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Kaesong dialect targeted in N. Korea’s drive to eliminate non-standard speech

As the North Korean government seeks to tighten ideological control over the “next generation” of children and young people this year, it is taking steps to implement the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act in Kaesong, a city geographically close to South Korea.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Friday that the North Korean authorities have sent 30 graduates of teaching colleges outside Kaesong to the city under the pretext of implementing the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act. The sending of the teachers is part of an initiative to change the Kaesong accent, which is similar to that of South Koreans.

“The Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea has been informed that since everyone in Kaesong, including children and adults, has an accent similar to that of South Korea, even the teachers, most of whom are local people, are finding it difficult to comply with the guidelines of the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act. As a result, the government has assigned 30 female graduates of a teacher training college in Nampo, South Pyongan Province, to Kaesong,” the source said.

Although the similarities between the two accents are due to geography, the North Korean authorities believe that allowing this accent to be passed on to the next generation would violate the spirit of the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act, the source said.


The authorities also plan to send teachers from the Pyongyang area to Kaesong to teach the standard Pyongyang dialect to students in kindergartens and elementary schools in Kaesong.

In short, the North Korean government wants to eliminate South Korean speech patterns in Kaesong by teaching young children the standard Pyongyang dialect.

While only 30 teachers have been sent to Kaesong in this round, the North Korean authorities have drawn up plans to increase the number of transplanted teachers in Kaesong’s kindergartens and primary schools.

In particular, the North Korean authorities have praised the 30 teachers recently transferred to Kaesong as “gift teachers.” Essentially, the teachers are praised as a gift to the children, who will have the opportunity to learn the standard Pyongyang dialect.


Some Kaesong residents upset by the move

However, soon after the newly deployed teachers arrived at their new posts, the government’s heavy-handed measures irritated not only parents and children but also the teachers themselves.

Kaesong residents, including schoolchildren and their parents, feel it is unfair to be suddenly stigmatized for using a “traitorous way of speaking” when they are simply using the local dialect, which they have never considered similar to the South Korean dialect.

The source noted that some consider the Kaesong dialect to be “slippery and insidious” because its speakers pronounce a certain vowel as “uh” instead of “oh” as in the Pyongyang dialect.


“In any case, forcing local people to change their accent would be tantamount to eradicating local characteristics that have been passed down for generations. The government is branding people in Kaesong as ideologically different,” the source said.

“This is very confusing for young children whose parents speak the Kaesong dialect. Parents don’t know what to say when their children come home and scold them for using the wrong dialect.”

Life in Kaesong has also been challenging for teachers, who have been forced to leave their parents and siblings to teach children from another region.

“Children aren’t going to enjoy being in kindergarten or elementary school when their teachers are struggling to adapt. The government is facing a lot of criticism for pulling a stunt like this,” the source said.


Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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February 05, 2024 at 01:30PM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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