A Fluctuating History of the Sinographic Lexicon: the Case of Korean Language(s)

Younès M’Ghari

A Fluctuating History of the Sinographic Lexicon:

the Case of Korean Language(s)

Like Khitans and Jurchens in the North and Japanese in the East, Koreans have been significantly influenced by Chinese culture throughout history. However, the numerous borrowings in question in this sinographic cosmopolis would not always occur directly from China to another given culture (e.g., Confucianism, toponymy, chajangmyŏn), nor would they necessarily originate from China in the first place (e.g., Buddhism). As for languages, sinographs and Literary Chinese have been borrowed in China’s neighbouring kingdoms before the development of vernacular scripts and literature and kept being used many centuries afterwards. This especially contributed to the use of Chinese loanwords in these vernacular languages.

What I shall call the sinographic lexicon in the Korean language doesn’t only consist of the previously mentioned Chinese loanwords – which can either be written in sinographs or vernacular script (i.e., Sino-Korean words; 漢字語), or only in vernacular script (i.e., so-called “native words” which actually do include loanwords; 固有; Lee & Ramsey 2011:69). It also encompasses words locally created with the help of sinographs (or their remanent pronunciations) – which could, for some of them, also be invented locally – and a substantial number of other words built by Japanese scholars (especially during the Meiji era) and borrowed in their turn.

Studies such as Huh’s (1983) and M’Ghari’s (2017) respectively contributed to underline the important part of either the Sino-Korean lexicon or sinographic lexicon in the South and North variants of Contemporary Korean although they do not have the pretention to perfectly describe their use since it would need to take into consideration as many criteria as each speaker would according to his identity(ies), his goal(s), the context he either speaks or writes in, etc. In order to get a better overview of the representativeness and of the nature of sinographic words at different stages of the Korean language, I propose a methodology for a new research on the basis of primary source texts by style or genre of writing (文體).

Huh, Woong (1983). “Development of the Korean language” in Korean National Commission for UNESCO. The Korean Language. Seoul: The Si-sa-yong-o-sa Publishers.

Lee, Ki-Moon & Ramsey, S. Robert (2011). A History of the Korean Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

M’Ghari, Younès (2017). (Non-)Représentativité du lexique sino-coréen en langue nord-coréenne contemporaine (Unpublished master’s dissertation). Paris: EHESS.