South Korea may be a small country geographically, but its linguistic diversity is rich and fascinating. While standard Korean, based on the Seoul dialect, is taught in schools and used in media, each region in Korea boasts its own unique dialect, known as 사투리 (satoori). These dialects add an extra layer of depth to the Korean language, and offer a window into the diverse cultures and histories of different regions.
Is it necessary to learn different Korean dialects?
Learning different Korean dialects isn’t strictly necessary for most Korean learners, especially beginners. Knowing the standard Korean language, which is based on the Seoul dialect, would allow you to communicate effectively throughout the country.
However, learning about different Korean dialects could be beneficial depending on your goals and interests. If you plan on living in a particular region in Korea, or if you have a deep interest in Korean culture, understanding regional dialects would help you connect more intimately with the local community and culture.
In addition, if you enjoy Korean dramas or films, you’ll notice that characters often speak in different dialects depending on their backgrounds. Understanding these dialects can enrich your viewing experience.
6 Main Korean Dialects
There are 6 main dialects in Korean, each representing a district in South Korea: Gyeonggi, Gyeongsang, Chungcheong, Gangwon, Jeolla, Jeju.
- The Gyeonggido dialect – 경기도 표준어
- The Gyeongsangdo dialect – 경상도 방언
- The Gangwondo dialect – 강원도 방언
- The Chungcheongdo dialect – 충청도 방언
- The Jeollado dialect – 전라도 방언
- The Jejudo dialect – 제주도 방언
Gyeonggido dialect is also known as the standard Korean(표준어 pyojuneo) or Seoul dialect. This is most people learn in textbooks or school and hear on television, movies, and radio in South Korea. While it’s spoken mostly in the Gyeonggi Province and Seoul, almost everyone in South Korea can understand this dialect.
Gyeongsangdo dialect is mainly spoken in Busan, Ulsan, and Daegu cities. The dialects in these 3 cities also have some minor differences, with the Busan dialect being the most well-known.
Gyeongsang is traditionally a conservative district, its dialect features a strong intonation so can sound harsh and impolite even if people are just talking normally. As a result, Gyeongsnagdo people also come off as straightforward, using short, direct sentences of the Gyeongsangdo dialect.
Gyeongsangdo dialect is the only dialect in Korean that preserves tones, which means changing tones also changes the meaning of the word.
The Gyeongsangdo dialect has several distinguishing features:
- Gyeongsang dialect often interchanges spoken and written language. For example, instead of using ‘집에 가’ (jib-e ga) and ‘몰라’ (molla), the written phrases ‘집 간다’ (jib ganda) and ‘모른다’ (moleunda) are often used in spoken language in Gyeongsang dialect.
- Common use of endings like ‘노’ and ‘나’: For example, ‘뭐 뭇나’ and ‘뭐 뭇노’ mean ‘What did you eat?’.
- Endings such as -예 (ye), -소 (so), -데이 (dei), -나 (na)?, -노 (no)? -는교 (neungyo)? are also characteristic of this dialect.
In fact, the Gyeongsangdo dialect can sound quite adorable once you get used to it. In movies or TV shows, women speaking the Gyeongsangdo dialect are often perceived as extra cute. If interested in learning more about this dialect, we recommend watching the Korean drama Reply 1997.
Some BTS members also speak the Gyeongsangdo dialect. Jimin and Jungkook both speak the Busan dialect, while Suga and V speak the Daegu dialect.
Gangwon-do dialect is close to the standard Korean, because it’s geographically close to Seoul. Gangwon-do is located in the northeast of South Korea with large farms and countryside. It’s not far away from Seoul so people there sound pretty close to standard Korea. Some people think the Gangwondo dialect sounds quite similar to North Korean dialect as well.
Some features of Gangwondo dialect include:
- Pronouncing ㅆ (ss) as ㅅ (s). For example: 쌀 -살 (rice)
- Changing the standard 아 (ah) sound to 어 (eo) at the end of sentences.
- Ending questions in 나 (na), -노 (no), -고 (go), -가 (ga).
- Ending sentences with (i)reyo instead of the most common iyeyo and yeyo
K-pop star Kim Hee-chul is from Gangwon-do and can speak with the Gangwon-do dialect.
Chungcheong is predominantly spoken in the Chungcheong province in the west-central region. It is noted for a slower speech rate and wide pitch range, which is often seen as gentle and modest. The largest city in Chungcheongdo is Daejeon. People in this area often spoke slowlier and come off as friendlier than people in other places.
A unique feature of the Chungcheongdo dialect is the powerful word 뭐여 (mwoyeo), which can be used in almost any situation.
Common features of Chungcheongdo dialect:
- Replacing the standard 요yo ending with 유yu
- Unique expressions like ‘워라빠빠’ (why are you rushing?) which is not used in standard Korean.
- Often uses ‘거라’ instead of ‘겠어요’ as in the Jeollado dialect.
We recommend watching Cheongdam-dong Alice (청담동앨리스) if you’re interested in learning more about the Chungcheongdo dialect.
Jeollado is also called Honam (meaning “south of the lake”). Jeollado is a liberal district famous for democratic movements in the Korean history, as well as a symbol of rebellion and aggressiveness. As a result, the jeollado dialect sounds very fast and somewhat funny(빠르고 구수하다).
Jeollado dialect has several unique features:
- Using a unique verb ending ‘burida’ which adds emphasis to a sentence.
- Using the sentence ending ‘sho’ instead of the more common ‘seyo’. For example, annyeonghaseyo would be “annyeonghasho” in Jeollado dialect.
- Using the word ‘거시기 geoshigi’ when you forgot how to say something, kind of like “that thing” in English.
To learn more about the Jeollado dialect, we recommend watching the film Sunset in My Hometown.
Among all Korean dialects, Jejudo dialect is the most distinct one, to the point it’s often considered a different language. This is probably because Jeju Island is geographically separated from mainland Korea. Historically, this dialect is influenced by Japanese and Mongolian.
75% of the Jejudo dialect doesn’t even exist in standard Korean. But nowadays, most young people in Jejudo speak standard Korean as well, so communication wouldn’t be a big problem (unless you speak with the elderly who only know the Jejudo dialect).
Because the Jejudo dialect is so different from standard Korean, it’s hard to describe any features of this dialect. If you know the Korean language, you’ll be able to distinguish this dialect immediately from others. To learn more about the Jejudo dialect, check out the Korean movie 계춘할망 (Canola).
Dialects reflect a region’s history, environment, and temperament of its people. Whether it’s the soft, melodic Jeju dialect, reminiscent of the island’s tranquil scenery, or the expressive, lively dialect of Gyeongsang, each satoori tells its own story. By understanding these dialects, we delve deeper into Korean society and culture.