Indigenous Language Speaker Series: Endangered Korean dialects in the former USSR and the ‘Soviet Korean’ that could have been: 150 years of Koremari

When and Where

Friday, March 01, 2024 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm
Virtual: Zoom


Ross King, Professor of Korean Language and Literature, University of British Columbia


Meeting ID: 895 5544 9007)



Dr. Ross King is a Professor of Korean Language and Literature at the University of British Columbia (UBC) with a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Harvard University. His research focuses on the history of language, writing, and literary culture in the Sinographic cultural sphere, specifically medieval Korea. Dr. King specializes in Korean historical linguistics, dialectology, and the history of Korean linguistics. Additionally, he is actively engaged in Korean language pedagogy at both university and K-12 levels. Notably, he contributes to the Korean Language Village, showcasing his commitment to fostering language education.


Endangered Korean dialects in the former USSR and the ‘Soviet Korean’ that could have been: 150 years of Koremari

Ross King, Professor of Korean, University of British Columbia

In this presentation, I examine the data we have at our disposal for a variety of Korean that we can call ‘Soviet Korean’, focusing primarily on the written sources in Korean produced during the first decade or so of intense cultural work among the Soviet Korean populace in the Russian Far East before all Koreans there were deported to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in 1937.

I examine Soviet Korean from the perspective of a) Terry Martin’s “Piedmont principle”—“the Soviet attempt to exploit cross-border ethnic ties to project political influence into neighbouring states;” b) notions of center vs. periphery and hard-line vs. soft-line bureaucracies in Soviet governmentality and nationalities policy (Martin 2001); c) Heinz Kloss’ notions of “Ausbau languages” and “Nebensprache,” summarized by Wexler (1981: 108) as “ … dialects which develop their own standard norms, with or without a differential non-native component – rather than preserving links with a related standard language ...;” and d) Éloy’s (2004) notion of ‘langues collatérales.’

I conclude that, through a combination of pre-existing Korean dialect constellations on the ground, ideologically motivated orthographic choices that (coincidentally) reinforced salient dialect differences, Soviet korenizatsiia (indigenization) policies, and the workings of the Piedmont Principle (Soviet Koreans as a shining beacon for their oppressed brethren across the border in Japanese-occupied Korea), ‘Soviet’ Korean was well on its way to emerging as a new Korean ‘Nebensprache’ and/or distinct Korean ‘Kultur’-dialect (Haarmann 1975) when these developments were nipped in the bud by the forced deportation of 1937, an act that made of the Soviet Koreans yet another ‘rag doll nation’ (Schrad 2004).

Select References

Eloy, Jean-Michel (ed.). 2004. Des langues collatérales: problèmes linguistiques, sociolinguistiques et glottopolitiques de la proximité linguistique: actes du colloque international réuni à Amiens, du 21 au 24 novembre 2001. Paris, France: L’Harmattan.

Kloss, Heinz. 1929. Nebensprachen. Vienna: Braumüller.

---------------. 1967. Abstand languages and Ausbau languages. Anthropological linguistics 9: 29-41.

Martin, Terry. 1998. The origins of Soviet ethnic cleansing. Journal of modern history 70:4: 813-861.

-------------. 2001. The affirmative action empire: Nations and nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Schrad, Mark Lawrence. 2004. Rag doll nations and the politics of differentiation on arbitrary borders: Karelia and Moldova. Nationalities papers 32:2: 457-496.

Wexler, Paul. 1981. Jewish interlinguistics: facts and conceptual framework. Language 57:1: 99-149.

Contact Information

Hyeyoon Cho, Assistant Professor