Puyŏ languages

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  • Buyeo
  • Fuyu
  • Koguryoic
Korean peninsula, Manchuria
Linguistic classificationKoreanic ?
  • Puyŏ
History of Korea-001.png
The Korean peninsula in the 1st century

Puyŏ (Korean: 부여 Puyŏ/Buyeo; Chinese: 扶餘; pinyin: Fúyú), or Koguryoic, is a group of four languages of northern Korea and eastern Manchuria mentioned in ancient Chinese sources. The languages of Buyeo, Goguryeo, Dongye and Okjeo were said to be similar to one another but different from the language of the Yilou to the north (believed on non-linguistic grounds to be Tungusic) and those of the Samhan ('three Han') to the south.[1] Other sources suggest that the ruling class of Baekje may have spoken a Puyŏ language.[2]

The Puyŏ languages are very poorly attested,[3][4] and their affiliation is unclear.[5][6] However, most researchers in Korea assume that Puyŏ and Han form the two branches of the Koreanic language family.[7][8]

Puyŏ and Han languages[edit]

Chinese histories provide the only contemporaneous descriptions of peoples of the Korean peninsula and eastern Manchuria in the early centuries of the common era.[9] They contain impressionistic remarks about the languages of the area based on second-hand reports, and sometimes contract one another.[10]

Chapter 30 "Description of the Eastern Barbarians" of the Records of the Three Kingdoms records a survey carried out by the Chinese state of Wei after their defeat of Goguryeo in 244. The report states that the languages of Buyeo, Goguryeo and Ye were similar, and that the language of Okjeo was only slightly different from them.[11] They were said to be quite different from the languages of the Samhan ('three Han') in the southern part of the Korean peninsula.[12] Based on this text, Lee Ki-Moon divided the languages spoken on the Korean peninsula at that time into Puyŏ and Han groups.[13] Lee originally proposed that these were two branches of a Koreanic language family, a view that was widely adopted by scholars in Korea.[14][a] He later argued that the Puyŏ languages were intermediate between Korean and Japanese.[2]

The same text records that the language of the Yilou to the north differed from that of Buyeo and Goguryeo. Chapter 94 of the History of the Northern Dynasties (compiled in 659) states that the language of the Mohe in the same area was different from that of Goguryeo. These languages are completely unattested, but are believed, on the basis of their location and the description of the people, to have been Tungusic.[12]

The Book of Liang (635) states that the language of Baekje was the same as that of Goguryeo.[2] According to Korean traditional history, the kingdom of Baekje was founded by immigrants from Goguryeo who took over the Mahan confederacy.[15] Based on a passage in the Book of Zhou (636) and some Baekje words cited in the Japanese history Nihon Shoki (720), Kōno Rokurō argued that the kingdom of Baekje was bilingual, with the gentry speaking a Puyŏ language and the common people a Han language.[16][17]

Christopher Beckwith claimed that the Puyŏ languages (which he called Koguryoic) were most closely related to Japanese.[18] Beckwith's work has been criticized on both linguistic and historical grounds, though the former presence of Japonic languages on the Korean peninsula is widely accepted.[19][20][21] Some authors believe that the Puyŏ languages belong to the Tungusic family.[5][22] Others believe that there is insufficient evidence to support a classification.[6]

Alexander Vovin and James Marshall Unger argue that Goguryeo brought an early form of the Korean language to the peninsula from Manchuria, replacing the Japonic languages which they believe were spoken in the Samhan.[23][24]

Linguistic data[edit]

There is no evidence of the languages of Buyeo, Okjeo or Ye, but Goguryeo became a powerful kingdom, conquering much of central Korea before it was destroyed by the armies of Silla and the Chinese Tang dynasty in the late 7th century.[12] The Korean history Samguk sagi contains glosses of placenames from Goguryeo, but these are difficult to interpret, and many scholars also doubt that they reflect the language of Goguryeo.[25] Other evidence of the Goguryeo language is extremely meagre.

Chapter 37 of the Samguk sagi (compiled in 1145) contains a list of pronunciations and meanings of placenames in the former kingdom of Goguryeo. Both are recorded in Chinese characters, making their pronunciations difficult to interpret, but different names appear to resemble Tungusic, Korean and Japonic words.[26][27] Other authors point out that most of the place names come from central Korea, an area captured by Goguryeo from Baekje and other states in the 5th century, and none from the historical homeland of Goguryeo north of the Taedong River.[28] These authors suggest that the place names reflect the languages of those states rather than that of Goguryeo.[29][30] This would explain why they seem to reflect multiple language groups.[31] It is generally agreed that these glosses demonstrate that Japonic languages were once spoken in part of the Korean peninsula, but there is no consensus on the identity of the speakers.[25]

A small number of inscriptions have been found in Goguryeo, the earliest being the Gwanggaeto Stele (erected in Ji'an in 414). All are written in Chinese, but feature some irregularities that reflect the native language of their authors. These include occasional use of object–verb order (as found in Korean) instead of the usual Chinese verb–object order, and particles 之 and 伊, for which some authors have proposed Korean interpretations.[32][33]

Chinese texts such as the Book of Wei (6th century) contain a few Goguryeo words, which appear to have Korean etymologies.[34] The Jurchen and Manchu languages contain loanwords that appear to be Korean; Alexander Vovin proposes Goguryeo as the likely source.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kim Nam-Kil describes Puyŏ and Han as two dialects of the ancient Korean language.[8]


  1. ^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), pp. 34–35.
  2. ^ a b c Lee & Ramsey (2011), p. 44.
  3. ^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), pp. 35, 43–44.
  4. ^ Tranter (2012), p. 5.
  5. ^ a b Sohn (1999), p. 39.
  6. ^ a b Georg (2017), p. 151.
  7. ^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), p. 43.
  8. ^ a b Kim (2009), p. 766.
  9. ^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), p. 31.
  10. ^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), p. 36.
  11. ^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), p. 34.
  12. ^ a b c Lee & Ramsey (2011), p. 35.
  13. ^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), pp. 34–36.
  14. ^ Whitman (2013), pp. 249–250.
  15. ^ Sohn (1999), p. 38.
  16. ^ Vovin (2005), p. 119.
  17. ^ Kōno (1987), pp. 84–85.
  18. ^ Beckwith (2004), pp. 27–28.
  19. ^ Pellard (2005), pp. 168–169.
  20. ^ Unger (2009), pp. 74–80.
  21. ^ Byington (2006), pp. 147–164.
  22. ^ Beckwith (2004), p. 19.
  23. ^ Vovin (2013), pp. 237–238.
  24. ^ Unger (2009), p. 87.
  25. ^ a b Whitman (2011), p. 154.
  26. ^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), pp. 37–44.
  27. ^ Itabashi (2003).
  28. ^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), pp. 40–41.
  29. ^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), p. 40.
  30. ^ Toh (2005), pp. 23–26.
  31. ^ Whitman (2013), pp. 251–252.
  32. ^ Vovin (2005), pp. 117–119.
  33. ^ Nam (2012), p. 42.
  34. ^ Vovin (2013), pp. 228–232.
  35. ^ Vovin (2013), pp. 224–226, 232.

Works cited[edit]

  • Beckwith, Christopher I. (2004), Koguryo, the Language of Japan's Continental Relatives, Brill, ISBN 978-90-04-13949-7.
  • Byington, Mark E. (2006), "Christopher I. Beckwith—Koguryo, the Language of Japan's Continental Relatives (Leiden: Brill, 2004)", Acta Koreana, 9 (1): 141–166.
  • Georg, Stefan (2017), "Other isolated languages of Asia", in Campbell, Lyle (ed.), Language Isolates, Routledge, pp. 139–161, ISBN 978-1-317-61090-8.
  • Itabashi, Yoshizo (2003), "Kōkuri no chimei kara Kōkurigo to Chōsengo/Nihongo to no shiteki kankei wo saguru" 高句麗の地名から高句麗語と朝鮮語・日本語との史的関係をさぐる [A study of the historical relationship of the Koguryo language, the Old Japanese language, and the Middle Korean language on the basis of fragmentary glosses preserved as place names in the Samguk sagi], in Vovin, Alexander; Osada, Toshiki (eds.), Nihongo keitoron no genzai 日本語系統論の現在 [Perspectives on the Origins of the Japanese Language] (in Japanese), Kyoto: International Center for Japanese Studies, pp. 131–185, doi:10.15055/00005276.
  • Kim, Nam-Kil (2009), "Korean", in Comrie, Bernard (ed.), The World's Major Languages (2nd ed.), London: Routledge, pp. 765–779, ISBN 978-0-415-35339-7.
  • Kōno, Rokurō (1987), "The bilingualism of the Paekche language", Memoirs of the research department of the Toyo Bunko, 45: 75–86.
  • Lee, Ki-Moon; Ramsey, S. Robert (2011), A History of the Korean Language, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1-139-49448-9.
  • Nam, Pung-hyun (2012), "Old Korean", in Tranter, Nicolas (ed.), The Languages of Japan and Korea, Routledge, pp. 41–72, ISBN 978-0-415-46287-7.
  • Pellard, Thomas (2005), "Koguryo, the Language of Japan's Continental Relatives: An Introduction to the Historical-Comparative Study of the Japanese-Koguryoic Languages with a Preliminary Description of Archaic Northeastern Middle Chinese By Christopher I. Beckwith", Korean Studies, 29: 167–170, doi:10.1353/ks.2006.0008.
  • Sohn, Ho-Min (1999), The Korean Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-36123-1.
  • Toh, Soo Hee (2005), "About Early Paekche language mistaken as being Koguryŏ language", Journal of Inner and East Asian Studies, 2 (2): 13–31.
  • Tranter, Nicholas (2012), "Introduction: typology and area in Japan and Korea", in Tranter, Nicolas (ed.), The Languages of Japan and Korea, Routledge, pp. 3–23, ISBN 978-0-415-46287-7.
  • Unger, J. Marshall (2009), The role of contact in the origins of the Japanese and Korean languages, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0-8248-3279-7.
  • Vovin, Alexander (2005), "Koguryŏ and Paekche: different languages or dialects of Old Korean?", Journal of Inner and East Asian Studies, 2 (2): 107–140.
  • ——— (2013), "From Koguryo to Tamna: Slowly riding to the South with speakers of Proto-Korean", Korean Linguistics, 15 (2): 222–240, doi:10.1075/kl.15.2.03vov.
  • Whitman, John (2011), "Northeast Asian Linguistic Ecology and the Advent of Rice Agriculture in Korea and Japan", Rice, 4 (3–4): 149–158, doi:10.1007/s12284-011-9080-0.
  • ——— (2013), "A History of the Korean Language, by Ki-Moon Lee and Robert Ramsey", Korean Linguistics, 15 (2): 246–260, doi:10.1075/kl.15.2.05whi.