Korean, a Core Language of Northeast Asia

In Northeast Asia—China, Japan, Korea, and the regions of Siberia adjacent to it—the Korean language has a smaller presence now than the more dominant languages of Chinese, Japanese, and Russian. However, according to John B. Whitman, Linguistics, Korean shares features of all of these languages and many of their numerous ancestors. Whitman, along with language experts from Europe, North America, Korea, and Japan, are coming together to better understand and define Northeast Asia as a linguistic area and to clarify Korean’s central role.

A linguistic area is a region in which the languages spoken originally, going far back into history, share many features in common. Similar language areas can be found in North America, the Balkans, Papua New Guinea, and elsewhere.

The Northeast Asian linguistic area is made up of several subareas: a region of robust vowel harmony including Mongolic and Tungusic languages; a region of languages with lexical pitch accent including Ainu, Japanese, and Ryukyuan; and a group of languages that have undergone relatively heavy Sinitic influence. Only Korean is a member of all three of subareas.

Previous research on these languages has focused only on East Asia or has been segregated between East Asian and Siberian languages. Whitman and his team will be the first to bring various research areas together and to direct their focus to Korean.

The project received one of five annual awards funded by the Academy of Korean Studies’ Laboratory Grant for Korean Studies. It is only the third project to be funded in linguistics since the award’s inception in 2007.

Cornell Researcher

Funding Received

$1.2 Million spanning 5 years

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