North Korean military authorities have recently railed against the use of South Korean expressions, strongly encouraging young soldiers to use the so-called “Pyongyang cultural language.” 

In an educational article entitled “National Language” that ran in a copy of the July issue of “Soldier’s Life” (a magazine published by the General Political Bureau) recently obtained by Daily NK, the military authorities stressed that “among the symbols that demonstrate the dignity and independence of our Fatherland is our national language, about which we can be highly proud of before the world.”

“The Great Leaders [Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il] made the language of the revolutionary capital Pyongyang the national standard, working to evolve a transition in the national language,” said the article. “A fundamental transition took place when foreign borrowings and other uncultured factors were purged.”

“Pyongyang cultural language” refers to North Korea’s standard language, used since the 1960s based on a “teaching” from late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. North Korea claims the language integrates the “unique character and excellence of the national language and represents the original form of the modern, sophisticated Korean language.”

That is to say, the article basically stresses that soldiers should use the “Pyongyang cultural language” as part of their daily lives.

Lecturers tasked with politically educating soldiers have gone even further.

According to the source, lecturers such as unit propaganda officers and political guidance officers lamented that newly recruited soldiers who have yet to “shed social corruption” are spending their downtime singing pop songs using “old, rotten singing styles from South Korea.” They warned this was corrupting the “revolutionary spirit of the military” and represented “an act benefiting the enemy.”

This criticism lines up with the “anti-reactionary thought law” enacted late last year, which bans the use of South Korean speech and singing styles (punishable by up to two years in a labor or reeducation camp). The warnings also suggest that the authorities intend to eradicate the spread of South Korean pop culture.

North Korean soldiers electricity discharge chinese
North Korean soldiers walking near Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

North Korean authorities believe the spread of South Korean pop culture could not only change local lifestyles, but also awaken citizens to the flaws of the regime as they compare South Korean society with their own.

That is to say, North Korean authorities have grown wary as people exposed to South Korean films or TV programs have begun mimicking South Korean fashion, hairstyles, and even speech patterns. North Korean youth commonly use South Korean expressions such as chingu (friend) instead of dongmu (comrade), and oppa instead of orabeoni (older brother). Even the South Korean expression jjokpallyeo (to be embarrassed) has come into common use.

The lecturers also condemned the use of words borrowed from English. Pointing to material from the political department of the 12th Corps, the lecturers said “major problems” arose in one of the corps’s independent platoons because recruits were using foreign words such as “OK” and “no” amongst themselves in the barracks, something the lecturers labeled a “flaw.”

The lecturers stressed that “a sign that young soldiers are conforming with healthy ideology and thought and revolutionary and ethical character” is that they conduct their “linguistic lives in revolutionary fashion.” In short, the lecturers linked the use of a particular kind of language with someone’s revolutionary character.

In particular, they warned that continued use of South Korean speech could spark “illusions regarding the enemy” and “douse soldiers in imperialist, reactionary thought,” rendering those carrying the “guns of the revolution” unclear who their “class enemies” are.

North Korean military authorities are extremely concerned about “ideological laxity” among the “new generation” of soldiers, primarily young people with easy access to foreign cultural products. They are calling for a “war to protect the ideological stronghold of socialism.”

Meanwhile, North Korean authorities have reportedly ordered each branch of the military to carry out independent reviews “in the form of consideration, discussions and ideological struggles” of “anti-socialist and non-socialist tendencies” in language use by the Day of Songun (Aug. 25). Units must report the results of the review to the military leadership.

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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to