In another question some differences in orthography between North and South Korea were treated. But more precisely, what is the chronology of orthography changes in Korean before the separation in the whole Korea and since the separation in North and South Korea? Moreover, what are all the orthographic differences between North and South Korea?


1 Answer 1


The first orthographic descriptions of Hangul was indeed in Hunminjeongeum, 1443. But the Korean language changed a lot over the centuries, so most of the old descriptions got useless in the Modern age. So by the 20th century, Korean spellings were a total mess. People still used letters that described obsolete sounds, and historical sound changes were sporadically reflected in the writing, so overall it was very inconsistent. A need for a new orthography was desperate, so a lot of effort was made before Korea was gulped down by Japan. 국문연구의정안(A Draft for Discussion of Korean Language Research, 1909) is one of them. Here are some important details for this draft:


  • Obsolete characters ㆁㆆ ㅿ ◇ ㅱㅸㆄㅹ are no longer used.
  • ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ is used for tense consonants.
  • ㆍ (arae-a) is kept for the time.
  • Both ㄷ and ㅅ are used for ㄷ-final sounds.
  • ㅈㅊㅋㅌㅍㅎ are also used for finals.
  • Tones are not be written anymore.
  • Long vowels are be marked with a left dot.

After the annexation with Japan, 보통학교용 언문 철자법(Hangul Orthography for Schools, 1912) was announced. Some important details:

보통학교용 언문 철자법(1912)

  • ㆍ (arae-a) is abolished for native words. But it's kept for Hanja words.
  • ㄺ, ㄻ, ㄼ finals are introduced.
  • ㅺ, ㅼ, ㅽ, ㅾ, ㅆ was used for tense consonants.

In 1930, 언문 철자법(Hangul Orthography) was announced. Here's a summary of it:

언문 철자법(1930)

  • No more unpalatalized 디-like spellings for 지.
  • ㆍ (arae-a) is completely obsolete.
  • More morphophonemic finals. Now every consonant except ㅋ, ㅎ, ㄶ, ㅀ and ㅆ is usable for batchims.
  • 사이시옷 is standardized. It's written even when it's impossible to write as a batchim.
  • The verb ending -아/어 is written as -여 when it's following ‘ㅣ, ㅐ, ㅔ, ㅚ, ㅟ, ㅢ’ sounds.

So the first major modern orthographic reform took place in 1933, by the name of 한글 마춤법 통일안 (A Unified Draft for Hangul Orthography). This is the basis for all of the modern Hangul orthography systems used today, both in NK and SK.

한글 마춤법 통일안(1933)

  • ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, ㅉ for tense consonants.
  • Tense consonants in the middle of a word is written with double consonant letters.
  • ㄹ and 니 sounds are not used word initially. (두음법칙)
  • ㄷ-final sounds are written as ㅅ by default. It's only written as ㄷ if it has some reasons to do so.
  • -하다 suffix can be shortened with a ㅎ-batchim. (부지런하다 -> 부지럲다)
  • ㅋ, ㅎ, ㄶ, ㅀ, ㅆ are also used for finals. Now you can write 있다 properly.
  • ㅑㅕㅛㅠ after ㅅㅈㅊ are corrected to ㅏㅓㅗㅜ. This is because at the time, ㅅㅈㅊ were all palatalized. Now only ㅈ and ㅊ are.
  • Spacing is not applied for auxiliary verbs and dependent nouns.
  • Proper nouns are underlined.

After Korea got independent and soon divided into two, North Korea made a new completely morphophonemic system called 조선어 신철자법(Korean New Orthography, 1948). This was a somewhat complicated system, and it soon got abolished after the creator 김두봉 was purged from the DPRK government.

조선어 신철자법(1948)

  • 6 more letters. Most of which was used to write irregular verbs look like regular ones.
  • 사이시옷 was changed to an apostrophe(called 어깨표 or 사이표).
  • 몌/폐 is corrected to 메/페 to reflect the actual pronunciation.
  • 두음법칙 was abolished because it didn't apply to most of North Korea.

At the same time, South Korean president 이승만 had a plan to simplify the orthography. He felt that the reforms in the late decades has made the spelling too complicated; so in 1949, he suggested that we go back before all the reforms and use the 1909 version of the orthography. This was of course met by strong oppositions by many scholars, so he withdrew the order in 1955. His suggestions were (Draft for Hangul Simplification):

한글 간소화안(1955)

  • Only ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ, ㄺ, ㄻ, ㄼ for the finals. (same as 1930 version)
  • Batchims of verb stems are written in the next syllable. 잊으니 -> 이즈니.
  • Do not reveal the word structure. 길이 -> 기리, 낱낱이 -> 낫나치

North Korea simplified their system in 1966. This rule(Korean Language Rule-set) is still used till today with several minor changes.

조선말규범집(1966) (1987) Latest Version

  • No tense consonants for verb endings. 할까 -> 할가.
  • Verb endings that sound like 여 because of the word in front of it, is written as it sounds. 되어 -> 되여.
  • Apostrophes, and 사이시옷 are abolished.
  • No space between two nouns, if there is no particle between them. 미국 사람 -> 미국사람.
  • Spacing is not applied for auxiliary verbs and dependent nouns. 하고 있어 -> 하고있어, 할 수 있다 -> 할수 있다
  • ≪ ≫ for quotes.

The current standard used today in South Korea is from 1988. There has been a small change regarding punctuation in 2014, but it's not important. (Hangul Orthography)

한글 맞춤법(1988)

  • 읍니다 -> 습니다. (공부했읍니다 -> 공부했습니다)
  • Long vowels are not marked in foreign words. (도오쿄오 -> 도쿄, 뉴우요오크 -> 뉴욕)

This ends the history. So the current biggest differences between the two systems are (sorted by how apparent it is):

  1. The existence of 두음법칙.
  2. Way of transliterating foreign words.
  3. The existence of 사이시옷.
  4. Spacing in auxiliary verbs and nouns.
  5. Tense consonants in verb endings.
  6. 되어 / 되여
  7. Some minor differences

Honestly, the two systems are not that different. The most biggest difference is in the loanwords vocabulary, not the orthography, in my opinion.

Let's compare a sentence in the two systems(Sentence from NK cooking site):

(NK) 인류발생의 려명기로부터 이 땅에서 살아오면서 인류문명을 개척하여 온 우리 선조들은 음식문화에서도 세상에 자랑할만한 귀중한 조선민족료리유산을 창조하였다.
(SK) 인류 발생의 여명기로부터 이 땅에서 살아오면서 인류 문명을 개척하여 온 우리 선조들은 음식 문화에서도 세상에 자랑할 만한 귀중한 한민족 요리 유산을 창조하였다.

  • 3
    I was about to comment that it was probably a very broad question. And you just blow me away! Amazing answer!
    – Taladris
    Feb 7, 2017 at 14:09
  • I've seen it written that the DPRK rejected the 1933 한글 마춤법 통일안; most notably for modern readers of Korean, North Korean does not restrict the initial consonants as per 두음법칙 but widely allows both ㄹ and 니 in initial position.
    – Michaelyus
    Feb 11, 2017 at 0:08
  • @Michaelyus Yes, I mentioned that 두음법칙 was abolished in 1948, but almost everything else in the current NK orthography is based on the 1933 draft. That is not "rejecting" per se.
    – MujjinGun
    Feb 11, 2017 at 4:03

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