search for


International Political Implications of Language: The Linguistic Puzzle of “Inherent Territory”
The Korean Journal of International Studies 16-3 (December 2018), 435-66
Published online December 31, 2018
© 2018 The Korean Association of International Studies.

Ethan Yorgason [Bio-Data]
Received August 6, 2018; Revised August 26, 2018; Accepted October 8, 2018.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
The term “inherent territory” is commonly used to claim disputed lands within the Korean, Chinese, and Japanese languages. It is not common in English. This paper explores the phrase for the first time as a multi-lingual phenomenon, focusing especially on its implications for English. The term became internationally prominent after 1950 because of Japan’s territorial dispute with the Soviet Union over the Northern Territories/Southern Kuril Islands. Japan gradually applied the term to its territorial conflicts with Korea and China. Over time, it became more prominent in both Korean and Chinese, as well. In addition to the Japan-Russia dispute, it now is used in official language in the Dokdo-Takeshima, Diaoyu-Senkaku, and South China Sea territorial disputes. With its increased usage across Northeast Asia, including in English translation easily available on the Internet, the term has strong potential to become common usage in English with respect to territorial conflicts outside of Northeast Asia. Yet, that potential has not been realized. This paper explores possible reasons why English speakers are reluctant to use “inherent territory” through a close political-discursive-linguistic analysis. This paper also discusses the term’s potential power if it becomes more popular in English. The article addresses “inherent territory’s” lack of status within international law, translation issues, the multiple meanings of inherent, connections between “inherent” and “inherit,” the metaphysics of inherent, and the issue of standards through which to evaluate claims to “inherent territory.” The paper explains why the English “inherent territory” is simultaneously vague, potentially powerful, and deeply problematic.
Keywords : inherent territory, political discourse, territorial conflict, Northeast Asia, discourse analysis

16-3 (December 2018)