Languages are living things! They adapt to circumstances and change with use. I mean the English that was spoken in Shakespeare’s time is not the English that reigns in London today. Nor is the English in London the same English that is heard on the streets of New York. The same is true of the Spanish in Madrid and the Spanish in Buenos Aires. And so on. Languages change with time, geography, government, will and probably a thousand reasons more.
Since the 1950’s, Korea has walked down two separate paths in both economics and outlook, says a recent article from The Guardian. South Korea has welcomed international influences, while North Korea has remained inward-looking. Over time this has created changes in the way Koreans use their language. In South Korea, you’ll readily hear people use terms adopted from English or related to technology. But when a new word is needed in North Korea, rather than borrow from English or other languages, North Korea prefers to invent terms based on the Korean language.
South Korean Han Yong-un estimates that in day-to-day usage two-thirds of the Korean language used in North Korea and South Korea is the same, but that differences are more pronounced in professional and business contexts.
Since 1989, the South Korean government has slowly been working on a project with scholars from both countries. The goal has been to create a Korean dictionary called the Korean People’s Comprehensive Dictionary to better help people communicate when the two nations are reunified. However, the project has been subject to the ups and downs of the two countries’ sticky political relations.
Han Yong-un says that the South Korean team has created definitions for 20,000 words and anticipates the completed work to have upwards of 300,000 words. Even if we assume that the North Korean team has made an equal amount of progress, both teams are still quite a ways off from being finished. However, that’s okay; Korean reunification probably won’t arrive before the dictionary does.