Language Education Policy Studies
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Language education policies between two Koreas: differences and efforts to overcome

While both North and South Korea use Korean language as their official language, the actual language practice is significantly different. Their language policies have evolved in a different manner since their separation in 1945, which led to sharp disparity in their language use.

The most distinctive factor in language policy between the two Koreas is the main force responsible for the policy making. While South Korea adopted various perspectives of scholars when enacting the law, North Korea’s policy has been solely controlled by its great leader, Kim Il Sung. This being so, the language is understood and used dissimilarly: In South, language is a means of understanding and expression. On the contrary, North regards language as a means of revolution. Standard Korean, called Pyojuneo(South) and Munhwaeo(North) respectively, diversified differently as well. Two Koreas have come up with contrasting policies defining standard Korean. Pyojuneo—a modern Seoul language used by man of culture— in South Korea was construed in Hangul orthography amendment in 1988 while Munhwaeo—language used in Pyongyang—was announced by Kim Il Sung in order to firmly exclude using South Korean term. Moreover, specific policies and campaigns also led to incongruity. North Korea’s word refining campaign is one of them, which strongly prohibited foreign vocabularies including Chinese-oriented words and new words from the west. This accelerated the serious word gap between the two, since South Korea was more open to accept the foreign words.

In the 2000s, the interest in reunification of Korea increased, and thus generated the demand for unified language. Before 2000, the major goal of the unified language policy was limited to overcoming the language differences between the two; however, this attitude has been changed during the recent years, emphasizing homogeneity and integration, rather than heterogeneity and assimilation. That is, the objective for language unification has advanced to acknowledging two languages equally and integrating them. The most compelling effort being made is Gyeoremal-keunsajeon project, which is to compile a dictionary that embraces entire vocabularies in use. Since 2005 when the agreement was signed, scholars of South and North have been working together to develop the very first and the most comprehensive unified dictionary. Under the slogan, “Encompass all the boundaries, between individuals, regions and two Koreas,” Geyoremal aims to integrate and compile Korean linguistic heritage of thousands of years (The joint, 2005). This first collaborative work is now about 70% completed and to be published by 2019. 


The joint board of South and North Korea for the Compilation of Gyeoremal-keunsajeon:


Is lifting of May 24th sanctions necessary for better inter-Korean ties:

Hangeul day for South, Joseongeul day for North: (Korean)

South Korean-North Korean translator:


Choi, Y., Yang, M., Lee, C., Im, H. (2015). A critical examination of the studies on linguistic unification of the two Koreas, Journal of Multicultural contents studies, 18, 395-426.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Ahn, Jaerin. (2015). Language education policies between two Koreas: differences and efforts to overcome. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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