Gangnam Style, Bts and Squid Game: The linguistic consequences of the Korean Wave

Via the global stardom and the colossal cult-like following of global K-pop groups like BTS, Got7, Blackpink and Twice, Korean culture has seen a massive rise in its popularity all around the globe, something which is attributed to increasing accessibility to technology and social media. This steep hike in popularity is visible within all sectors of culture; tv shows (Squid Game), Cinema(Parasite), Food (Dalgona Coffee) and Fashion (Modern Hanboks). This is termed “Hallyu” by Koreans: a term used to refer to the sweeping phenomenon of the Korean Wave of Entertainment that has taken over the world like a storm.

This phenomenon has not left language untouched, with 26 new Korean words being added to the Oxford dictionary in 2021, proving that lexical innovation is no longer confined to mainly European languages such as English, French or Spanish.

These new additions to the dictionary include words from aegyo, n. and adj. – a cute display of affection to manhwa, n. – a Korean genre of cartoons and comic books, often influenced by Japanese manga to even food-related terminology such as kimbap, n. – a Korean dish consisting of cooked rice and other ingredients wrapped in a sheet of seaweed and cut into bite-sized slices. These additions are proof of not only the influence of K-pop and Korean culture, but they also hold testimony to the increasing globalisation that has translated (quite literally) over to dictionaries.

While English is the omnipresent language employed by most of the world, incorporations–such as the aforementioned–are imperative since they provide an official means through which academics, or anyone writing, use the ever-expanding sea of vocabulary (bad news for spelling bee fanatics). Language is one of the most important means of communication and one of the most critical components to understanding any culture, making the inclusion of such words essential to understanding humanity. Not only do the additions increase the accessibility of various languages, helping us comprehend the diversity of cultures through the consumption of media originating from a multitude of cultures ensuring we can make meaningful connections. Thus vocabulary and its ever-expanding nature prove to be crucial in our interaction with others, be it online or in person.

Riding the Hallyu wave, online communities focusing on K-pop consumption have experienced rapid enlargement in relevance to the community size with Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr being just a few examples. Even though these communities consist individuals who do not hail from Korea or even have native skills of the language, the Korean language is consistently seen and used by non-native Korean speakers. This is visible not only in the official fandom terminology but also in a desire to understand the lyrics and perhaps even sing and enunciate them properly.

Albeit the Korean language in itself is difficult to enunciate and pronounce for non-native speakers with the exception of a few words (gangnam style being the prime example here) there has been a trend in taking part in Korean language lessons both online and in universities in an attempt to be able to sing properly *cue horrible attempts to sing K-pop*.

Subsequently, this incorporation might lead to a domino effect of including various words and phrases from a multitude of cultures and places in official dictionaries and ultimately becoming a part of everyday vocabulary .

Ultimately the inclusion of Korean words and phrases is proof of the lexical innovations that are to come in the twenty-first century as a direct effect of not only rampant modernization but also globalisation which has sowed and embedded itself into various cultural elements one of those being language alongside media such as music, books and tv.

TLC Writer

Khadija Zahra

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