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Korean Pronunciation

Pronunciation of Korean can be tricky, but reading it is easier.


Most people can memorize the sounds of Korean letters in a
matter of days. Simply make some flash cards and drill, drill,
drill. We've provided this page as an aid to understanding the
sounds. The grammar lessons do not contain "Romanized"
Korean (Hangul written out in English phoenetics) like this,
therefore we strongly encourage you to study the Korean. Go to
the Appearance page to get started.
To hear a native speaker voice these sentences, simply click the
speaker next to the Korean sentence.
Note: you may notice that the sound of some letters change
when next to each other, like and together make a "mn"
sound instead of the expected "bn" sound.
I'm American.
.
Che-ga meegookin imneeda.

I'm studying Korean.
.
Hangook-mal-ul kongbu-hamneeda.
or: Hangoong-mal-ul kongbu-hamneeda.

My name is Charles.
Charles.
Che eerum-un Charles imneeda.

I like exercising.
.
Oondong-ul cho-ah-haeyo.

He speaks English well.
.
Cho-boon-un yongo-rul chal hamneeda.

I live in Seoul.
.
Cho-nun soh-ul-eh-soh salgo issumneeda.

Where do you work?
?
Oh-dee-eh-soh il-ha-shimni-gha?

(We're) eating now.
.
Chi-gum shiksa-hanun joong-imneeda.

This is delicious.
.
Mashee-eessoyo.

Kim Mi Kyong is a student.
.
Kim mee kyong-un hak-saeng imneeda.

It looks like rain.
.
Piga ol goht katahyo.

I can read Korean.
.
Hangul-ul ilgul soo issoyo.
Korean Language Series Writing and Reading
WARNING: You should be able to see typed Korean language in
order to fully read this post. If you are a Windows user, you can
go to Microsoft's website and download the "East Asian
Language Support". Ask your local computer nerd. Entice him
with a woman and it will be easy.

-EDIT 14 June 2007 11:52 a.m.- If you would prefer a
more interactive guide, try this link:
http://langintro.com/kintro/ Thank you, J. David Eisenberg!
Dear Korean,

I'm interested in learning Korean although nobody encouraged
me to do so! I wonder if you can help me explain Korean
pronunciation, I've bought 2 different "teach yourself Korean"
books but I can't seem to understand the pronunciation
sections.

Amna
Dear Amna,
The Korean must warn everyone that he had never received
formal education as to how to teach Korean to non-Korean
speakers. Therefore, all the technical terminology that the
Korean uses in this post (as well as in other Korean Language
Series) are made up by the Korean. Additionally, the Korean will
often be wrong about things. But hey, thats the price you pay if
you try to learn a foreign language from an amateur off a blog.
Korean alphabet, called Hanguel, was created by King Sejong
and his scholars in the 15th Century, and it is extremely
innovative. The entire alphabet has 40 characters, with 19
consonants and 21 vowels. (Technically it is 14 simple
consonants, 5 compound consonants, 10 simple vowels, and 11
compound vowels.) First, lets go over the basics of how a
Korean letter is written. It sounds odd that you are learning to
write before you can read, but it will make sense in the end.


Characters v. Letters
Its important to distinguish between characters and
letters. Each character alone cannot stand independently,
because each character is either a single consonant or a single
vowel. Instead, either two or three characters combine to form
a pronounceable block, i.e. a letter.
So this is how a letter is formed: it is other consonant +
vowel, or consonant + vowel + consonant. (Some of the
letters are actually consonant + vowel + consonant +
consonant in relatively rare cases. They are dealt in Advanced
Stuff section.)
It sounds complicated written out like that, but the idea is
simple. Think back to Sesame Street and how two shadowy
people form a word. H plus a is Ha. H plus a plus t
would be Hat. (The As in the two words are pronounced
differently in the two words, but you get the picture anyway.
The Korean cant help the fact that English alphabet is a
screwed up one.)
The table of characters is linked later in the post. But hold your
horses, and finish reading the post first.


Okay, how do I write a letter?
In order to form a letter out of the characters, pay attention to
whether the vowel position is vertical, horizontal, or combined.
It is really simple to do actually vertical vowels stand tall,
horizontal vowels are flat, and combined are vertical +
horizontal vowels.
Step 1. Imagine filling up a square block. Write the consonant is
the left half if the vowel is vertical; write the consonant on the
top half if the vowel is horizontal. Write the consonant in the
top left quarter if the vowel is combined.
Step 2. Write in the vowel.
Step 3. If there is a consonant following the vowel, that
consonant goes on the bottom of the consonant + vowel
combination that you just formed.
Lets take a Korean word like (America). is made
up of two letters, each letter making up one syllable. The letter
is made up of the consonant and the vowel . You can
see that is vertical, so write in the left half the imaginary
box, and put next to it to form . The next one is trickier it
involves a second consonant. Since the vowel is , you can see
that its shaped flat and therefore has a horizontal position. So
write the consonant on top, put the vowel on the
bottom. Then put the last consonant underneath the vowel.
And there you have it, your first Korean word God bless
America!!
As an aside, notice that in Korean, there is never a free-
standing consonant without a vowel attached to it. Thats why
Korean people have such a hard time pronouncing such words
like school. s in school does not have a vowel attached to
it school is one syllable in English. But Korean person trying
to pronounce that word cannot process a consonant that does
not have a vowel. So usually the best the Korean person can do
is to pronounce it like seu-kool, in two syllables.


Now I can write some exotic stuff I cant read. Thanks,
genius.
Alright, we are finally ready to read. The chart of characters has
pronunciation attached to it, but read this first. We are going to
try reading . First letter first: consonant sounds like
m. Vowel sounds like ee as in seek. Therefore, is
pronounced like mee. Then the next letter: consonant
sounds like g as in gate. Vowel sounds like oo as in
zoo. So the pronunciation is: g + oo + g = goog. So America
in Korean is mee-goog. Simple, right?
One more caveat what the Korean just wrote above is not the
standard Romanization of Korean characters. The chart below
includes how each character is Romanized as well. For example,
the correct Romanization of is miguk. From this point
on, all Korean words will be in standard Romanization format.
Okay, you can take a look the chart now. The Korean will be
waiting right here. (If your browser automatically re-sizes the
image, save the image on your computer and read along.)
-EDIT- Here is the link for a pdf form of the chart. The earlier
link is in a jpeg format in order to make sure that people
without East Asian Language support can read it, but it does not
print properly. If you wish to print the chart out, use the pdf
link to print. Thank you Bonnie B. for pointing this out.

.
.
.
Welcome back. Your head spinning yet? Print the chart out and
keep it next to you as we read on.
Lets do one more example, the Ask A Korean! favorite how to
read . Consonant is silent before the vowel, and sounds
like ng after the vowel. The vowel is a compound vowel,
combining (o) and (a), so it sounds like oa, or wa.
Consonant sounds like j, and sounds like a.
Put them all together: wa + ng / j + a = wangja, i.e. Prince
Fielders neck tattoo.


Parting Words
The Korean would like to finish up with two points.
First, notice how fucked up English alphabet is. The
Romanization of Korean is so complicated only because English
alphabet is so messed up, and the Korean scholars who came
up with it were trying to make Korean language to readable to
English-speaking people somehow. English consonants and
vowels often change sound randomly, although the letters
representation of the sound never change. Thus we have the
famous example of spelling fish as ghoti gh from
tough, o from women, and ti from nation.
Take a common Korean last name like . Under proper
Romanization, it would be written as gim, and pronounced as
such. But English speakers would pronounce it like gym, so
Koreans had to adapt and bastardize the sound to the next
closest sound, which is kim. The last name is even worse.
It would be properly Romanized as bak, but English speakers
would read it like back. So Korean people added an r,
turning it into bark. Then the connotation of the word
became negative, so they switched it to next closest sound,
which is park. So in reality, there are no Kims and Parks in
Korea only Gims and Baks.
Second, appreciate how beautifully designed Hangeul is in
contrast. It is the only alphabet system in the world that has
been designated as UNESCO World Heritage. The Korean can
write 50 pages about the genius of Hangeul, but he will just give
one example here: the amazing adaptability of the compound
vowels. Although currently only 11 compound vowels are used
in Korean language, technically any of the 5 horizontal vowels
can combine with any of the 5 vertical vowels to form a new
sound 25 new sounds created in a snap, plus 4 exceptions
where a vertical vowel combines with another vertical vowel.
So out of 40 possible vowel sounds that Hangeul can represent
(10 simple vowels + 30 compound vowels), nearly half of them
(19) are not even in the Korean language!
In other words, Hangeul vowel characters can cover almost any
vowel sound made in the world. (A big exception is vowel tones
in tonal languages, for example Chinese.) No other alphabet in
the world has a system that enables it to record a sound that
does not exist in the language it represents. If aliens landed on
Earth tomorrow, Hangeul would be the only reliable alphabet in
the world that can consistently represent the vowel sounds
that they make.


Advanced Stuff: Read Only If You Are Hardcore
Here are some more tips as to correctly pronouncing Korean
characters and letters. The Korean is certain that he missed a
lot of stuff, and wrong about some of the things here. Please
email or comment if you notice anything.
Extremely useful tip for English speakers whenever you read a
Korean letter, pretend there is an h behind the vowel to get
the consonant sound right. For example, if an English speaker
read sa, she would pronounce the s like the s in sin,
which is incorrect. (s in sin is Romanized as ss.) But if she
tried to read sah, she would pronounce the s like the s in
snake, which is the correct way. This rule applies across the
board, no matter what the letters are.
Additional Romanization rule 1 Under standard Romanization,
one word in Korean is written as one word Romanized. So a
sentence like (the weather is good) is
Romanized as: nalssiga jotseupnida. However, if writing as
one word is likely to produce a wrong pronunciation, hyphen
can be added to separate the Korean letters. So the word
(seed) is Romanized as ssi-at, since writing it as ssiat is
likely to be pronounced wrong. Another example is the word
(jug), which is Romanized as hang-ari, since
hangari would be pronounced like han-ga-ri.
Additional Romanization rule 2 If the pronunciation is
different from the way a word is spelled (following one of the
Advanced pronunciation rules below), the word is
Romanized as it is pronounced, not as it is written.
Romanization exceptions The current standard Romanization
rule was introduced in 2000; prior to that, Korea used
something called McCune-Reischauer Romanization System,
which involved a lot of complicated additional notations on top
of regular English alphabets to faithfully represent the Korean
pronunciation. But outside of governmental and scholarly
papers, McCune-Reischauer system was never popular in Korea
because it was so complicated. Regular Korean people and
Korean businesses Romanized their names more or less
arbitrarily. Therefore, peoples names, if Romanized before
2000, stayed the same. Also, people may Romanize their name
in any way they please.
For example, former president/dictator would be
written as Bak Jeonghui under the current Romanization
system. But since he was born long before 2000, the
Romanization of his name is Park Chung-hee. This rule also
applies to well-established names of locations, like (which
should be Seo-ul to prevent it from being pronounced like
soul, but written as Seoul, merrily carrying on the
mispronunciation.)
How to pronounce difficult sounds lets go over them one by
one.
deceptively hard, because its neither L or R. Try
pronouncing Lola very carefully. You will notice that you are
actually sounding out lol-la, adding an extra consonant.
Remember that is Romanized with r in the first position
and its easier to pronounce.
and you have to realize that English s makes two
different sounds. is like s in snake. is like s in
soon.
, , , , and if you know how to pronounce Spanish
correctly, these should come pretty easily. As you can tell from
their shapes, they are related to , , , , and
respectively. Lets try with first. Try sounding (da) very
carefully. Say it like da-da-da-da and notice your tongue is
touching the roof of your mouth. Now, stiffen your tongue a
little harder when it touches the roof, and hold it for half a
second longer, and burst the sound out. It should be .
and can be sounded out in a similar way. is different
because the sound only involves your lips, but same
mechanism. Say ba-ba-ba-ba and stiffen your lips a little
harder as they come together, hold it a bit longer, then burst
out the sound.
this vowel sound is most easily made by the following way:
clench your teeth and make a guttural noise. Its not the right
sound, but its pretty close. Alternatively, pull your lips out as if
you are smiling, and make the sound thats least difficult to
make.
Advanced pronunciation rule 1 The Korean said some Korean
letters are consonant + vowel + consonant + consonant. Here
is an example: . How do you read this? The rule is: Ignore the
last consonant, and only pronounce the first bottom consonant
(called batchim in Korean, meaning bottom piece). So the
letter , standing alone, would be pronounced like , i.e. b +
ue + l = buel. But letters of this kind rarely stand alone, and the
second batchim usually affects the sound of the next following
consonant. Read below.
Advanced pronunciation rule 1.1 Take the word
(broad). Now we know the first letter is read as n + eo + l =
neol, ignoring the last consonant . But the last consonant
doesnt stand pat. Instead, it changes the sound of the next
following consonant into the stronger sound, if possible.
changes into ; into ; into ; into , and; into
. All other consonants sounds stay the same. So the word
is pronounced like , i.e., n + eo + l / dd + a = neoldda.
Make sure you follow this rule, because the same word without
this rule would sound like , which is a different word
whose meaning is to hang clothes to dry. Conceptually, this
rule is similar to the batchim slide-over rule described in Rule
2. Read on.
Advanced pronunciation rule 1.2 There is one exception to
this rule, and its when the last consonant is . Instead of
getting a stronger sound, the following consonant becomes
harsher if possible. turns into ; into ; into ,
and ; into . So the word (many, much) is
pronounced like , which is m + a + n / t + a = manta.
Advanced pronunciation rule 2 Remember consonant was
silent in the first position? So take a look at this word:
(game or play). Based on what you learned so far, it would
be pronounced: n + o + l / i = nol-i. But that is incorrect. What
happens is the batchim of the first letter slides over to the
second letter, and takes over the empty space created by . So
the actual pronunciation of the word is exactly the same
as that of the word , i.e. n + o / r + i = nori.
The rule: If the first character of a word has a second consonant
after the vowel (batchim), and if the first character of the
second letter in a word is , the batchim slides over to the
second letter and pronounced as if it is attached to the vowel of
the second letter.
Advanced pronunciation rule 2.1 Take a look at the chart, and
you will realize that some of the consonants have different
sounds depending on the position. For example, is ch in
the first position and t in the second position. So what
happens if the sound-changing type of consonant slides over?
Answer: That consonant recovers its first position sound.
Example: Take the word (stir fry). The batchim is
pronounced identical to as a batchim. But when it slides
over, the word is pronounced like , i.e. b + o / kk + eu +m =
bokkeum. This is important because the word ,
pronounced like , i.e. b + o / g + eu + m = bogeum, means
gospel. Try not to order the gospel of chicken at a Korean
restaurant.
Advanced pronunciation rule 2.2 What about those pesky
double batchim letters? Answer: only the last batchim slides
over to the next word. So the word (breadth or width)
is pronounced like , n + eo + l / b + i = neolbi.
Advanced pronunciation rule 3 if a batchim is followed by ,
the batchim is pronounced harsher. turns into ; and
into , and ; into . (Technically, the harsher sound
for is , but it turns into in this situation only.) So the
word (closed) is not pronounced like dathin, but like
dachin, as if reading .
Advanced pronunciation rule 4 This rule is super-advanced,
and Koreans themselves often get it wrong. The rule is: If two
words combine to form a single new word, the first consonant
of the second original word is pronounced stronger if possible
(in order to signal that it is a compound word.) So again,
changes into ; into ; into ; into , and; into
.
Example: the word (Korean seaweed roll, variation of
Japanese sushi roll) is made up of two words, (laver, a type
of seaweed) and (steamed rice). But the word is not
pronounced as gim-bap. Since it is a compound word made
up of two words, it is properly pronounced gim-bbap.
(Although many Koreans, including the Korean Father,
pronounces is as gim-bap, forgetting the compound word rule.)
Another example is the word (water bottle). It is not
pronounced as mul-byeong; since the word is made up of the
words (water) and (bottle), it is pronounced mul-
bbyeong.
What if the stronger sound is not available for the following
consonant? Then the following consonant is pronounced the
same way. Thus, (water jug), although it is made up
of the words and , is pronounced as mul-hang-ari.
Last last words The Korean has to warn you just one more
time that he is just an amateur! If you see something wrong or
missing, please tell him so that he can correct it.
Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at
askakorean@hotmail.com.
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Posted by The Korean at 10:17 PM
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30 comments:
1.
the Korean6/08/2007 12:14 PM
shoot, I knew I missed one...

Advanced pronunciation rule 5 - when batchim is and
the following consonant is , the batchim is pronounced as
. Thus is pronounced as silla, not sinra.
Reply
2.
Carpal6/11/2007 8:39 PM
Wow, that's a great explanation of the elegance of (most of)
Hangul, The Korean! And the inelegant part, batchim, is
something I never really understood, so that was good to
read, too.
Reply
3.
Aloha Hands4/22/2008 10:10 AM
"the korean: Advanced pronunciation rule 5 - when
batchim is and the following consonant is , the
batchim is pronounced as . Thus is pronounced as
silla, not sinra."


Would you please provide a URL to a thorough explanation
of these types of rules?
Reply
4.
Dogwood Tree5/31/2008 10:17 AM
"In other words, Hangeul vowel characters can cover
almost any vowel sound made in the world. (A big
exception is vowel tones in tonal languages, for example
Chinese.) No other alphabet in the world has a system that
enables it to record a sound that does not exist in the
language it represents. If aliens landed on Earth tomorrow,
Hangeul would be the only reliable alphabet in the world
that can consistently represent the vowel sounds that they
make.

It is good that you limited that statement to vowels because
the Korean alphabet would not be well suited to
representing the sounds of an alien language rich in
consonant clusters.

The basic Latin Alphabet used to represent the sounds of so
many languages is actually more flexible than its
application to English suggests. Korean has six vowels
represented by one letter (/i/ , /a/ , /o/ , /u/ , // ,
// , ) and two more monothongs using a combination of
two letters ( /e/ , // ,// ) The Latin alphabet has
five vowels and two glides, /y/ and /w/. With one less basic
vowel letter, the Latin alphabet has fewer possible
combinations than Korea, but it is quite versatile and
superior to Korean in representing consonants, for the Latin
alphabet has 21 compared to 14 in Korean and because the
Latin alphabet's linear form is ideal for clusters like /str/.

While Korean is very phonetic, it has more rules to learn
than Spanish or Malay/Indonesian, both of which use a
version of the Latin alphabet.
Reply
5.
anninator6/01/2008 4:53 PM
Nice post. Learning Korean has been one of my most
fascinating/frustrating experiences to date (difficulties
compounded by learning in Busan where most people
speak like they've got a sock stuck in the back of their
throat).
Not to be a nit-picker but on your pronunciation guide, in
the note on consonants I believe 'verb' should be switched
to 'vowel'.
Reply
6.
Eujin10/06/2008 11:17 AM
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reply
7.
Eujin10/06/2008 11:26 AM
OK, try again.

Your blog is a useful resource, citable in other instances as
you might notice on the MH. However, I'm going to take
issue with this statement

"If aliens landed on Earth tomorrow, Hangeul would be the
only reliable alphabet in the world that can consistently
represent the vowel sounds that they make."

Following on from dogwood tree, I make it 8
monophthongs in Korean/Hangeul like etc, plus one
diphthong , plus 11 semi-vowels like and . That's a
total of 20, or 9 without the semi-vowels. In RP (English) I
think there are 12 monophthongs, 8 diphthongs and about
40 semi-vowels, so a total of 60 or so, or 20 without the
semi-vowels. So already more vowels in English!

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, IPA, there are
something like 28 monophthongs. You could surely
combine those into some large number of diphthongs and
semi-vowels, for a very large number of human-made
vowels, in the hundreds.

Possibly an alien could combine 7 different vowel heights
(the height of the tongue in the mouth) with 5 different
degrees of vowel backness (tongue in the front or back of
mouth) for a total of 35 monophthongs. And that's just
being rather restricted to the human mouth.
Reply
8.
the Korean10/07/2008 12:21 PM
Eujin,

The Korean knows but the most basic linguistics. So if you
are better educated than him, he is all ears.

But allow the Korean to raise a defense within his own
knowledge. The Korean's emphasis on that sentence was on
"consistently". What you pointed out, if the Korean is
reading correctly, is that there are more vowel sounds in
English. That may be true. But all those sounds are marked
inconsistently in English.

In other words, one letter "o" could be used to mark two
different sounds such as "potato" or "women". One letter
"a" could be used to two different sounds such as "grape"
or "apple". On the other hand, two different letters can be
used to make the same sound in English, e.g. "birth" and
"berth".

This type of phenomenon almost never happens in Korean.
One vowel symbol consistently represents one sound,
except perhaps which may be pronounced in two ways
in very limited circumstances.

On a separate note, if there were a need to mark a new
vowel sound that does not exist in the language, how could
English alphabet handle it? The best way would be to write
some approximation, and make people memorize the
sound. (e.g. the "eu" sound in Romanized Korean, which is
nothing like the , but people are forced to memorize it
that way. Pinyin Chinese would be another example.)

But technically, hangeul leaves a possibility of coming up
with a new mark, consistently within its system, for a
vowel sound that does not exist in Korean. That part, the
Korean thinks, is pure genius.
Reply
9.
Eujin10/10/2008 9:25 AM
Now I'm confused as to what you are saying. You seemed
to be saying that Korean has a symbol for every vowel
sound that can be made, which is obviously untrue as it
doesn't even have enough symbols for all the vowel sounds
in English. Now you seem to be saying that Korean can
have a symbol for every vowel sound possible, if only you
add more symbols, which is obviously true, but is also true
of just about any other writing system, even
binary.0101000011010101010100 ;-)

It's certainly true that English is very inconsistent with its
spelling, as the example of "ghoti" shows if you know that
one. But that is more a function of English than of the Latin
writing script. If you are familiar with Spanish you'll know
that Spanish is much more consistent than English. Italian
likewise.

As far as I know Esperanto is as close to an exact phonemic
orthography as is possible (with the Latin script). Every
sound is uniquely represented by the same symbol and no
symbol represents more than one sound (at least in theory).

If you feel that the Latin script cannot add symbols to
denote new vowel sounds, just think of Danish (, , ),
German (,,) and French (,,). Probably the way that
the speech of aliens would initially be analysed is using the
International Phonetic Alphabet, which is based on the
Latin script. Most sounds that humans make are given a
unique symbol in IPA. IPA can certainly represent all the
sounds of English and Korean consistently - at the same
time.

If you tried to write an alien's language in the Latin script it
might confuse an English speaker, but would confuse an
Italian speaker no more than it would confuse a Korean
speaker by writing it in Hangeul.

By the way, if you think that Hangeul does not use two
characters to represent the same sound you might like to
think about and . A lot of younger Korean speakers
don't make any distinction in the way they are pronounced,
even if they think they do because they are written
differently. Most people I know don't make any distinction,
especially if caught unawares. You don't need to take my
word for it either, you can ask Iksop Lee who wrote "The
Korean Language" http://books.google.com/books?id=NN-
yIdLOkCoC

I'm not an expert in phonology either. In fact, it's one of the
things I'm notoriously poor at (like singing). When I hear
people saying , it doesn't sound to me like the same
vowel as in the first syllable of . But maybe it's just
me.

Wikipedia assures me that the munwhao (North Korean)
for Canada is , which I prefer to the South Korean
, but again that might be me. Not exactly consistent
though, is it? Even if it is a result of trying to replicate the
inconsistencies in other languages.
Reply
10.
the Korean10/16/2008 12:06 PM
Eujin,

The Korean will cover minor points first, then the major
points.

1. One thing the Korean is good at is distinguishing fine
sounds. That ability was instrumental in learning to speak
English at a late age. So he gets annoyed when what ought
to be two different sounds are mangled.

In that vein, pronouncing and the same way is just
incorrect. Generally Korean reading, spelling, and grammar
have been declining in the younger generation, and the
Korean really hates it.

2. As to versus , the Korean agrees that it
probably was an effort to Romanize different accents. For
example, "job" could be correctly transcribed as or ,
depending on which side of the Atlantic you stand.

3. Now, the major point--

The Korean will clarify the position he was taking in the
post. You are focusing too much on that one sentence you
quoted, but here is the whole context:

... the amazing adaptability of the compound vowels.
Although currently only 11 compound vowels are used in
Korean language, technically any of the 5 horizontal
vowels can combine with any of the 5 vertical vowels to
form a new sound 25 new sounds created in a snap, plus
4 exceptions where a vertical vowel combines with another
vertical vowel. So out of 40 possible vowel sounds that
Hangeul can represent (10 simple vowels + 30 compound
vowels), nearly half of them (19) are not even in the Korean
language! In other words, Hangeul vowel characters can
cover almost any vowel sound made in the world. ... No
other alphabet in the world has a system that enables it to
record a sound that does not exist in the language it
represents. If aliens landed on Earth tomorrow, Hangeul
would be the only reliable alphabet in the world that can
consistently represent the vowel sounds that they make.

In writing this, the Korean makes the following claims:

A. There are 25 possible combinations of compound
vowels in hangeul.

B. Of the 25 compound vowels, Korean language only uses
only 11.

C. Implicit in this is that hangeul left place holders for
sounds that do not exist in Korean language within its own
system.

(C) is the genius part. Like you said, any language can
transcribe sound by adding more symbols. But the genius
of hangeul is there is no necessity for that.

Here is an example. Currently, a compound vowel of
is not used in Korean language. But the great thing is, you
could use it! Coming up with that new compound vowel is
conceptually easy. The pronunciation of that would be
fairly intuitive. (The Korean would imagine it would be
like "au" in "audio".)

This system is superior to Latin script because the sound
demarcation comes within the system, not by adding a
foreign element like tilde or umlaut. Dogwood Tree's post
already talked about the fact that there are less number of
possible combinations in Latin script as well.

Now, at this point you can argue: "What's the difference
between making a new symbol within the system or outside
of the system? At the end of the day, you are still making it
up anew."

That's a fair point, and from strictly result-oriented
perspective it may be true. But what the Korean is doing is
to appreciate the beauty of hangeul from its maker's
perspective. Sejong could have simply figured out all the
sounds that show up in Korean language, and make a
character for each one. (Similar to, say, Cherokee
syllabary.)

Instead, Sejong came up with a very simple vowel system
that elegantly combines to make various sounds in the
Korean language, and leaves room to denote completely
new and foreign sounds using the same script.

This is the part by which the Korean can't help but be
fascinated and amazed. What a foresight! Sure, any
alphabet can simply add more characters. But what kind of
alphabet systematically leaves room for the sound that does
not exist in its own language?

Now, the Korean will make this concession: he did not
know too much about IPA, and he would agree that would
be the alphabet of choice for analyzing alien language.
Upon examination, it is obviously superior to hangeul in
representing vowel sound, especially with its ability to
represent tonal and clicking sounds. But hopefully, this will
clarify the Korean's position enough so that we can talk
about it in an intelligent way.
Reply
11.
linkis37011/15/2008 10:50 AM
Korean is a complex language to learn, but what has been
stumping me the last...year I've been trying to learn this is:
when one is writing, in what situation would you be using
or ? They both sound the same, but everytime I think
one is right it's the other.
Reply
12.
Joachim12/04/2008 3:01 PM
Here's an extremely useful site if you want to learn Korean!
It's an online course from the language education institute
at Seoul National University, you will have the possibility
to hear pronounciation etc.

http://language.snu.ac.kr/english/pages/SD00023_00.jsp
Reply
13.
darialois3/04/2009 10:54 PM
i dunno if u mentioned this cuz my eyes got tired
{} but also there are no "LEE"s in korea, they
are all "EE"s. right?
i'm from Romania but now in American and learning
Korean cuz i like F.T. Island, feel free to correct anything i
say. i enjoy ur blog btw, (which i just stumbled upon today)
=]
Reply
14.
Benot Di Pascale7/03/2009 1:40 AM
The Korean, I love your blog but all the "letter" part is so
wrong!! is not composed of two letters but of 5!
There are and again. What you're calling
"letters" are syllabs!! When you're writing english is the
word "america" composed of the letters "a" "me" "ri" and
"ca"?? Hell no!!! The rest is Ok.
Frenchman studying korean for 4 years. Love your blog.
Reply
15.
John David Ward10/05/2009 10:12 AM
I have to second what Benoit Di Pascale said. You got the
terms "letter" and "character" backwards. Characters are
the squares formed by combinations of letters.

It's ironic that you'd say Hangeul cannot represent tonal
languages like Chinese. In fact, Korean was a tonal
language like Chinese when Hangeul was invented.

All you have to do is number the tones from one to
whatever, subtract one (so that the first tone become zero,
the second tone one, etc) and write that number of dots in a
vertical strip to the left of the character.

And I'll just let the thing about Korean vowels and alien
languages pass without comment.
Reply
16.
the Korean10/05/2009 8:09 PM
The Korean must warn everyone that he had never received
formal education as to how to teach Korean to non-Korean
speakers. Therefore, all the technical terminology that the
Korean uses in this post (as well as in other Korean
Language Series) are made up by the Korean.

But the Korean is always willing to learn, and learning
about the tonal representation was definitely helpful.
Reply
17.
The Seoul Searcher5/19/2010 4:22 AM
as the au in audio? I dunno man, I'd go with it being
the same thing as with a w in front of it, similar to
being a with a w.

I understand your argument, but I think Hangul has
limitations, especially when it comes to W.

No transliteration of existing Hangul can write the
difference between Woo! and Ooh!

How would you write the "wo" sound in the English word
woe?

How about compound consonants? The word "wren"?
? No, that's Oren. perhaps?

That said, it has far fewer limitations than other alphabets.
Reply
18.
picobot8/24/2010 7:05 PM
I understand that you did not study the Korean language,
language education or linguistics formally, and usually
your posts are great, but I really question the usefulness of
this post. For someone seriously interested in learning
Korean, a lot of this information is not as accurate as it
could be, and there are a lot more organised resources out
there for teaching Korean. (But as you said, it is what the
asker gets for asking here in the first place.)

I may know how to drive a car, but I'm no mechanic, and
I'm not going to give others instructions for how to fix their
cars.
Reply
19.
Chris in South Korea10/04/2010 1:07 PM
I may not be a mechanic, but I can explain how to put gas
in the car.

I thought I'd explain something I'd learned recently relevant
to this discussion:

is properly transliterated as 'sin-ra', but is pronounced
'shil-la'.

Let's think about this for a second. Imagine you're a fast
talker. Say the word 'shin-la'. You'll move your jaw and
tongue to make these two sounds. Now, pretend you can
contract the sound. Say the word 'shil-la'. Thats probably a
lot easier to say than 'shin-la' was. It's the same reason you
say don't, not do not. It's just easier to say.

Nice post Korean, especially the Advanced Rules section.
Reply
20.
Clo Lee10/24/2010 2:11 AM
l found it. Cuz of korean internet news. it is very detailed
information. so .^^
Reply
21.
Dae12/06/2010 9:29 PM
@The Seoul Searcher
No transliteration of existing Hangul can write the
difference between Woo! and Ooh!

How would you write the "wo" sound in the English word
woe?

How about compound consonants? The word "wren"?
? No, that's Oren. perhaps?

I think the Korean has covered about this when he was
talking about the Korean system made a room for new
syllabs though it's not used in Korean system.

So, if you wanted to sound out woo and ooh, you just have
to add more symbols.
Woo :+ Ooh :
Wren : +

Yes, it does not look pretty.
I wanted to put woo and wren in one character but hangul
program doesn't support it because that compound vowel
are not used in the Korean language.

The point is, you can make up vowels and consonants to
form a character and make people pronounce the character
as close as you intended to using Hangul, than other
systems.

Being my English as a second language this is as far as I
can go. And thank you, the Korean.
Reply
22.
musicalsoul41/21/2011 10:10 PM
For pronunciation... what about words with a
consonant++ combo? is romanized "mal" but has
always sounded more like "ma-ihl" to me.
Reply
23.
otegana21/28/2011 12:16 AM
hI GUYS,

i am newbie,
how do we write the word osang st in hangul?
do we need to include vowel 'e' like osange st? Can you see
the different here osang st and osange st?

I still not clear why in english/roman they call/write osang
st byt in documentation(hangul version) they write as
osange st?

Please i need wise answer?
Reply
24.
baixiaojie3/31/2011 5:42 AM
The English alphabet is "messed up?" Can you qualify this
statement?

By whose standards is it more or less messed up than any
other alphabet?

By the way, you could just add a new letter to ANY
alphabet to make a new sound. Why is Hangul so special in
this regard?
Reply
25.
chanel904/19/2011 9:52 AM
Although I've already learned a lot about pronunciation, I
still enjoyed your post immensely. I'm a regular visitor of
this blog, but somehow this is the first time I actually felt
like I have something relevant to add to the topic. To tell
the truth, I, too, agree on a certain level that English
alphabet isn't exactly the best possible option to romanize
Hangeul (yes, this was clearly a euphemism).
What made me the most excited about learning Korean
(and which, by the way, totally surprised me) is the vast
number of grammatical similarities between Korean and
Hungarian (my mother tongue). Also, we have every vowel
that is needed to pronunce Korean vowels. If I'm not
mistaken, both languages are called agglutinative (I might
be wrong). That's why it is so difficult to learn Korean via
Internet. Hungarian and Korean have many similar
sentence structures, we also have different politeness
levels, object marking particles (which is a very new
concept for those who speak only English) conjugation of
verbs, etc., yet I have to listen to the silliest, most
complicated explanations written for English speaking
people, just to realize later that it is actually the same as in
my language.
I could continue to draw a parallel between the two
languages, it's not my intention. I just thought it would be
an interesting addition to your post, and maybe something
new you haven't heard before. ;)
I also felt a sudden urge to express how much I love
Korean language and that it really is very logical and fun to
learn. I enjoyed every second I spent with learning it. (Even
though it's quite difficult, but, well, after Hungarian, the
learning process doesn't seem too bad.)
Thanks for running this blog. It's really informative and
surprisingly sophisticated (most online sources aren't). I'll
keep coming back for sure.
Reply
26.
alohahands4/19/2011 10:54 AM
@ chanel90 4/19/2011 9:52 AM post:

Generally speaking, meaning for my soapbox when telling
people to spend a day learning Hangeul... Your post is a
fine argument for proponents of insisting people learn
Hangeul [over relying on Romanization].
Reply
27.
Matt6/21/2011 8:17 AM
Logically, you should be able to represent the sounds of
any foreign language in hangeul using combinations of
existing hangeul symbols. You could, if the Korean is
correct, as he may well be, use the vowel symbols invented
by King Sejong, and you might have to invent certain new
symbols for consonants that don't exist in Korean - 'z' and
'th' come to mind (and isn't it a shame, by the way, that the
two Anglo-Saxon symbols used for hard and soft 'th' fell
out of use?).

Anyway, you should be able to represent any word,
however alien to Korean. Let's take the English word
'strength', for example. This has an initial consonant cluster
(no such thing exists in Korean) and an alien final
consonant cluster all in a single-syllable word. I would
write it as ' th' (with some made up hangeul
symbol representing the 'th'). I want to put all these
symbols together in one block to show it's one syllable, but,
of course, the word processor won't let me.

Koreans, of course, will not hangeulize the word 'strength'
in the way I've described: instead, they'll write ''
or some such. That's probably wrong since I'm usually
wrong about how they hangeulize English words, but the
important point is it turns into four syllables. Why?
Because the structure of Korean phonology makes it
difficult for them to pronounce many monosyllabic English
words as monosyllables.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that. When English
speakers look at Polish words with their (to us) impossible
consonant combinations of 'ptkzx' and the like, they have
no idea how to pronounce them, so it makes sense to spell
foreign words intelligibly, if you expect them to be widely
read.

My point is this: it is often claimed that hangeul is a very
scientific system, and so it may be. But is it not possible to
adapt the rules of orthography in order to more faithfully
represent the phonology - and not just the phonemes - of
the target language? I suppose if a nation chose to adopt
hangeul they would make any necessary adjustments to it
for themselves, as was done by many nations adopting the
Roman alphabet; and perhaps people have experimented
with hangeul in the way I've described. But I've never seen
it done, and, until it's done, we will continue to see
ridiculous results such as monosyllabic words represented
in 4 syllables.
Reply
28.
Matt6/21/2011 8:24 AM
I agree with the Korean that they should put dashes into
Romanizations of Korean words to indicate breaks between
syllables. I guess it's the problem I described in reverse...
Reply
29.
b9/05/2011 2:27 AM
what about the rule regarding "b" as a batchim followed by
"n"? As in . "B" becomes "m." Any other
weird ones like that?
Reply
30.
Chaunt3/10/2012 2:38 AM
I can't even tell a difference between the "s" in "sin" and
the "s" in "snake". D: It's easier to tell the difference
between "snake" and "soon" but only a little bit. This is
going to be difficult. Time to start my rote memorization! :)
Reply
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