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North Korea, currently ran by the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, currently holds the highest literacy rate in the world holding an average of 99% according to website Asianinfo. Currently, North Korea has a population of over 25 million people according to population website Worldometers.
Society in North Korea is vastly different when it comes to styles of communication when compared to American counterparts. A major part of this is attained due to the one-man- style dictatorship North Korea holds and the authoritative leadership that North Korea is known for. Throughout the whole world, North Korea is one of the most brutalist and strictest countries, because of this, this makes citizens fearful for their life and forces them to abide by every single rule placed by the government. In North Korea, information is censored, there are lots of power dynamics into play, and citizens are forced to communicate in certain ways. Citizens do not have a choice on what to do, they are always being watched and told what to do. There is no individualism thinking going on between each North Korean citizen. It boils down to what North Korea wants you to do. Most of North Korea’s whole authoritative culture is what gives North Korea’s style of communication its uniqueness. When it comes to their verbal and non-verbal communication styles, they are forced to act a certain way. When it comes to North Korea, the way citizen’s communication tends to be taken seriously as one word or non-verbal action can mean death. Looking into North Korea’s culture, history, and philosophy, we will be analyzing North Korea’s style of verbal and non-verbal communication
In 1910, five years later following the Russo-Japanese war, Japan took over the Korean Peninsula. For the next 35 years, Japan took control of this Peninsula by modernizing and industrializing it significantly, as a result, many Koreans suffered many problems due to Japan’s harsh military regime. Following this event, upon Japan’s defeat in 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union divided the Peninsula in half otherwise known as the “38th parallel.” Fast forward a few years later, in 1948, South Korea was formed led by anti-communist leader Syngman Rhee, while on the other hand, North Korea was formed led by a young communist named Kim II Sung. Although the Peninsula was divided into half, this caused each side to cause problems over who owned the whole Peninsula. With tensions rising, this caused North Korea to invade South Korea sparking the infamous Korean War. Although this war went on for three years, North Korea and South Korea ended the war unchanged with a formal peace treaty never signed. After the Korean War, Kim II Sung shaped North Korea under a nationalist society called “Juche” meaning self-reliance. This ideology caused North Korea to have tight control over everything such as the economy, media, and its citizens. By adopting this type of ideology and having tight restrictions on everything, this helped North Korea preserve its secrecy around the world. In 1994, Kim II Sung died of a heart attack and left the role to his son Kim Jong-un, now North Korea’s leader. Keeping the same ideology as Kim II, Kim-Jung II now focuses on a military first style approach otherwise known as “Songun Chong’chi.” Due to this “Juche” ideology, this is what led North Korea to be in the state it is now. This is the key reason to what leads citizens to talk and act a certain way. Keeping tight restrictions on everything is the key to North Korea’s authoritative culture and society. North Korea decides how citizens should talk verbally and non-verbally and is an important idea to keep in mind when analyzing their communication styles. Keeping North Korea’s communicative styles in mind, we will be analyzing their verbal communication practices below.
Verbally, the North and the South should both speak the same Korean language, but this is not the case when it comes to North Korea’s verbal communication. When it comes to the differences in their verbal communication, the South talks in a dialect called the “Gyeonggi” dialect, while the North talks in a dialect called the “Munhwaŏ” dialect. These dialects are what separates the North’s way of speaking from the South as the “Munhwaŏ” dialect is spoken in the North. The “Munhwaŏ” dialect is the standard dialect spoken in North Korea. In 1966, it was embraced as the standard language spoken. According to a site called WorldAtlus, most of these distinctions in dialects between the South and North is attributed to North Korea’s ideological inclination for the “speech of the working class.” Meaning that terms that are regarded as non- standard in South Korea and replacing loan words with pure Korean words. Verbal Communication in the North Verbal communication in North Korea is dramatically different when it is compared to the rest of the world. In a YouTube video titled “Never Before Seen Real Life Footage Inside of North Korea,” it provides commentary and footage of the daily lives and activities that go around in North Korea. Watching this documentary, it gives a detailed look into how North Korean’s talk and live throughout their daily lives.
One key thing that is apparent in the way North Korean’s verbally communicate is the way they converse when they speak. The way they communicate indicated them to be more behaved and more mature. Something apparent also in the way they speak verbally is everybody talks to same way with the same tone which represents their behaved and mature tone of voice, there is no personality when it comes to each citizen. Analyzing the way, they speak, their style of verbal communication can be attributed to North Korea’s authoritative country and them conforming to Kim Jong-un’s ideal society on how he wants his citizens to speak. Naturally, this means their style of verbal communication is more of a restrictive nature.
When it comes to North Korea’s culture and society, it is very apparent that they are a silent and a non-expressive country. Due to the nature of North Korea, citizens are programmed to act a certain way and conform under North Korea’s brutal and harsh laws and because of this fear, this teaches citizens to behave with less expression. From the YouTube documentary, “Never Before Seen Real Life Footage Inside of North Korea,” one example comes to mind when it comes to their silent country. In one part of the video, there is a crowd of students in front of school, one thing that really stood out is no one was talking to each other as normal students would. They were very silent and kept well to themselves, not much verbal communication was going on during school time. Another example from the documentary was the train rides, the train was really silent and no one seemed to verbally converse on the train. This adds to the fact that North Korea is a silent culture just like other countries such as Japan. Each person is more kept to themselves and talks only when needed. Keeping these examples in mind, verbal communication is rarely used and is only used in instances when it is needed and because of the strict nature of North Korea’s society, this is naturally expected as it keeps citizens well behaved. Their silent nature can be linked to less government resistance because if citizens are well behaved and silent, they are less likely to resist the government. When it comes to North Korea, they are more a non-verbal culture than a verbal culture. Below we will analyze North Korea’s non-verbal communication style.
Non-Verbal communication is very apparent when it comes to North Korean culture, their non-verbal ways of communicating indicates that of an ethnocentric culture in which North Korea thinks they are superior to everybody else. One great example of North Korea’s use of ethnocentrism and non-verbal language is a military march called “Goose-Stepping” in which a huge military group march at the same speed at the same amount of steps. Many militaries don’t really use this sort of march due to it’s negative connotation with Nazi Germany and World War II, but to North Korea this type of non-verbal communication shows power. North Korea tends to do this normally as this shows that they are a powerful nation to their citizens and to the world. According to an analysis done by Dr. Jack Brown he says “by doing “Goose-Stepping” it tells people non-verbally that they are powerful, to fear them, we are all as one mind, we will control you, we will not accommodate you, and that you are no longer an individual.” North Korea wants to project that kind of image to everyone around the whole world and especially to its citizens, this is the core foundation of North Korea’s projected power.
In North Korea, Proxemics plays a huge role in society. Proxemics can be defined as distance and space between people. When it comes to North Korea, it is very important to keep as much distance as possible. The main reason for this is Koreans do not touch strangers, especially when it comes to the opposite gender. Something very important in North Korean culture is to show as little of emotion as possible; this is due to their less expressive society. Lastly, North Koreans are not physically affectionate, affection is not really common over there as space is still an important part of North Korea. When you put Proxemics, emotions, and physically all in one, you get a non-verbal society that is not too expressive and restrictive.
There is a huge difference when it comes to verbal communication when compared to American counterparts. Americans are generally open and in some cases loud. Between North Korea and the United States, the United States is more verbally expressive when compared to North Korea. We are more open to conversing with strangers as opposed to North Koreans.
When it comes to verbal language, the United States has a diverse set of languages, while English is the main language, the United States is composed of many languages spoken by many people around the country. For example, according to WorldAtlus, English is the most dominate language, Spanish is the second most spoken language, and Chinese is the third most spoken language. While there are more languages spoken around the country, this shows the diversity of languages spoken. When compared to North Korea, Korean is the only language spoken there.
In the United States, Americans are generally more receptive to physical affection. While not everyone is open to physical affection, it is not frowned upon nor is looked down upon. Physical affection is generally a normal thing when meeting people, seeing acquaintances, or meeting family. America’s style of physical communication shows openness and kindness that may seem very weird to other countries.
Something else to compare between North Korea is the use of distance between people. Everyone has their own comfortable amount of distance and are generally open to getting a little closer if needed too. As opposed to North Korea, distance is a must between everyone, but in the United States, distance can be anything depending on someone’s comfort level. America is generally more receptive to other sorts of distances as opposed to North Korea.
From a United States standpoint, when communicating with North Korea, it is critical to communicate indirectly. For example, in a research done by Cocroft and Ting-Toomey in Asian cultures, they said “Asians have been known to prefer indirect and ambiguous communication in contrast to the direct and clear communication preferred in low-context cultures.” Keeping this in mind, North Korea is a high-context culture, so when verbally communicating it’s best to take an indirect communication style as opposed to a direct style that is normal in the United States. Something extremely important when talking to North Koreans is to talk with respect and maturity as sometimes being expressive or in some cases “different,” can backfire and may seem rude to people of that country, so talking with a sense of respect and maturity will be politer in their culture. In hindsight, having interactions based on this cultural knowledge and having that mutual respect will show politeness and make North Koreans more receptive to conversation.
Keeping Proxemics in mind, it is very important when communicating non-verbally to keep distance between people as North Koreans are not open to closeness, it will cause tension and uncomfortableness between people. By doing this, it will make North Koreans more receptive to any acts of verbal communication. To add on to that, it is extremely important to not show emotion or public affection, according to Park, he says “all public displays of emotion are embarrassing to Koreans.” When non-verbally communicating with Koreans, showing less emotions will be the best way to talk to North Koreans.
Lastly, it is best to avoid as much touch as possible because North Korea is primarily a touch-avoidance culture. A best example to add to this is handshakes, in the United States, handshakes are the primary way to non-verbally communicate openness and relations, while in North Korea bowing is the alternative to hand shaking as this is the way to greet and respect someone. So when communicating non-verbally, avoid touch as much as possible.
All in all, North Korea is dramatically different when it comes to the United States, and the best way to approach their culture is with respect and maturity. Showing any emotion or touch is the worst case when approaching their culture, by avoiding these at all cost, it will ensure cultural knowledge and respect. Although North Korea still lives in fear and are less expressive, this is how their society is when it comes to non-verbally and verbally communicating because of their philosophy, history, government, and especially culture.
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