I’m back with a new post about Hangul (한글)!~ Today I’m going to talk about pronunciation or 발음.
Hangul is a phonetic alphabet. This means that each character is always pronounced the same and it is very simple to read. HOWEVER, as a learner of the Korean language, you will find that, sometimes, Koreans’ pronunciation of their own language varies. You might find yourself thinking “why is this word spelled with “ㅅ” but pronounced as “ㄴ”?
Don’t worry! Koreans are not crazy! Nor are you! There are actually a bunch of rules that apply in the Korean language which make it sound softer, smoother, and allow it to flow better. That is why in some words the pronunciation differs from the letter with which it is spelled.
To make it easier for you guys to read, speak, and understand, I’m going to explain these rules to you now.
Rule # 1 – The final consonant (받침)
In Korean the final consonant is always unreleased. This means that you do not release air when saying it, as you might at the beginning of a word. As a result, only the seven simple consonants are allowed to be the final sound of a word.
The seven simple consonants are:
ㄷ, ㅂ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㄴ, ㅇ, ㄱ
There is a reason for this – the aspirated consonants (ㅌ,ㅍ,ㅋ,ㅊ) require you to release a lot of air in order to make the sound, correct? But if you cannot release air at the end of a word, then you must change them to their plain consonant versions.
e.g. 앞 (in front of) – [압]
밑 (Below) – [믿]
The same applies for the tense consonants (ㄸ, ㅃ, ㄲ, ㅉ) – they require extra force which cannot be produced when you have to keep your mouth closed in order not to release air.
The fricatives – ㅈ, ㅅ as well as their tensed and aspirated consonants – ㅉ, ㅆ, ㅊ are all pronounced as ㄷ when the final of the word. Fricatives require the release of air to make their sounds, therefore they have no sound without a release and are also changed to ㄷ in pronunciation when the final character of the word.
e.g. 인터넷 (internet) – [인터넫]
HOWEVER, should a vowel follow any of these words, the consonant goes back to its original sound. This is because Korean likes a CV, CV… structure (consonant vowel). Therefore, the 받침 moves from the bottom to the top of the next syllable (and so can be pronounced normally).
e.g. 인터넷 + 이 (subject marker) = 인턴넷이 [인터네시]
Which brings us to…
Rule # 2 – Nasal assimilation
Nasal assimilation basically means that when a strong consonant such as ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ and their variations are followed by a nasal sound – ㄴ, ㅁ, ㅇ – they too change to a nasal sound. This allows the language to flow and sound softer.
e.g. 끝나다 (to finish) [끈나다]
앞문 (front door) –[암문]
국민 (citizens) – [궁민]
Do you see a pattern here?
The following consonants change to the corresponding nasal consonants when followed by a nasal consonant:
ㄱ, ㅋ, ㄲ – ㅇ (all of these are pronounced with the throat)
ㄷ, ㅌ, ㄸ – ㄴ (all of these are pronounced in the teeth area)
ㅂ, ㅍ, ㅃ – ㅁ (all of these are pronounced with the lips)
Rule # 3 – Lateral Assimilation
This basically means that when ㄹ precedes or is preceded by ㄴ both sounds become ㄹ.
e.g. 편리하다 (to be convenient) – [펼리]
원래 (original) – [월래]
NB: ㄹ is pronounced as “r” in between two vowels but is pronounced as “l” at the beginning, end of a word, and when followed by or preceded by another consonant.
e.g. 알다 (to know) – al-da
알아 (I know) – ar-a
Rule # 4 – Aspiration
When a consonant is followed or preceded by ㅎ, the ㅎ makes that consonant aspirated (as “h” sound and another consonant sound cannot be pronounced one after the other).
e.g. 많다 (to be many) – [만타]
잃고 (lose + and) – [일코]
Rule # 5 – Tensification
When a syllable ends in a consonant and the following syllable starts with a consonant, if that consonant is a plain consonant it becomes tense. This is because the preceding letter is also a consonant – Korean doesn’t like CC blocks, but when they occur, they make this tense sound.
e.g. 갈게 (I will go) – [갈께]
어젯밤 (last night)- [어제빰]
Which brings me to my next point…
Rule # 6 – Epenthetic “s” – 사이시옷
Korean likes to keep semantic units apart – as they carry the meaning; however, they also enjoy adding words together to make new words. Therefore, when this is done Koreans add “ㅅ” to the bottom of the last syllable of the first unit. The “ㅅ” is visible in words that end in vowels, but it is invisible in words that end in consonants.
e.g. 머릿속 (in my head) – 머리 = head; 속 = inside
빗소리 (the sound of rain) – 비 = rain; 소리 = sound
김밥 – 김 + ㅅ + 밥 –but the ㅅ is invisible because of the two consonants surrounding it.
(Because of the added “ㅅ”, the following consonants are tensified pronunciation – see rule # 5)
Rule # 7 – Palatalization
This means that the sounds ㄷ,ㅌ are changed to the sounds ㅈ, ㅊ respectively, only when they are from two separate syntactical units.
You might’ve wondered why Koreans pronounce “어디” (where) as “odi” but “같이” (together) as “gachi”.
This only occurs when the dental sounds ㄷ, ㅌ are followed by 이 or a y-glide vowel.
e.g. 끝 (end) + 이 (subject marker) = 끝이 [끄치]
NB: ㅅ also undergoes palatalization:
ㅅ is always pronounced as “s”, EXCEPT when it is before any vowel or semi-vowel that is created with ㅣ(e). So – 이, 위, 유, 요, 야, 여. In these cases, ㅅ is pronounced as “sh”.
These are all of the main/basic rules for pronunciation. I did take a Korean linguistics class and I have a wonderful textbook that explains everything – and trust me – there is always more to learn.
If you want to take a look at the textbook we used in my class (which is where I learned most of this – it’s amazing how it all stuck in my head! But that’s because my professor,이교수님, is simply the best ㅋㅋㅋ) it is called Korean: An Essential Grammar, by Young-Key Kim-Renaud.
See you around!