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MODULE 1: INTRODUCTION TO HANGUL


HANGUL is the name given to Korean writing system. This is one of the most scientific and systematic writing systems in the world. Hangul is made of an alphabet of 21 vowel and 19 consonant symbols. Let’s take a general look at it:

 When using the Korean writing system Hangeul, we have to think in terms of syllables. E.g: The word ‘Canada’:

Ca-na da.

In Korean this becomes 캐-나-다. As you could see in the example above, we have equivalent for every Korean symbol. The process of giving a Romanic(the alphabet we know and use) equivalent to every unit of the hangul writing system (and some others) is called romanization. This process allows us to understand the pronunciation of this symbols in a better way.


 In the following chart, we will see the Korean symbols followed by their respective Romanization and an example of how it is pronounced.  PURE VOWELS: In English there are five pure vowels: ‘a’,‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’ and ‘u’. There are also many combination vowels, like ‘ea’ in the word wheat, ‘oi’ in the word noise, and ‘ou’ in house. The word Canada illustrates a major problem in learning to pronounce English. The same letter, in this case ‘a’, can have more than one pronunciation. But happily, in Korean each vowel symbol always represents the same sound. So once you’ve learnt the symbols, you will always know how to pronounce the correct sound. Let’s take a look at the pure vowels: KOREAN SYMBOL

ROMANIZATION

EXAMPLE

A

as in Canada

ae

as in Canada

eo

as in computer

E

as in bed

U

as in book

I

as in see

oe

as in wet


The following two vowels are also pure vowels, but since there are not direct equivalents in English for them, that makes them harder to pronounce.

eu

O

If you say ‘the cat sat on the mat’ stressing ‘cat and mat’, the sound of the unstressed ‘e’ in the ‘the’ is close to this vowel. This is the hardest to get right. It is somewhere between the ‘o’ in hope and the ‘or’ in horde. The sound comes from the front of the mouth with your lips forming a circle.

There are twelve (12) combinations of vowels that are made of either adding one more stroke to some of the above basic vowel symbols or combining some basic vowel symbols together:

1.

‘i’ (ㅣ) + a, eo, o, u, ae, e

KOREAN SYMBOL ㅑ

ROMANIZATION EXAMPLE EXAMPLE IN ENGLISH IN KOREAN Ya as in yard 야구 baseball

Yeo

여자 female

Yu

between yawn and young similar to yor- of New York as in new

Yo

ㅠ ㅒ

Yae

as in yam

얘기 story

Ye

as in yes

예 yes

요리사 chef 유리 glass


2. ‘o’ (ㅗ)+ a, ae, i KOREAN SYMBOL

ROMANIZATION

Wa

Wae

EXAMPLE EXAMPLE IN ENGLISH IN KOREAN as in 과자 sweets Washington as in swam 왜 why

3. ‘u’ (ㅜ)+ o, e, i KOREAN SYMBOL ㅝ ㅞ

ROMANIZATION EXAMPLE IN EXAMPLE IN ENGLISH KOREAN Wo as in was 뭐 what We as in wet 웨이터 waiter Wi

as in weak

귀 ‘eu’ + i ear

4. ‘eu’ (ㅡ)+ i KOREAN SYMBOL ㅢ

ROMANIZATION EXAMPLE IN EXAMPLE IN ENGLISH KOREAN Ui as in ‘can we’ 의사 doctor if you say it quickly

All vowel symbols are formed by combining the following three basic elements: ‘·’ depicts heaven; ‘ㅡ’ depicts earth; and ‘ㅣ’ depicts humankind.


 MOUTH POSITION OF VOWELS As you can see from the diagram on the left, the vowels in Korean depend on how open the mouth is when pronounced and whether the sound is produced from the front of the mouth or the back nearthe throat. Thus, people find it hard to distinguish between 에 and 애 since they are both pronounced from a similar mouth position with only a very slight difference in the opening of the mouth.

It is customary for vowels to be preceded by the dummy consonant ‘ㅇ’ when they stand independently: 아, 애, 어, 에, 우, 이, 외, 으 and 오.

 BASIC PLAIN CONSONANTS


KOREAN SYMBOL

ROMANIZATION

EXAMPLE

k/g

as in kid or game

t/d

as in tiger or dog

p/b

as in pig or bed

ch/j

S

as in charming jungle as in speech

M

as in mother

N

as in noise

r/l

As in rain or lily

H

as in high

ng

As in ring. This sound

or

only applies when ㅇ is the final consonant of a syllable. When the same symbol is used at the start of a syllable it has no sound, and acts as a dummy consonant for syllables that begin with a vowel.

 Why do some of the symbols have two different romanizations? Well, since Korean Hangul is a language based on syllables, the position of the consonant within the syllable determines if it sounds strong or weak. (We will see that later in detail.)   ㄱ depicts the root of the tongue blocking the throat; ㄴ depicts the outline of the tongue touching the upper palate;ㅁ depicts the outline of the mouth; ㅅ depicts the


outline of the incisors (the teeth at the front);ㅇ depicts the outline of the throat. The other symbols were derived by adding strokes to the basic ones. Now, let’s take a look at the aspirated consonants: KOREAN SYMBOL

ROMANIZATION

EXAMPLE

K

as in kite

T

as in tank

p

as in punk

ch

as in cheese

Finally, there are 5 double tensed consonants: KOREAN SYMBOL

ROMANIZATION

PP

TT

KK

SS

JJ

 We write English by stringing individual letters together. But when using the Korean writing system HangUl, we have to think in terms of syllables. A simple example is the word ‘Canada’ - Ca-na-da. In Korean this becomes 캐나다. Every Korean syllable occupies the same amount of space, no matter how many characters are in the syllable, and are written to fit into a square box. Like English, HangUl is comprised of consonants and vowels. E.g


 All words in Korean are composed of syllables, which follow these basic rules:

1. A syllable begins with a consonant. 2. A syllable has at least one consonant and one vowel. 3. Each syllable gets written in a square box. So let's put the (n) and the fits into a square box:

(a) together into a syllable that

You'll notice that the consonant (n) has changed its shape a little to accommodate the vowel that has joined it in the square box. How do you think this syllable is pronounced? If you said na before looking at this text, you are

Now, let’s see some words: Camera:

Ca-me-ra

카 메 라 ka me ra

Peter:

Pe-ter

피터

pi teo

Mary:

Ma-ry

메리

me ri

Banana

Ba-na-na

바 나 나 ba na na

Radio:

Ra-di-o

라 디 오 ra di o

As you have noticed, every syllable is written to fit into the same imaginary square box—no matter how many charactersare in the syllable. How the box is divided up depends first on the shape of the vowel. When you look at the pure vowels, you will see that they have a predominant shape. Thus we can think of them as being


vertical: ㅏ ㅓ ㅣ ㅐ ㅔ, horizontal: ㅗ ㅜ ㅡ, or combined: ㅚ. Have a look at how the vowel shapes the syllable:  With vertical vowels with no end consonant, the box is divided vertically in half, with the initial consonant on the left and the vowel on the right:

Ka

kka

I

jae

tte

 With vertical vowels with an end consonant, the space for the initial consonant and vowel is reduced to allow room underneath for the final consonant:

Kang- kkom- il- jaeg- tten

 With horizontal vowels with no end consonant, the box is divided in half horizontally, with the initial consonant atthe top and the vowelat the bottom:

To

ung kkeu

kwe

 With horizontal vowels with an end consonant, again the end consonant is placed at the bottom. The initial consonant and vowel are pushed upwards:

Ton

um kkeul kwing


E.g: (1) 레몬 lemon

(10) 커피 coffee

(2) 버스 bus

(11) 컴퓨터 computer

(3) 슈퍼마켓 supermarket

(12) 택시 taxi

(4) 아이스크림 ice cream

(13) 테니스 tennis

(5) 앨범 album

(14) 텔레비전 television

(6) 오렌지 orange

(15) 피아노 piano

(7) 주스 juice

(16) 피자 pizza

(8) 카세트 cassette

(17) 햄버거 hamburger

(9) 캥거루 kangaroo

(18) 호텔 hotel

That’s all regarding the Korean Alphabet or Hangul. Now please, go to the practice section!!!


Learn Korean - Module 1: Hangul