bulbeopda(bureopda) – to envy; nolgujari (nogojiri) - skylark; naboo (nabi) – butterfly; udundokebi - stupid people; baeppugi (baekkop) - navel; dongsam(gyeoul) - winter; heojabi (heosuabi) - scarecrow; mauze – Russian; sake-Kazakh; beke - Uzbeks; jagobe or zagube (honhyeolin) - metis

9. Loanwords from Russian
Examples: kkonkki(skate) – skate; sppekullyant(yaemaekkun) – crook; bizike (seongnyang) –matches; pinzake(jacket) – jacket

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