The linguistic situation on the Korean peninsula is one ripe for research. For the past 70 years the two halves of the peninsula have been isolated from one another, thus creating two very different environments for development and change within the Korean language. It is hypothesized that due to conflict, divide, and social turmoil on the peninsula, the Korean language will have undergone a period of change in the last 70 years. This particular investigation looks at North and South Korean monophthong systems for evidence of a phonological shift. Studies of North Korea's language planning (Yong, 2001; Kumatani, 1990) will be incorporated to provide a background for lexical change in the country, which may also have contributed to phonological change. This study was carried out with the expectation that, due to the turmoil following the Korean War, both standard dialects would display some signs of phonetic shift.In order to track the changes to the monophthong systems over the last 70 years, a total of 7156 samples of the Korean language's eight monophthongs were collected from both North and South Korean films from the 1950s, 1980s, and 2010s. The vowels' F1 and F2 formants were measured using the computer program Praat. The data was then separated by vowel and run through statistical analyses. The results of a mixed methods ANOVA determined which vowels had shown significant variance between decades; the estimated means were then determined for each formant. Based on the statistical analysis, the North Korean vowels /a/, /Λ/, and /u/ have shifted significantly since the 1950s, while the rest of the North Korean monophthong system has not changed significantly. Most of the shifting occurred in the period after the 1980s. In the South, all vowels have shown significant variance for the variable of decade in F1, F2, or both formants. South Korea's results also indicate separate shifts between the 1950s and 1980s, and between the 1980s and 2010s. If the results of this study could be successfully replicated with the languages of other countries thrown into post-WWII turmoil, this study could prove that WWII left a lasting effect on the languages of the world as well. Even if there are not far-reaching implications, the study still demonstrates strong evidence that linguistic change has occurred in both the northern and southern halves of the Korean peninsula since it was split into two separate countries.



College and Department

Humanities; Linguistics and English Language



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North Korea, South Korea, vowel shifts, language planning, language change



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Linguistics Commons