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Shawn Ford
LING 102
Field Work Project
Fall 1999

note: The following paper is based on a language field work project for Linguistics 102, instructed by Professor Louise Pagotto, taken in the fall of 1999 at Kapiolani Community College, Honolulu, HI. This is my first attempt at analyzing a language linguistically. Due to the nature of the assignment, it is not intended to be a comprehensive study of Korean. Please pardon any mistakes or omissions.

A Sketch of Korean


The following field work project is a very superficial analysis of the Korean Language. Korean is spoken primarily on the Korean Peninsula in North and South Korea. The language data for this project was obtained on November 11, 1999, from a 24-year-old female subject. She is half-Korean on her mother’s side. She grew up in Seoul, Korea, until the age of eight. Since then, she has lived in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she continues to speak Korean with family and friends in addition to fluent English as her second language.


This section looks at the morphology of Korean. I will first look at the formation of words. Next, I will discuss inflectional morphology. Lastly, I will consider the morphological typology of Korean.

Word Formation

From the data obtained in this brief language study, the only examples of word formation found in Korean involve the process of derivation, where affixes or suffixes are attached to free verbal morphemes.

The following is an example of an affix attached to a verb:

Khe ga            an- a-     po
dog MARKER not sick-PRES
 The dog is not sick.

The sentence in 2.5 illustrates the negation of the free verbal morpheme a-po by adding the affix –an.

The following is an example of a suffix attached to a verb:

Agee ga            chya -n-da
baby MARKER sleep -ing
The baby is sleeping.

The sentence in 1.5 shows how the verb chya is used in the present tense by adding the suffix –n-da.

Although there are probably many more processes involved in word formation in the Korean language, those involving derivation were the only processes found in this short field study.

Inflectional Morphology

Examples of inflectional morphology in Korean can be found in the way that plural nouns and verb tenses are formed.

An example of the formation of a plural noun is shown below:

Agee thul e                       chyan-da
baby PLURAL MARKER sleep –ing
 The babies are sleeping.

It appears from the sentence in 1.6 that the free, independent morpheme thul is uttered after the noun to make the noun plural. According to this study’s language consultant, thul is not a suffix. Due to the limited scope of this study, it is not clear whether or not thul can be used with all nouns.

The following are examples of present, past, and future verb tense formation in Korean:

Agee ga            chya -n-da
baby MARKER sleep –ing
The baby is sleeping.

Agee ga            chya-tta
baby MARKER slept
The baby slept.

Agee ga            chya -l-gu-da
baby MARKER sleep will
The baby will sleep.

In each of the proceeding examples, the verb chya is modified by a suffix to change its tense. In sentence 1.5, chya is made present by adding the suffix –n-da. In sentence 1.7, chya is made past by adding the suffix –tta. In sentence 1.8, chya is made future by adding the suffix –l-gu-da.

However, there appears to by some inconsistency in Korean with regard to verb formation. In the following sentence, the present verb is not modified the same as in the previous example:

Khe ga            a-po
dog MARKER sick-PRES.
The dog is sick.

The verb a-po lacks the –n-da suffix found in sentence 1.5. Therefore, while there appear to be certain rules regarding the formation of verb tenses in Korean, there is also evidence of exceptions.

In addition, an interesting characteristic is found regarding the definiteness of nouns. It appears that definiteness on nouns is marked when nouns are uttered in isolation as fragments outside of a sentence:

chuh agee
the baby

However, when uttered within a sentence, the noun agee drops its definiteness:

Agee ga            chya -n-da
baby MARKER sleep –PRES.
The baby is sleeping.

Considering the limited amount of data gathered during this field study, definiteness of nouns is not clearly understood. More research is necessary to determine whether or not definiteness is marked anywhere else in the Korean language.

Morphological Typology

Upon close inspection of the data obtained in this field study, the Korean language may be classified as synthetic and agglutinating. Most of the word formation seems to be achieved by attaching bound morphemes to free morphemes. In addition, once made aware of the affixes and suffixes, their boundaries with free morphemes seem to be easy to notice. However, considering the exceptions found in this brief study, much more research is needed before a conclusive classification may be reached.


In this section, we will discuss the syntax of the Korean language. First, we will look at the structure of phrases and sentences, followed by an examination of the constituent order of sentences. Lastly, we will consider the syntactic typology of Korean.


The three different types of phrases that can be examined from the field study data are noun phrases, prepositional phrases, and verb phrases. Each of these phrases appear to be consistent throughout the data.

The following sentence has an example of a noun phrase:

Ne nul-gun khe ga a-po.
my old dog MARKER sick-PRES.
My old dog is sick.

In sentence 2.8, the structure of the noun phrase is determiner-adjective-noun.

The following sentence has an example of a prepositional phrase:

Takchya we -e mo -nya?
table on MARKER what QUESTION
What is on the table?

In sentence 3.10, the structure of the prepositional phrase is noun-preposition-marker.

The following sentence has an example of a verb phrase:

Yo-ja ga chip rul pa-tta.
woman MARKER house MARKER see-PAST.
The woman saw the house.

In sentence 3.5, the structure of the verb phrase is object-marker-verb.

In the following two examples, we will see how Korean negates a sentence:

Yo-ja ga khe rul pa -tta.
woman MARKER dog MARKER see –PAST
The woman saw the dog.

Yo-ja ga khe rul an- pa -tta.
Woman MARKER dog MARKER not see –PAST
 The woman did not see the dog.

While sentence 2.9 is a positive statement, sentence 2.10 becomes its negative by adding the affix an- to the verb pa. In this example, the addition of the negative affix does not change the structure of the sentence.

In the following example, we can see how sentence 2.9 is made into a yes/no question:

Yo-ja ga khe rul pa n -nya?
Did the woman see the dog?

Again, the addition of the question word –nya at the end of the sentence does not change the overall structure of the sentence.

Constituent Order

The order of the major constituents in Korean sentences appears to be SOV: subject-object-verb. Throughout all of the data obtained in the field study, the SOV constituent order remains consistent.

Typological Features

One interesting feature of Korean syntactic typology that is recognized is the placement of noun and prepositional phrases within a verb phrase in front of the verb. This feature is seen in the following two examples:

Yo-ja ga chip rul pa -tta.
woman MARKER house MARKER see –PAST
The woman saw the house.

Takchya we -e mo -nya?
table on MARKER what QUESTION
What is on the table?

Perhaps this is a syntactic typological feature of SOV constituent ordered languages. Since the verb seems to always appear at the end of the sentence, and the object is marked to the verb by a marker, the result may be unambiguous sentences.


From the analysis of the data obtained in this brief field work study, the Korean language appears to be a very rule-governed and structured language. Korean adds inflection to words and asks questions without changing much of the basic SOV structure of the sentence. The majority of inconsistencies found are related to verb tenses and the definiteness of nouns. Within the parameters of this field work project, only the foundation of the Korean language has been explored. It is evident that a more in-depth study is required to answer some of the questions that arose during this limited study.

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contents (c) 2001 Shawn Ford/ Webb-Ed Press