Hockey language divergence between North Korea and South Korea

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People have been wondering if there has been a language problem between North Korean and South Korean players on the combined Korean women's hockey team at the Olympics.  As a matter of fact, there is a gulf between the two nations in the language of hockey itself.

Haewon Cho explains:

I just read an article saying that the head coach and coach prepared their own glossary (3 pages) that listed ice hockey jargon in English, loanwords (for SK), and pure Korean (for NK) to facilitate communication.

A few examples include:

Shoot- 슛 (syut, shoot,  loanword, used in S. Korea) – 쳐넣기 (chyeoneoki, throwing into, pure Korean, used in N. Korea)

Pass – 패스 (paeseu , pass) – 연락 (yeollak, communication)

wing – 윙 (wing, wing) – 날개수 (nalgaesu, wing player)

Read more in this English article.

"Murray (she is from Canada) admits that there are still some problems in communication even with the new dictionary. She said her South Korean assistant coach plays an important part in bridging the divide."

As noted in the article, English loanwords are a big part of the problem as most of them are converted into pure Korean in North Korea.

See also:

"Some remarks from North Korea on language" (Pinyin News [12/13/07])

"Ban loan words, says North Korea" (Pinyin News [12/19/08])

"'Bad' borrowings in North Korean" (12/3/16)

"Is Korean diverging into two languages?" (11/6/14)


  1. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 2:55 am

    "English loanwords … are converted into pure Korean …"

    What a peculiar way of phrasing that.

  2. cliff arroyo said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 2:56 am

    I'm sure that someone will have something to say about 'pure Korean'….

  3. Keith said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 3:08 am

    The article behind the link, on a site intended to help people learning English, does not mention (or maybe no longer mentions, since editing) the terms being "converted into pure Korean".

    The difference in terminology was reported on French radio, yesterday, and referred to them as neologisms constructed from Korean words, as opposed to borrowings from English that are used in South Korea.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 5:13 am

    From Shelley Shim:

    I found some articles online regarding the language divide, which may be of interest to Language Log readers. The first is this article,, which says that the joint hockey team created a dictionary (3 page document that is translated from South Korean to English and then to North Korean) of its own for certain hockey terminology to facilitate the language differences. This article,, does mention that South Koreans and North Koreans are able to understand each other when making daily conversations as the grammar is similar, but the problem arises when they talk about specific medical or sports-related etc. terms.

  5. ajay said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 8:43 am

    Purity is a very important concept, politically, on both sides of the DMZ…

  6. 번하드 said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 10:38 am

    Well, hehe, "pure". Kinda saw some of the comments coming on that one:)
    In language terms, both sides of the DMZ this has a meaning that is less sinister than it may sound.
    In Korean, vocabulary can be divided into three classes by origin:
    (a) 고유어 [固有語] goyueo "has always been living here" (that's the "pure" one)
    (b) 한자어 [漢字語] hanjaeo "immigrated from Chinese"
    (c) 외래어 [外來語] weraeeo "immigrated from other places"
    Words from all three classes can be written in hangeul, but only 한자어 can also be written with sinokorean 한자.
    한자어 make up 60-80% of vocabulary depending on the type of text and who you ask.
    Traditionally, North Korea not only refused to import vocabulary from English, but even tried to push back on words with Chinese roots.
    This policy seems to have been relaxed a bit over the last few years, especially when it comes to new technologies. Of which ice hockey isn't one:)
    Anecdotally, I once met an engineer from South Korea who met colleagues from North Korea at a treade fair in China. He said that when it came to jargon, mutual intelligibility went down to 30%.

    All of the above has to be taken with some NaCl, I have been learning Korean for a long time but I am no specialist or scholar. I hope somebody with better knowledge will correct me where needed.

  7. Jenny Chu said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 11:16 pm

    Ask two speakers of Mandarin, one from Taiwan and one from Beijing, to a discussion about IT (information technology) and you will definitely observe the phenomenon of comprehension going down when jargon is used.

    One thing I've always found fascinating is that in Vietnamese, borrowings (or not ) (I'm talking about for technical terms) from different languages seem to be connected to register. Example: formally, "bộ vi xử lý" for microprocessor or "vi mạch" for microchip … informally, "chíp" for chip.

  8. Felix said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 11:56 pm

    Didn't Japan do something similar during WW II? My understanding is they kept playing baseball but made up "pure" Japanese words for all the loan words they'd been using and would use again after the war.

    I've watched a couple of baseball games on Japanese TV, and it was surreal hearing "won baru tu sturaiku" instead of "ichi baru ni sturaiku" (please forgive my horrendous spelling and probably grammar; it's been 40 years).

  9. Chris C. said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 1:51 am

    @Felix — I think it was the August sumo tournament I was trying to watch on a… semi-legal… stream of NHK this past year, but the summer Koshien high school baseball tournament was happening at the same time, and it pre-empted some of the lower division bouts I was hoping to catch. Hearing all that heavily-accented English was just as weird for me. But I guess it would be much the same for Japanese watching something like an American judo tournament, with all the heavily-accented Japanese names for the waza. To a non-Japanese speaker these are jargon peculiar to their sport; to someone who knows the language the meaning is transparent. Same for someone like me with naming sumo kimarite vs. a Japanese sumo fan.

  10. Rodger C said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 8:15 am

    @Felix: I learned my first Japanese from a WWII-vintage library book. I remember that it said that miruku 'milk' had been replaced by gyuunyuu. More ominously, California was Kashuu.

  11. Felix said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 12:43 pm

    I took Spanish and French in high school, but what really fascinated me was learning Japanese in the navy. The ship was heading to Japan and there were two crude courses on the way over. One was just loan words: fooku, naifu, etc, which held zero interest for me. The other was taught by an old nisei chief, unfortunately I believe from a possibly pre-war book, old-fashioned grammar and vocabulary, and every time someone joined up late, he'd start over again from page 1.

    So when we got to Japan, I taught myself from a bunch of different books, eventually settling on some by Vaccari, and I remember very well the day I asked the lady at the train station kiosk "ikura desu ka" instead of just holding out a wad of money. Cocked her head, puzzled look, shook her hand, and I said something like "nihongo ga dekimasu, ikura desu ka", she told me, and I understood it. The look on her face when I counted out the exact change was all the reward I needed. I eventually took a class after I got out, got to about 3rd or 4th grade reading level, knew maybe 500 kanji, and read Waga Hai Wa Neko De Aru about one hour per page. I realized the only way to advance past that was to read Japanese every day, and I just didn't have that much time.

    So that's how I found Language Log :-)

  12. Victor Mair said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 3:25 pm

    Welcome aboard, Felix! Thanks for the account of your Japanese learning experience.

    We'll try to keep you supplied with interesting, edifying posts.

  13. Felix said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 5:06 pm

    @Victor et al
    You have been keeping me entertained, language-wise, for many years. I keep coming back.

  14. Wombat Joey said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 6:41 pm

    Waga Hai Wa Neko De Aru ….. Hmmm….the first time I heard of that book ("I am a Cat") was in late 1968 while passing through Fukuoka. Kinda dates us, doesn't it?

  15. Victor Mair said,

    February 15, 2018 @ 3:46 pm

    "Winter Olympics: Linguistic divide poses problem to Korea hockey team"

    AP USA Today 2/5/18

  16. 번하드 said,

    February 15, 2018 @ 8:39 pm

    This is a lot of fun…
    First, to whom it may concern, a very happy new year!
    Then, learning a NE Asian language is also what brought me here, et je ne regrette rien.
    I tried to search that list, and, lo and behold, it wasn't even hard:
    Searching for '북한 하키 용어' (NK hockey jargon) I found

    There it is as a manhwa/comic, then the scanned page, then text.

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