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Understanding the roots of Koryo-mar : a lexical and orthographic study

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Title: Understanding the roots of Koryo-mar : a lexical and orthographic study
Author(s): Spur, Maristella
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts
Degree program: Master's Programme Linguistic Diversity in the Digital Age
Specialisation: Diversity Linguistics
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2021
This thesis investigates the roots of Koryo-mar, an endangered language currently spoken by Korean diaspora communities (also called Koryo-saram, lit. ‘Koryo-people’) in post-Soviet countries, such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, to which they had been deported in 1937 from the Russian Far East (RFE). By the end of the 19th century, the language of the first Korean immigrants to the RFE, for the most part peasants from the Northeastern province of Hamgyŏng, had already caught the interest of a few scholars, among which can be distinguished Mikhail P. Pucillo, the author of the first Russian-Korean dictionary. Such volume, the Opyt Russko-Korejskogo Slovarja (1874) was based on the speech of the Koreans he was in contact with, and represents one of the earliest sources for the study of Koryo-mar. On the other hand, the actual research on the Koryo-saram begun in earnest only in the second half of the 20th century, and the work of Songmoo Kho, Koreans in Soviet Central Asia (1987), is often considered one of the most complete surveys on the history and the culture of Central Asian Koreans. It also contains a chapter devoted to Koryo-mar, that includes several wordlists of both native items and loanwords from Russian and other local languages. By comparing the data extracted from the above-mentioned texts, on a lexical and orthographic level, and highlighting their similarities and variations, this research aims at illustrating the genetic ties between the dialects of Northern Hamgyŏng and Koryo-mar, as well as the relationship between the spoken and the written language. Additional information has also been drawn from secondary sources in Early Modern Korean, such as Hŏ Kyung’s Hong Kiltong Chŏn (16th-17th century), Chang Kyehyang’s Ŭmsik Timibang (1670s), and J. S. Gale’s translation of J. Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1895). The research concludes that the forty elements common to Pucillo (1874) and Kho (1987) can be framed into five different relationship scenarios, which describe not only the continuation of lexical and orthographic material between the two texts and their languages, but also assess the latter’s connection to Standard Korean and its historical variants. Moreover, the examination of Pucillo’s usage of Cyrillic in transcribing Korean provides relevant details concerning the articulatory habits of Northeastern Koreans in the late 1800s, which are contextualised within and in contrast to the writing practices of Early Modern Korean, that are known to be extremely inconsistent. This study, based on a philological approach, can aid in outlining a literary tradition that encompasses the historical development of Koryo-mar, which is still an unrecognised minority language, while the analysis of orthographic peculiarities can shed light on the chronology of the spread of certain phonological changes across the whole Korean peninsula.
Keyword(s): Korean Language Korean History Philology Koryo-mar Language and Writing Variation Spelling Orthography Russian Far East Central Asia

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