Is Pyongyang Different in Washington and Seoul? English and Korean Language Policy Discourse on North Korea

During 2017-18, international attention turned to the Korean Peninsula as the threat of conflict reached new heights. This led to an explosion in the growth of “North Korea watchers”— the community of scholars, analysts, government officers, NGO advocates, and journalists who commit a portion of their lives to following events in North Korea. Divides emerged in overlapping regional, professional, institutional (political), and linguistic differences that saw individuals take conflicting positions on key issues. This paper investigates just one of these divides—how language and culture impact policy discourse on North Korea.

The study explores language as a source of division in the North Korea watching community. It uses Einar Wigen’s argument that international relations should be conceptualized as inter-lingual relations, which suggests that despite the narrowing of political vocabularies, residues of politico-cultural differences remain in how concepts are contextualized into discourse, even between close partners. The study assesses compatibility between English and Korean language conceptualizations of North Korea, through an assessment of core inputs into policy discourse. The study then discusses the implications for U.S.-South Korea relations, and ongoing efforts to strengthen Korean Peninsula security.

Is Pyongyang different in Washington and Seoul.pdf