Etymology of Kimchi: Philological Approach and Historical Perspective

'김치'의 어원 연구

Paek, Doo-Hyeon

  • Received : 2019.04.12
  • Accepted : 2019.04.18
  • Published : 2019.04.30


The history of modern Korean 'kimchi' can be traced through the history of the wordforms 'dihi' (디히), 'dimchʌi' (딤?), and 'thimchʌi' (팀?) in ancient Korean texts. As native Korean words, the 'dihi' word line ('dihi', 'dii', 'jihi', and 'ji') constitutes an old substratum. This word line coexisted with the 'dimchʌi' word line (dimchʌi, jimchʌi, and kim∫chi) from the Hanja '沈菜'. 'Ji', which is the last word variation of 'dihi', and is still used today as the unique form in several Korean dialects. In standard Korean, however, it only serves as a suffix to form the derivative names of various kimchi types. 'Dimchʌi' is believed to have appeared around the $6^{th}-7^{th}$ centuries, when Silla began to master Chinese characters. Hence,'dimchʌi' reflects either the Archaic Chinese (上古音) or the Old Chinese (中古音) pronunciation of the Hanja, '沈菜'. With the palatalization of the plosive alveolar [t], 'dimchʌi' changed to 'jimchʌi'. The Yangban intellectuals' rejection of the palatalization of the plosive velar [k] led to the hypercorrection of 'jimchʌi' into 'kimchʌi'. It is precisely the hypercorrect 'kimchʌe' that gave the wordform 'kim∫chi', which has eventually become the standard and predominant form in today's Korean language. Regarding 'thimchʌe', it reflects the Middle Chinese (Yuan Dynasty) pronunciation of the Hanja '沈菜' and was used mainly in writing by Yangban intellectuals.