A Brief Look at the Jeju Dialect in Korea

Jeju Island 제주도

Speaking of languages, I found this article on the Yonhap News Agency about the danger of losing the famous Jeju Dialect in Korea. Jeju Island (jejudo 제주도) is a big island at the very southern tip of Korea and somewhat removed. Because of its isolation, it’s developed a distinctive culture and dialect apart from the mainland.

The Korean Peninsula as a whole tends to have a fairly consistent language,1 so dialects like the Jeju Dialect are not so common. This website provides a nice summary of the differences between Jeju Dialect and standard Korean, which include:

  • Different vocabulary:
    • “man” in standard Korean is namja (남자, a Sino-Korean word) and sonai in Jeju Dialect (손아이). The native standard Korean word is similar though: sanai (사나이).
    • “woman” is yeoja (여자) in standard Korean, and jijibae in Jeju Dialect (지지배). As with “man”, the standard Korean word is a Sino-Korean word, with the native word being gyeojipae (계집애)
    • The standard greeting in Korean is annyeonghaseyo (안녕하세요), while Jeju Dialect says ban-gapsio (반갑시오).
  • Present tense of verbs adds -msuda to the end, and -msugwa when asking a question (variations in pronunciation exist too). Contrast this to formal-polite Korean which adds -mnida and -mnikka respectively.
  • Past tense is similar in that Jeju Dialect ends verbs with -atsuda or -eotsuda and -atsugwa/-eotsugwa or questions. Compare with standard Korean’s -seupnida and -seupnikka respectively.

In some ways, its analogous to the Aomori dialect in Japan: remote part of the country, lack of formal speech, etc. Jeju Island, being somewhat removed from Korea, also boasts a unique culture as well. It’s on my list of places I’d like to visit if I had time and money.2

Interestingly though, the article mentions that one of the largest groups of Jeju Dialect speakers is not on Jeju Island or even Korea. The largest group of speakers is in Osaka, Japan, which has a large, historical Korean community. Another article I found in a Japanese newspaper coincidentally mentioned the Jeju Island connection too.

So chances are if you visit Osaka and in particular the Koreatown there, you might hear Jeju Dialect spoken among older Koreans there and might not even know it. Or, you could visit Jeju Island itself and see if you can pick up any.

I know a few readers have lived and taught in Korea, so I’d love to hear your experiences about Jeju Island, Jeju Dialect, and so on.

1 I have learned that North Korean language tends to sound harsher and louder than South Korean, and North Korea now intentionally discourages the use of foreign loan-words, but otherwise they’re still pretty similar. North Koreans who defect to South Korea seem to face discrimination based, among other things, on how they talk.

2 Other places include Greenland, the Temple of Confucius at Qufu, the remote Pacific Islands, the 4 Pilgrimage Sites of the Buddha in India, and Okinawa.

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About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.
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