disclaimer: i don’t know korean and just started learning, so lots of this could be incorrect. however most of the information i found is stuff i found around the web that i think is true. regardless, please contact me if something should be updated or is incorrect.
below are my notes on hangul, the korean alphabet, and some korean linguistics. mostly, i’m taking notes to solidify my understanding . there are already lots of resources online for learning korean and hangul and you should use those - however, these were patterns that i found helpful to note and write down while i learned. maybe they will help someone else, too ^__^
hangul was created in 1443 by king sejong the great. it was created in order to specifically combat illteracy and make reading and writing easier for the korean people. i think its a beautiful script.
wikipedia tells us that modern hangul orthography uses:
24 basic letters:
- 14 consonant letters (ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ)
- 10 vowel letters (ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ)
27 complex letters formed by combining the basic letters
- 5 tense consonant letters (ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ)
- 11 complex consonant letters (ㄳ ㄵ ㄶ ㄺ ㄻ ㄼ ㄽ ㄾ ㄿ ㅀ ㅄ)
- 11 complex vowel letters (ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅢ)
what does it mean to be an alphabet? our comrade wikipedia says:
an alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols or graphemes (called letters) that represent the phonemes of certain spoken languages. not all writing systems represent language in this way; in a syllabary, each character represents a syllable, for instance, and logographic systems use characters to represent words, morphemes, or other semantic units.
interestingly, hangul really is an alphabet and not a syllabary (like japanese kana). each character is called a jamo.the language also features a number of beautiful design choices:
- orthographic symbols are grouped homorganically (by place of articulation)
- jamo (characters) are grouped into visually distinct morpho-syllabic units
when learning a new language, at least for me, i always try to pay attention to the aspects of the phonological inventory that are contrastive in the target language, but are not in my native tongue. these are the types of sounds that are the hardest to hear and master. often you just need to mentally remember to move your mouth a different way, because the difference itself is very hard to perceive when first learning.
in english, we have minimal pairs that utilize consonants that differ in voicing - i.e. compare:
- beach, peach
- kill, gill
in korean, this voicing isn’t contrastive. rather, the voicing aspect comes about phonotactically, or based on systematic combinations of sounds. in korean, many consonants are unvoiced unless they occur in the medial position (in the middle of a word).
aside: this also plays into my hypothesis of why one sees so many different types of romanization for korean to english in casual contexts - for example, check out the spellings i’ve seen for 떡볶이: tteokbokki, ddukbokki, ddeokbokki, dukbokki or topokki.
unlike voicing, which is contrastive in english & determined phonotactically in korean, aspiration is the inverse. in english, we often determine if a consonant is aspirated based on whether or not it follows a certain phonological rule, for example:
voiceless stops ([p], [t], and [k]) are aspirated ([pʰ], [tʰ], and [kʰ]) when they occur immediately before (no sound in between) a stressed vowel, and there is no [s] in front of the voiceless stop.
in contrast, korean uses aspiration as a contrastive difference. this contrastive difference, as expected, is also represented orthographically. in the IPA above (and below) - aspiration is marked by a superscript h like pʰ. generally, we just see the character getting an extra stroke: ㄱ (plain k sound) becomes ㅋ (aspirated k sound).
korean consonants are also contrastive in relation to tenseness. this is extra hard for english speakers because we do not have the concept of tenseness in our phonological inventory. i’ve read various things about how to imagine pronouncing these, from pretending you are in a pressure chamber, pretending the consonant is hard to produce, or just tightening your glottis and vocal folds while pronouncing them. in IPA, tenseness is denoted by two small marks under the consonant like this: k͈. like aspiration, tenseness is represented as a distinct character orthographically: in korean, this is represented by a duplicate character: ㄱ (plain k sound) becomes ㄲ (tense k sound).
below i’ve grouped the consonants primarily by place of articulation - see homorganic groups. amazingly, you’ll see that the orthographic characters also seem organized by their orthographic shape! this is one of the beautiful parts of hangul - it was literally designed to be easy to learn.
in this section , there is a plcae of articulation that doesn’t exist in most english dialects: alveolo-palatal. in order to pronounce this one correctly, we’ll need to think about what that means:
its place of articulation is postalveolar, meaning that the tongue contacts the roof of the mouth in the area behind the alveolar ridge (the gum line). its tongue shape is laminal, meaning that it is the tongue blade that contacts the roof of the mouth. it is heavily palatalized, meaning that the middle of the tongue is bowed and raised towards the hard palate.
these are all dorsal consonants.
the ㅇ (ieung) character is extra special - it can also denote absence of a sound.
consonants, when combined, can have different pronunciation based on the preceding and following consonants. however, the rules are a bit convoluted so i am not going to add them to my notes for now. note that even if you think you ran read (i.e. transcribe) a korean word, you may find there are some differences with pronunciation intervocalic voicing causes many consonants to become voiced when in the middle of a syllable. for example: 비빔밥 (bibimbap) is generally romanized with all b characters, but only the middle b is actually pronounced as a b due to intervocalic voicing. there are lots of examples of this!
a more general rule is that the sounds ㄱ, ㄷ, and ㅂ are transcribed as g, d, and b before a vowel. they are transcribed as k, t, and p when they appear before another consonant or as the last sound of a word. despite this rule listed on the national institute of korean language page on romanization, common words like kimchi (not gimchi) still get special treatment since they’re at this point, more of a loan word
i’m sure there are a lot more: to learn more, research “korean consonant assimilation”.
|character||IPA||romanization||english word with vowel|
there are two more, which orthographically look like two vowels, but are pronounced as a single vowel. you can see some that where ㅣ (i) is being re-used:
- ㅓ + ㅣ= ㅔ
- ㅏ + ㅣ = ㅐ
|character||IPA||romanization||english word with vowel|
historically these last two are pronounced different, but from what i read, most people pronounce them like “eigh” in “weigh”.
one group of diphthongs are all ways of turning one vowel into a y- variant (e.g. a -> ya) - also know as iotized vowels all you need to do is add the extra line next to the existing one that is protruding, and now its a y sound.
|character|IPA|romanization| |-|-|-|-| | ㅑ | ja | ya | | ㅕ | jʌ | yeo | | ㅛ | jo | yo | | ㅠ | ju | yu | | ㅒ | jɛ | yae | | ㅖ | je | ye |
here are a few that all share a w-like sound prefix. while they look more complicated, it can actually be seen that each one is just a combination of the simpler vowels we already learned. for example:
- ㅘ wa = ㅗ o + ㅏ a
- ㅙ wae = ㅘ wa + ㅣ i
and so on.
|character|IPA|romanization| |-|-|-|-| | ㅟ | ɥi | wi | | ㅞ | we | we | | ㅙ | wɛ | wae | | ㅘ | wa | wa | | ㅝ | wʌ | wo | | ㅢ | ɰi | ui |
now that we know vowels and consonants, we can start adding them together to make syllables. the morpho-syllabic blocks are made up of three parts:
- initial onset consonant: 초성 (choseong)
- medial vowel: 중성 (jungseong)
- syllable coda: 종성 (jongseong)
when no initial consonant is present, one writes the ㅇ (ieung) (like zero!) - which means each block has a minimum of two letters - a n initial and a medial. in general - blocks are read top left to bottom right
blocks come in a variety of shapes, but not too many: for the following, i will use:
- i = initial (choseong)
- m = medial (jungseong)
- m2 = medial (second part, orthographically)
- f = final (jongseong)
the base blocks have two components basically and look like this:
_____ | | | i | |_____| = 초 (cho) = ㅊ(ch) + ㅗ (o) | | | m | |_____| _________ | | | | i | m | = 가 (ga) = ㄱ (g) + ㅏ (a) |____|____| _________ | | | | i | | |____| | = 희 (hui) = ㅎ (h) + ㅢ (ui) | | m2 | | m | | |____|____|
if there a final consonant, it is always on the bottom:
_____ | | | i | |_____| | | | m | = 흈 (hyuss) = ㅎ (h) + ㅡ (yu) + ㅆ (ss) |_____| | | | f | |_____| _________ | | | | i | m | |____|____| | | = 쌍 (ssa) = ㅆ (ss) + ㅏ(a) + ㅇ (nothing) | f | |_________| _________ | | | | i | | |____| | | | m2 | | m | | = 흭 (huig) = ㅎ (h) + ㅢ (ui) + ㄱ (g) |____|____| | | | f | |_________|
and sometimes the final part is broken up into two pieces:
_________ | | | | i | m | |____|____| | | | = 퍑 (pyalt) = ㅍ (p) + ㅑ (ya) + ㄹ (l) + ㅌ (t) | f1 | f2 | |____|____|