North Koreans risk death penalty for using South Korean language

North Koreans risk death penalty for using South Korean language

North Koreans risk capital punishment for imitating South Korean accents and phrases following the introduction of a new law to combat South Korea’s growing linguistic influence on its communist neighbour.

The Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act seeks to “purify” the Korean dialect.

“The state shall treat anyone who imitates or spreads the puppet language as garbage contaminated with puppet culture and as criminals,” the legislation provides. Pyongyang perceives South Korea as a US-controlled puppet state. The law adds: “Anyone, regardless of the seriousness of the matter, shall face serious legal sanctions, including the death penalty.”

The legislation prohibits the usage of unauthorised neologisms, Japanese vocabulary, obscure words and “unethical abbreviations”. However, its principal focus is a new offence: “Using the puppet way of speaking.”

North Koreans are increasingly exposed to South Korean culture through illegally imported films, television dramas and news programmes stored on memory cards. Mobile phones offer another medium to access, view and disseminate prohibited foreign content.

The popularity of South Korean dramas has led to a fad for novel speech forms. Over the three-quarters of a century since national partition, North Korean and South Korean Korean have diverged, with the latter incorporating English loan words and neologisms.

According to the Daily NK website, which collates accounts from North Koreans, two young individuals in Hyesan were publicly criticised and sentenced to two years in a juvenile re-education centre for speaking in the South Korean style in March.

Article 30 of the law mandates the installation of “puppet way of speaking elimination programmes” on phones and computers by companies, state organisations and individuals.

Last week, the state-run Workers’ Newspaper stated: “All women with children must become intimate supporters and strict educators for their children’s linguistic lives, and guide their children from a young age to properly nurture the unique and special qualities of our language.”

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