Old Korean

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Old Korean
EraEvolved into Middle Korean by the tenth century
  • Old Korean
Language codes
ISO 639-3oko
Old Korean
Hangul고대 국어
Revised RomanizationGodae gugeo
McCune–ReischauerKodae kugŏ

Old Korean is the historical variety of the Korean language or Koreanic languages dating from the beginning of Three Kingdoms of Korea to the latter part of Later Silla,[1] roughly from the fourth to tenth centuries CE.

Old Korean is distinct from proto-Korean (원시 한국어), the ancestral language reconstructed from comparison of Korean dialects.

Some linguists had proposed that Old Korean may have been one of the now discredited Altaic languages, although this claim has been controversial and is not accepted by modern linguists.[2] Another theory says that Old Korean is related to the Japonic languages and to the Dravidian languages.[3]

Sources and dating[edit]

The extent of Old Korean is unclear. It is generally accepted as including Sillan, which is thought to be the direct ancestor of Middle and Modern Korean, and may also have included the languages of Buyeo, Goguryeo, and Baekje. If so, Old Korean was a language family, not a single language. (See Buyeo languages, Koreanic languages.)[4]

Only some literary records of Unified Silla, changed into Goryeo text, are extant and some texts (written in their native Writing system) of the Three Kingdoms period are mostly available in form of inscriptions at present.

Thus, the languages of the Three Kingdoms period are generally examined through official government names and local district names. The point at which Old Korean became Middle Korean is assessed variously by different scholars. The line is sometimes drawn in the late Goryeo dynasty and sometimes around the 15th century in the early Joseon. It is usually thought that Middle Korean started with the establishment of a new capital at the foundation of the state of Goryeo.

Writing system[edit]

The first texts in Old Korean date from the Three Kingdoms period. They are written using Chinese characters (hanja) to represent the sound and grammar of the native language. Various systems were used, beginning with ad hoc approaches and gradually becoming codified in the Idu script and the hyangchal system used for poetry, and in a later phase, gugyeol.

Additional information about the language is drawn from various proper nouns recorded in Korean and Chinese records, and from etymological studies of the Korean pronunciations of Chinese characters, which are believed to have been first adapted into Korean in the late Three Kingdoms period.


Front Back
Unr. Rnd. Unr. Rnd.
Close i y ɯ u
Mid e ø ɤ o
Open a ɑ
Labial Dental Post-
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Affricate ts dz
Fricative s z h ɦ
Tap ɾ
Approximant l j
Stop Aspirated ɡʱ
Affricate Aspirated tsʰ dzʱ


The case markers in Old Korean are the following:

Nominative case 伊/是 (-i)
Genitive case 衣/矣 (-ʌj), (-s)
Accusative case (-l)
Dative case , 良中 (-aj/-ej, -hʌj/-ahʌj in Idu script)
Instrumental case (-ro ~ -ʌro)
Comitative case (-wa/-ɡwa)
Vocative case , (-a, -ja), (-ha)

Other affixes are:

Topic marker (-n ~ -nʌn ~ -ʌn)
also[clarification needed] (-do)
Honorific (-si-)
Humble (-sʌv-)

The pronunciations written in parenthesis are from Middle Korean. The letter ʌ is used to represent the pronunciation of "" (arae-a), which is obsolete in Modern Korean.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 최기호, 국어사 서설 "The History of the Korean Language", 제8회 국외 한국어교사 연수회 "8th Research Conference of Korean Language Teachers Abroad", 2004
  2. ^ Kim (2004), p. 80.
  3. ^ Kim, Chin-Wu (1974). The Making of the Korean Language. Center of Korean Studies, University of Hawai'i.
  4. ^ It has not been proven that during the age of Three Kingdoms of Korea that all three kingdoms used the same language, but it is accepted by many scholars that the Three Kingdoms utilized similar languages, and that these may have been dialects of a single language. 김수경(1989), 세나라 시기 언어 력사에 관한 남조선 학계의 견해에 대한 비판적 고찰 ("Criticism about the language opinion during three kingdoms of Korea)

Further reading[edit]

  1. Kim, Mu-rim (김무림) (2004). 국어의 역사 (Gugeo-ui yeoksa, History of the Korean language). Seoul: Hankook Munhwasa. ISBN 89-5726-185-0.

External links[edit]