Investigating the Origins of Language: Korean and Japanese

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Investigating the Origins of Language: Korean and Japanese

When asked to comment on his newly published 'The Origins of the Yamato Language', Korean-American linguist Park Byung-sik (70) stated, "I wrote this book because I firmly believe that it's time for both Korea and Japan to realize how their respective languages developed into their current forms."

Park first proposed the theory that the roots of the Japanese language are to be found in Korean in his book entitled, 'The Tragedy of Japanese', which was published in the early eighties. 'The Origins of the Yamato Language' supports this thesis by presenting an in-depth analysis of the etymology and phonology of certain Korean and Japanese words. The concluding volume to his series on the Korean and Japanese language, 'The Origins of the Yamato Language' is the first Korean book to be translated and published by a Korean publishing firm, Banary, and exported to Japan.

Numerous scholars have propounded that Japanese orginates from Korean. Japanese scholars have rebutted the theory that the two languages are cognates of one another by arguing that it is impossible to verify any similarities unless comparisons are made from literary documents of the same time period. Park begs to differ: "By analyzing the phonetic changes in Chinese characters used by both Korea and Japan, it's easy to reach a logical and reasonable conclusion on this difficult issue." Park went through the changes in intial sound and final rhyme of more than 50,000 Chinese syllables, studied various Japanese dialectical dictionaries, such as the Nipponshoki (日本書記), Manyoshu (万葉集), and Kojigi (古事記), and discovered the same phonetical changes occurring in Korean and Japanese.

"Today, the World Linguistic Society refers to languages that share the same vocabulary for body parts, numbers, interrogatives, onomatopoeias, and mimetic words as cognate languages. Whether coincidental or not, Korean and Japanese share all these words in common," explains Park. For example, the corresponding term for the Korean word 'uzzi' (어찌) is not the current 'naze'(なせ) but 'azze'(あせ) according to the Manyoshu. Also, the word for 'boss' pronounced as 'udumuhri'(우두머리) in Korean is 'ossumuri'(おつむり) in Japanese, while the onomatopoeia 'jol-jol'(졸졸) is 'jolo-jolo'(ぞろぞろ) and 'jul-jul' (줄줄) is 'julu-julu'(ずるずる).

The word 'Yamato' in the title means "true land of the people of the sun". A long time ago, Korea was once called the 'Yama Nation' meaning "nation of the people of the sun". The title is Park's way of implicitly investing the Korean language with the glorification he deems it deserves.

After completing the book in April, Park invited Yasumoto Biden, a linguistic scholar opposed to his ideas, for an open debate. He has yet to receive a reply from Biden. "It's not a matter of whose language is more valuable. I'm absolutely positive that a long time ago Korea and Japan shared a common language. That's what I want to show in my research. Also, I wish to show younger Koreans, who seem so intrigued by Japanese culture, that our language and culture are imbedded deeply in what we call Japanese culture."

Born in Kyungsung in North Hamkyung Province, Park graduated from Kwangju College of Education. In the seventies, he travelled to the Middle East to work in the construction industry, then to the U.S. where he founded the Yamato Language Research Center. It is there that he began researching the etymological origins of the Korean and Japanese languages.

by Park So-young

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