Korea's mother tongue: English

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The Independent Online
SOUTH KOREA, a battleground of the various imperialisms of the 20th century, is anticipating falling victim to what promises to be the greatest imperialism of the 21st.

The new empire that threatens this time, however, is a linguistic one, and even the president is a willing victim. "My beloved young people!" exclaims President Kim Dae-jung in his book A New Beginning. "Learn English!"

Mr Kim memorises at least 10 new English words and sentences each night, said a spokesman. But the motivation may not just be an eagerness to communicate on the international stage. One of his compatriots is predicting the Korean language itself will die out and the whole country will be speaking English in the (more or less) foreseeable future.

The economist and novelist Bok Koh-ill believes English could be raised to equal status with Korean in a generation, and prophecies that Korean (and nearly all other languages) will die or be "museum languages" within 200 years, leaving just English.

In his book The National Language in an era of Globalisation, he urges the government to start work now. "In the first stage all government documents should be in both languages, and those in English should have the same status as those in Korean," he writes.

His predictions confirm some of his compatriots' worst fears. But among 20,000 people who visited a web site set up by a conservative newspaper to vote on the idea, 45 per cent agreed with Bok.