Washington International Law Journal


Language policies that mandate a government use a single language may seem controversial and unconstitutional. English-only policies are often seen as xenophobic and discriminatory. However, that may not be the case for South Korea’s Framework Act on Korean Language, which mandates the use of the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, for official documents by government institutions. Despite the resemblance between the Framework Act on Korean Language and English-only policies, the Framework Act should be understood differently than English-only policies because the Hangeul-only movement has an inverse history to English-only movements. English-only movements have a history of using English as a tool to force assimilation. In contrast, Hangeul has a history of being a tool of resistance against forced assimilation perpetrated by the Japanese colonial government. Japanese colonizers attempted to eliminate the Korean language by forcing Japanese as the national language of Korea, removing Korean language arts as a subject from school curricula, and punishing those who still retained Korean. As an act of independence and autonomy, Korean scholars continued to study and develop Hangeul and the Korean language. This historical context of Hangeul demonstrates one perspective in understanding the Framework Act on Korean Language and its constitutionality differently than English-only policies in the United States. However, the dangers of discrimination arising from the Framework Act on Korean Language cannot be ignored. Thus, this Comment also examines the law’s discriminatory effect as Korea’s foreign population continues to grow.

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