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South Korea Ethnic Groups

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  • 0:04 South Korea
  • 0:42 Korean Ethnicity Background
  • 1:53 Korean Ethnicity Origins
  • 3:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

South Korea is a major East Asian nation. In this lesson, we'll be talking about ethnic groups of South Korea and see what they reflect about the nation's history.

South Korea

If I asked you to find the Republic of Korea, where would you look? If you answered East Asia, you're correct. Congratulations! Specifically, you'd be looking at the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. As a result of decolonization efforts after WWII and the conclusion of the often-missed destructive Korean War of 1950 to 1953, the Korean Peninsula was actually divided into two nations, North Korea and South Korea. So who are the South Korean people? To see that, we're going to have to stop talking purely about maps and look a little more closely.

Korean Ethnicity Background

In terms of ethnicity, Korea is one of the most ethnically homogenous nations in the world. That means that almost everybody belongs to the same ethnic category. Over 99% of South Koreans identify as ethnically Korean. The largest group of ethnic minorities in South Korea, the Chinese, only number around 20,000 people. So Korea really is home to the Koreans.

Any idea what language they speak? Koreans speak the Korean language, so no surprises there. However, this language itself is somewhat of a mystery to many scholars. Some claim that it shares enough similarities with the Mongolian and Turkish languages to belong to the Altaic language family. Other scholars claim that Korean is a rare example of a language isolate, which is a language that is not related to any other spoken language and seems to have developed in isolation from other traditions (like the Hungarian language in Europe, which is completely isolated from the surrounding Slavic, Germanic, and Romance languages of the continent). This is important, since understanding the history of a language can tell us a lot about a group of people and their ancestral history.

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