Korean is the official language of South Korea, and is classified by most linguists as a language isolate. It incorporates a significant number of loan words from Chinese. Korean uses an indigenous writing system called Hangul, created in 1446 by King Sejong to provide a convenient alternative to the Classical Chinese Hanja characters that were difficult to learn and did not fit the Korean language well. South Korea still uses some Chinese Hanja characters in limited areas, such as print media and legal documentation.

The Korean language in South Korea has a standard dialect known as Seoul (after the capital city), with an additional 4 Korean language dialect groups in use around the country.

Almost all South Korean students today learn English throughout their education, with some optionally choosing Japanese or Mandarin as well.

Dialects

A number of Korean dialects are spoken on the Korean Peninsula. The peninsula is extremely mountainous and each dialect's "territory" corresponds closely to the natural boundaries between different geographical regions of Korea. Most of the dialects are named for one of the traditional Eight Provinces of Korea. One is sufficiently distinct from the others to be considered a separate language, the Jeju language.

Korea is a mountainous country, and this could be the main reason why Korean is divided into numerous small local dialects. There are few clear demarcations, so dialect classification is necessarily to some extent arbitrary. A common classification, originally introduced by Shinpei Ogura in 1944 and adjusted by later authors, identifies six dialect areas:

Hamgyŏng (Northeastern) Spoken in the Hamgyong Province (Kwanbuk and Kwannam) region, the northeast corner of Pyongan Province, and the Ryanggang Province of North Korea as well as the Jilin, Heilongjiang of Northeast China; Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan of former Soviet Union. Nine vowels: the eight of the standard language plus ö.

Pyongan (Northwestern)Spoken in Pyongyang, Pyongan Province, Chagang Province, and neighboring Liaoning, of China. The basis of the standard language for North Korea. Central dialects Commonly divided along provincial boundaries:

  • Gyeonggi dialect, also called the "Seoul dialect": spoken in the Gyeonggi Province, Seoul and Incheon cities, as well as southeastern Kaesong (North Korea). The basis of the standard language for South Korea.
  • Chungcheong dialect: spoken in the Chungcheong Province (Hoseo) region of South Korea, including the metropolitan city of Daejeon. Some parts of South Chungcheong Province, including Daejeon and Sejong, are classified as southern dialects such as the Jeolla and Gyeongsang dialects.
  • Yeongseo dialect: spoken in Yeongseo, Gangwon Province (South Korea) and neighbouring Kangwon Province (North Korea) to the west of the Taebaek Mountains. Yeongseo is quite distinct from the Yeongdong dialects to the east of the mountains.
  • Yeongdong dialect: spoken in Yeongdong, Gangwon Province (South Korea) and neighbouring Kangwon Province (North Korea) to the east of the Taebaek Mountains. Yeongdong is quite distinct from the Central Korean dialects to the west of the mountains.
  • Hwanghae dialect: spoken in Hwanghae Province of North Korea. Commonly included among the Central dialects, but some researchers argue that it does not fit there comfortably.

Central dialect, Hwanghae, Gyeonggi, Gangwon (Yeongseo) and Chungcheong are usually grouped together. However, many view that only Hwanghae, Gyeonggi, and Gangwon (Yeongseo) dialects are included in the central dialect, while Chungcheong dialect is considered as separate dialect.

Gyeongsang (Southeastern) Spoken in Gyeongsang Province (Yeongnam) of South Korea, including the cities of Busan, Daegu and Ulsan. This dialect is easily distinguished from the Seoul dialect because its pitch is more varied. Six vowels, i, e, a, eo, o, u.

Jeolla (Southwestern) Spoken in the Jeolla Province (Honam) region of South Korea, including the city of Gwangju. Ten vowels: i, e, ae, a, ü, ö, u, o, eu, eo.

Jeju Spoken on Jeju Island off the southwest coast of South Korea and is sometimes considered a separate Koreanic language. The nine vowels of Middle Korean, including arae-a (ɔ). May have additional consonants as well.

Several linguists have suggested that a further dialect area should be split from the Northeastern dialects: Ryukchin (Yukchin) Spoken in the historical Yukchin region which is located in the northern part of North Hamgyong Province, far removed from P'yŏng'an, but has more in common with P'yŏng'an dialects than with the surrounding Hamgyŏng dialects. Since it has been isolated from the major changes of Korean language, it has preserved distinct features of Middle Korean. It is the only known tonal Korean language.