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In English the phrase Korean books can colloquially mean either of:

  • Books published in Korean (or otherwise pertaining to Korea), and not translated
  • Books originally published in Korean but now translated into another language
  • Books originally published in another language but now translated into Korean

The phrase books in Korean can be used in the first or third senses only.

Now, it seems to me that in Korean, 한국어 도서 can be used in all three regards (just like “Korean books”). Is this assumption correct and would a native speaker make a distinction between these three senses?

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I think "한국어 도서" is similar to "books in Korean". "한국 책" can be used in first and second senses, but not third sense.

I'm Korean native, and I think another native wouldn't think "한국어 도서" as "originally published in Korean but translated."

Word "Korean" means 'something about Korea', 'Korean language', 'Korean people', but there is no equivalent in Korean, "한국의 ~"(Korean ~), "한국어"(Korean language), "한국인"(Korean people) can be used.

Back to question, when used in first sense, 'Korean' in 'Korean book' means 'something about Korea' AND 'Korean language', in second 'something about Korean', and in third 'Korean language'.

So '한국어 도서' is 'Book in Korean'.

additionally, we rarely use '도서' in daily conversation, and use '책' instead. '도서' is more like 'tome'.(I don't know word tome exactly, but I found it means a book, especially a large, heavy, scholarly one, and '도서' feels like it.)

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That seems to be an intricate question.

First of all, 한국어 도서 has Korean characters. LegenDUST points it out well.

However, there seems to be an exception. If the books are for learning the Korean language, 한국어 도서 can refer to all the three that you mentioned. Those books have Korean characters, after all. Besides, the books are related to the Korean language.

It is a little off topic, but I would like to mention that ordinarily, we Koreans do not call the Korean language 한국어. We call it 국어 (the national language) or 우리말 (our language). 국어책 refers to Korean language books (especially for Korean students) because 국어 is one of subjects in school.

We have some other words and phrases regarding your question. They are irrelevant to the exception that I mentioned above.

  • Books published in Korean (or otherwise pertaining to Korea), and not translated: 국문본, 국문판, 국어 원서, 우리말 원서

  • Books originally published in Korean (or in other languages) but now translated: 역서(譯書)

    • into English: 영역본, 영역판, 영문 번역
    • into Chinese: 한역본, 한역판, 한역(漢譯)
    • into Japanese: 일역본, 일역판, 일역
  • Books originally published in another language but now translated into Korean: 국문본, 국문판, 한역본, 한역판, 한역(韓譯), ((한)국어/우리말) 번역판, ((한)국어/우리말) 번역본, 국역본, 역서(譯書), 한글본, 한글판, (한)국어판, 우리글 번역, 한글 번역

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