UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Munhwaŏ : the ‘cultured language’ and language branding in North Korea, 1964-1984 Jentzsch, Spencer James


Branding is the process of giving a product a life of its own—a sort of personification of the business world. In language branding, the marketing principles of branding are applied to language. Since Kim Il Sung’s ‘talk with linguists’ in 1964 and 1966, North Korea has maintained a consistent language policy and method of language branding of their newly ‘branded’ language of Munhwaŏ. Throughout the process of language branding, North Korea’s popular language planning journal, Munhwaŏ Haksŭp ‘Cultured Language Learning’, communicates Munhwaŏ—with the North Korean government’s pre-packaged identity—to rank-and-file North Koreans. In accordance with Olin and Kotler’s claims that corporation branding techniques are applicable to other disciplines, this thesis examines publications of Munhwaŏ Haksŭp to discuss the rebranding of the North Korean variety of the Korean language as Munhwaŏ. Munhwaŏ Haksŭp first repackages this new language through maldadŭmgi ‘vocabulary refinement’, instructions on proper writing and proper speech, and promoting concepts of language primordialism. Second, Munhwaŏ Haksŭp separates the newly defined language of Munhwaŏ from its sister language in South Korea by focusing on the ideopolitical and linguistic differences between the two, particularly criticizing the influx of English, Japanese, and Sino-Korean loanwords into the South Korean variety. The distinction between the two nation’s languages, however, is limited, as can be seen from North Korean attempts to prevent Munhwaŏ from straying too far from South Korea’s Han’gugŏ. Finally, Munhwaŏ Haksŭp compares Munhwaŏ to the languages of the rest of the world, heavily promoting the ususŏng (usu-nature or superiority) of Munhwaŏ—and, by extension, the North Korea—through articles focusing on script nationalism, aural aesthetics, abundance of expression, and politeness. Whether a conscious decision by the North Korean government or not, the evidence provided in this thesis overwhelmingly suggests that the marketing principles of branding—giving the brand a story, a name, and a symbol, asserting differences in image with a rival brand, and, above all, promoting the uniqueness of the brand—were systematically and consistently applied to Munhwaŏ on the pages of Munhwaŏ Haksŭp.

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