Korean phonology

Korean phonology

This article is a technical description of the phonetics and phonology of Korean.

Korean has many allophones, so it is important here to distinguish morphophonemics (written in pipes IPA|| |) from corresponding phonemes (written in slashes IPA|/ /) and allophones (written in brackets IPA| [ ] ).


The following are phonemic transcriptions of Korean consonants.

The IPA symbol <IPA|&#x25CC;&#x348;> (a subscript double straight quotation mark, shown here with a placeholder circle) is used to denote the tensed consonants IPA|/p͈/, /t͈/, /k͈/, /tɕ͈/, /s͈/. Its official use in the Extensions to the IPA is for 'strong' articulation, but is used in the literature for faucalized voice. The Korean consonants also have elements of stiff voice, but it is not yet known how typical this is of faucalized consonants. They are produced with a partially constricted glottis and additional subglottal pressure in addition to tense vocal tract walls, laryngeal lowering, or other expansion of the larynx.

Sometimes the tense consonants are indicated with the apostrophe-like symbol IPA|<ʼ> symbolising glottalization, as in Americanist phonetic notation. This should not be confused with official IPA, as IPA IPA|<ʼ> represents the ejective consonants, with their piston-like upward glottal movement and non-pulmonic air pressure, which the Korean tense consonants do not feature.


Diphthongs and glides

IPA|/j/ and IPA|/w/ are considered to be components of diphthongs rather than separate consonant phonemes.

Allophones and assimilation

IPA||s| becomes an alveolo-palatal IPA| [ɕ] before IPA| [j] or IPA| [i] for most speakers (but see Differences in the language between North Korea and South Korea). This occurs with the tense fricative and all the affricates as well. At the end of a syllable, |s| is realized as /t/ (Example: beoseot (버섯) 'mushroom').

IPA||h| may become a bilabial IPA| [ɸ] before IPA| [o] or IPA| [u] , a palatal IPA| [ç] before IPA| [j] or IPA| [i] , a velar IPA| [x] before IPA| [ɯ] , a voiced IPA| [ɦ] between voiced sounds, and a IPA| [h] elsewhere.Fact|date=August 2007 It aspirates a following stop.

Traditionally, IPA||l| was disallowed at the beginning of a word. It disappeared before IPA|/j/, and otherwise became IPA|/n/. However, the inflow of western loanword changed the trend, and now word-initial IPA||l| (mostly from English loanwords) are pronounced as a free variation of either IPA| [ɾ] or IPA| [l] . The traditional prohibition of word-initial IPA||l| became a morphological rule called "initial law" (두음법칙) in South Korea, which pertains to Sino-Korean vocabulary. Such words retain their word-initial IPA||l| in North Korea.

IPA|/kʰ/ can appear together with fricatives in front of IPA| [ɯ] or IPA| [i] , as IPA| [kʰxɯ] and IPA| [kʰɕi] .

All obstruents (plosives, affricates, fricatives) are unreleased IPA| [p̚, t̚, k̚] at the end of a word.

Plosive stops IPA||p, t, k| become nasal stops IPA|/m, n, ŋ/ before nasal stops, and the lateral IPA||l| likewise becomes a nasal IPA|/n/ after a nasal stop. These phonemic assimilation rules can be seen in the following:
* is pronounced IPA|/tɕoŋno/
* as IPA|/hankuŋmal/ (phonetically IPA| [hanɡuŋmal] ).

Hangul spelling does not reflect these assimilatory rules, but rather maintains the underlying morphology.

One difference between the pronunciation standards of North and South Korea is the treatment of initial IPA||l| and IPA|/n/. For example,
* "labour" - north: "rodong" (로동), south: "nodong" (노동)
* "history" - north: "ryŏksa" (력사), south: "yeoksa" (역사)
* "female" - north: "nyŏja" (녀자), south: "yeoja" (여자)


Syllable-final plosives IPA|/p t, k/ are realized as unreleased IPA| [p̚ t̚, k̚] . Only seven consonants are found at the ends of syllables: IPA|/p, m, t, n, l, k, ŋ/, with all of the coronal obstruents (IPA||t, t͈, tʰ, tɕ, tɕ͈, tɕʰ, s, s͈|), as well as the occasional IPA||h|, conflating to IPA|/t/ (IPA| [t̚] ). If there is a following plain obstruent (IPA||p, t, tɕ, s, k|), the IPA|/t/ disappears and the obstruent becomes emphatic IPA|/p͈, t͈, tɕ͈, s͈, k͈/, or—if the first consonant is IPA||h|, the following obstruent instead becomes aspirated, IPA|/pʰ, tʰ, tɕʰ, kʰ/.

Spoken syllables may not start or end with consonant clusters, even though some morphemes may end with one. Consequently, consonant clusters are usually limited to sequences of two. When a morpheme ends with a consonant cluster before a vowel, both consonants are pronounced, like in IPA| [k̚s͈, ndʑ, nɦ, lɡ, lm, lb, ls, ltʰ, lpʰ, lɦ, p̚s͈] . However, when a morpheme ending in one of these consonant clusters is said without a following vowel, one of the consonants is elided. The elided consonant is the obstruent that would otherwise become IPA| [t̚] in this position, or if there is none, then the other coronal, IPA||l|, drops out. Therefore, word-finally or before a consonant, these clusters are pronounced ㄳ IPA| [k̚] , ㄵ IPA| [n] , ㄶ IPA| [n] , ㄺ IPA| [k̚] , ㄻ IPA| [m] , ㄼ IPA| [p̚] , ㄽ IPA| [l] , ㄾ IPA| [l] , ㄿ IPA| [p̚] , ㅀ IPA| [l] , ㅄ IPA| [p̚] , with the same effects on the following consonant as single consonants. (For example, ㄶ IPA||nh| and ㅀ IPA||lh| cause a following plain stop to become aspirated.)

The combinations IPA|/*ji, *jɯ, *wu, *wɯ, *wo/ are not allowed and it is impossible to write them using standard hangul. [Note: While 워 is romanized as wo, it does not represent IPA|/wo/.]

Vowel harmony

Traditionally, the Korean language has had strong vowel harmony; that is, in pre-modern Korean, as in most Altaic languages, not only did the inflectional and derivational affixes (such as postpositions) change in accordance to the main root vowel, but native words also adhered to vowel harmony. It is not as prevalent in modern usage, although it remains strong in onomatopoeia, adjectives and adverbs, interjections, and conjugation. There are also other traces of vowel harmony in Korean.

There are three classes of vowels in Korean: positive, negative, and neutral. The vowel eu is considered partially a neutral and negative vowel. The vowel classes loosely follow the negative and positive vowels; they also follow orthography. Exchanging positive vowels with negative vowels usually creates different nuances of meaning, with positive vowels sounding diminutive and negative vowels sounding crude.

Some examples:

** 퐁당퐁당 (pongdangpongdang) and 풍덩풍덩 (pungdeongpungdeong), light and heavy water splashing
*Emphasised adjectives:
** 노랗다 (norata) means plain yellow, while its negative, 누렇다 (nureota) means very yellow
** 파랗다 (parata) means plain blue, while its negative, 퍼렇다 (peoreota) means deep blue
*Particles at the end of verbs:
** 잡다 (japda) (to catch) → 잡았다 (Jabatda) (caught)
** 접다 (jeopda) (to fold) → 접었다 (Jeobeotda) (folded)
** 아이고 (aigo) and 어이구 (eoigu) expressing surprise, discomfort or sympathy
** 아하 (aha) and 어허 (eoheo) expressing sudden realization and mild objection, respectively

Pitch accent

Standard Seoul Korean only uses pitch for prosodic purposes. However, several dialects outside Seoul retain the Middle Korean pitch accent system. In the dialect of Northern Gyeongsang, in southeastern South Korea, any syllable may have pitch accent in the form of a high tone, as may the two initial syllables. For example, in trisyllabic words, there are four possible tone patterns: ["The Prosodic Structure and Pitch Accent of Northern Kyungsang Korean," Jun "et al.," JEAL 2005 [ling.snu.ac.kr/jun/work/JEAL_final.pdf] ]
*IPA| [mé.nu.ɾi] ('daughter-in-law')
*IPA| [ə.mú.i] ('mother')
*IPA| [wə.nə.mín] ('native speaker')
*IPA| [ó.ɾé.pi] ('elder brother')


ee also

*Revised Romanization of Korean

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