All Koreans speak and write the same language, which has been a decisive factor in forging their strong national identity. Koreans have developed several different dialects in addition to the standard used in Seoul. However, the dialects, except for that of Jeju-do province, are similar enough for native speakers to understand without any difficulties.
Linguistic and ethnological studies have classified the Korean language in the Altaic language family, which includes the Turkic, Mongolic and Tungus-Manchu languages.
The Korean Alphabet Hangeul, was created by King Sejong the Great during the 15th century. Before its creation, only a relatively small percentage of the population could master the Chinese characters due to their difficulty.
In attempting to invent a Korean writing system, King Sejong looked to several writing systems known at the time, such as old Chinese seal characters and Uighur and Mongolian scripts.
The system that they came up with, however, is predominantly based upon phonological studies. Above all, they developed and followed a theory of tripartite division of the syllable into initial, medial and final phonemes, as opposed to the bipartite division of traditional Chinese phonology.
Hangeul which consists of 10 vowels and 14 consonants, can be combined to form numerous syllabic groupings. It is simple, yet systematic and comprehensive, and is considered one of the most scientific writing systems in the world. Hangeul is easy to learn and write, which has greatly contributed to Korea's high literacy rate and advanced publication industry.
Korean language is spoken by about 70 million people. Although most speakers of Korean live on the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands, more than 5 million are scattered throughout the world.
The origin of the Korean language is as obscure as the origins of the Korean people. In the 19th century when Western scholars "discovered" the Korean language, from what family of languages the Korean language derived was one of the first question. These scholars proposed various theories linking the Korean language with Ural-Altaic, Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan, Dravidian, Ainu, Indo-European and other languages. Among these theories, only the relationship between Korean and Altaic (which groups the Turkic, Mongolian and Manchu-Tungus languages) and the relationship between Korean and Japanese have continuously attracted the attention of comparative linguists in the 20th century.
Altaic, Korean and Japanese not only exhibit similarities in their general structure, but also share common features such as vowel harmony and lack of conjunctions, although the vowel harmony in old Japanese has been the object of dispute among specialists in the field. These languages also have various common elements in their grammar and vocabulary.