World language: Initiative to spotlight Korean linguistics on a global stage

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — Spoken by more than 80 million people, Korean is a major world language. The public recognition of that has received a significant boost in recent years, likely owing to the worldwide popularity of K-pop and K-dramas.

Out of the world’s 3,000 written languages, Korean is 12th in terms of the number of speakers, pointed out Professor of Asian and Asian American Studies Sungdai Cho, director of Binghamton University’s Center for Korean Studies. A new three-year grant for more than $200,000 from the South Korean government will help spotlight the language and its impact both in the region and larger world.

Cho’s project, which deals with theoretical and applied Korean linguistics and Korean’s status as a world language, is among only five to receive funding from the Academy of Korean Studies this year, and the only one in the United States. It’s the second time he has received grant funding from the organization; he also received a $1.4 million grant in 2016 for linguistics research.

The current grant will support conferences and workshops, boost Korean linguistics in academic publications and give Binghamton the opportunity to become the nexus of Korean linguistics for the next three years.

“It will attract not only linguistic scholars and graduate students, but also the general public to learn more about Korean linguistics,” Cho said of the project.

Unlike prior research, which sought — largely unsuccessfully — to establish a clear genetic relationship between Korean and other languages, this project will focus on Korean’s historical role in Northeast Asia and then move outward to explore its growing status on the world stage.

The goal is to provide a solid linguistic basis for the understanding of Korean as a major world language, from a pure and applied linguistics perspective, Cho explained. To that end, he has brought together seven internationally recognized experts in all areas of Korean linguistics, from history, syntax and cognitive linguistics to semantics and applied linguistics; five are from the United States and two are based in Europe.

Headquartered at Binghamton’s Center for Korean Studies, the team will work together on books and journal articles focused on Korean linguistics, as well as a major international conference and four international linguistics workshops, which will be held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2023, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2024, and Cornell University and the University of York (UK) in 2025.

Topics planned for the four monographs are Korean syntax, comparative analysis of generative and cognitive linguistic research, negation and language pedagogy; they will be published by Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, John Benjamins Publishing and Routledge. Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information also will publish an edited volume of papers from the conferences.

“Dr. Sungdai Cho’s grant has significant potential to contribute to the growing interest in Korean language, culture and history by Binghamton University students and faculty. It also provides an opportunity for a rich international scholarly collaboration,” said Dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences Celia Klin.