Northern Exposures: A
Primer to Language in
the DPRK - The Modern

Some vocabulary on modern Choson

Lesson 2 - The DPRK Today

Northern Exposures is a primer to the language of today’s DPRK and northern Korea. It aims to introduce useful vocabulary, phrases, and grammar relevant to the region and related context to students of the Korean language. It assumes basic knowledge of Korean script.

Our previous lesson discussed some traditional names for Korea, including Choson. Today we look at some aspects of the modern state and how to talk about it.

Choson appears appearing in the long-form official name of the country today: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (조선민주주의인민공화국) or ‘DPRK’. Alternatively, the DPRK is often referred to simply as ‘our country’ (우리나라), ‘my country’ (내 나라), or ‘the Republic’ (공화국).

The Korean state to the south is thus ‘south Choson’ (남조선), making the DPRK ‘north Choson’ (북조선), respectively. The people in both are simply Koreans (조선사람/조선인) and the language they speak broadly Korean (조선말/조선어) . The same goes for the alphabet (조선글), food (조선음식), clothes (조선옷), literature (조선문학), and anything else that has a national identity (more on these later!). *Interestingly enough the airline code of Air Koryo (고려항공) is JS which stands for Jo-seon, an alternative spelling of Choson.

The ruling party of the DPRK is the Workers' Party of Korea (조선로동당) , which can also be referred to as ‘our party’ (우리당) or ‘the mother party’ (어머니당). Visitors to the Monument to Party Foundation in east Pyongyang will be familiar with the symbol of the Worker’s Party comprised of iconic hammer (망치) and sickle (낫) with the addition of a writing brush (붓). These represent the workers (로동자), farmers (농민), and intellectuals (인텔리), respectively.

Behind the same monument may be familiar with the neon light on the red apartment buildings in the background which read ‘one hundred battles, one hundred victories’ (백전백승), or ‘ever-victorious party' (백전백승로동당). The Workers' Party News (로동신문) is the country’s main newspaper. ‘Democratic Choson’ (민주조선) is the name of another newspaper.

The DPRK has a number of other minor parties that together with the Worker’s Party of Korea form the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland (조국통일민주주의전선). These are the the Social Democratic Party (사회민주당) and the Chondoist 'Friends of the Heavenly Way' Party (천도교청우당).These parties hold seats in the Supreme People's Assembly (최고인민회의).

The guiding philosophy of the state is the Juche Idea (주체사상), which literally means ‘mastering the body’. It’s core tenets include self-reliance (자립), freedom (자유), and peace (평화). Also prominent is the ‘military first’ (선군) and can be used to also describe the country (선군조선).

In the next lesson we'll take a look at some sayings associated with old provincial stereotypes in northern Korea.

Interested in studying in Pyongyang? Check out our three-week Pyongyang Summer School Korean Language Programme from July 12-August 4, 2018.

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