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장단음 (長短音) in Korean

OMG. I never knew that Korean uses length to distinguish between words!!! >,< Such discoveries never fail to amaze me. But I can’t believe it took me nearly 3 years to realise this fundamental fact of Korean. O.o Please tell me I’m not the only one :/

According to a source, there are 7185 pairs of words that are distinguished by length, making it a total of 15,000 words. Most of these words are sino-korean words (한자어). Some of the 한자 are usually pronounced with a long sound while some can be pronounced both long and short.

For example, 화:장 (葬) is pronounced with the long vowel while 화장 (粧) is pronounced with the short vowel. This explained the puzzled look my Korean friend gave me when I was trying to explain that we learned about 화장장 and 혐오시설 during our classes! I must have said it with a short vowel instead. O.o

*Update*

I’m so intrigued by this that I did a search online. Came across a really insightful article that questioned the need of maintaining the long-short distinction in daily conversations. Korean is a language that places heavily reliance on pragmatics and context to deliver its meaning. In light of such a reliance, is there a need to continue maintaining the distinction when the context is clear? Also, there is no underlying rule that govern such a distinction. This means that you have to memorise each instance and to us foreigners, it can be a difficult task indeed.

———–

It’s so exciting(?) yet infuriating at times. Just when you thought you have made more progress in your proficiency, you realised that you are nowhere still being native. I thought that I was becoming better in my pronunciation, but now I have to take into account long-short distinction ):

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    mandu00
    10 December, 2010 at 5:33 PM

    Very interesting indeed! Now makes me wonder if the puzzled looks I receive are sometimes because of this. Apparently there is some sort of logic behind which words gets pronounced with a long sound and which get pronounced with a shorter sound (a very loose logic, I think). Anyway, I didn’t know there were so many words like that. 15,000? Woah! I only know maybe 3? (eye vs snow, bird vs three, bottle vs sickness). Heh heh.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      10 December, 2010 at 5:46 PM

      i’m gonna try to find out more about it. bad timing though, seeing how i have a final exam tmr ): but i’m too intrigued by this! I dint even know about those 3! thanks alot 😀 😀

  • Reply
    mishmash
    10 December, 2010 at 10:35 PM

    I did notice the short-long aspect of similar sounding words but never gave it much thought. I had passed it off as just the individual’s speech pattern XD

    Seeing how there is a reliance on hanja when it comes to clarifying certain words…me thinks that is going to be a huge problem for me -_- oh vey

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      11 December, 2010 at 12:35 PM

      hahaha yeah hanja is a tough aspect of korean! that’s why i really respect those foreigners who managed to pick up korean to a high level!

  • Reply
    Warp3
    11 December, 2010 at 3:23 AM

    I’d read about the long vowel / short vowel distinction before (I believe the Wikipedia article on Korean phonetics covers that topic), but I also recall reading that most modern Korean dialects don’t really distinguish between long and short vowels now (especially among the younger generation of Korean speakers).

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      11 December, 2010 at 12:33 PM

      that’s true. it’s something that is disappearing with time. however, i think korean students are still tested on it in those national korean proficiency exams and it’s tough for them too.

  • Reply
    Courtney
    12 December, 2010 at 6:08 AM

    Is there a list us foreigners could consult to determine which words should have short vowels and which ones should be pronounced with long vowel sounds. I too had just ascribed the differences to different speakers. Now I’m kind of having an “omg” moment. I guess if I weren’t addicted to Korean I would have given up long ago…

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      14 December, 2010 at 11:03 PM

      so far I wasn’t able to find a comprehensive list online. I’ll let you know if I find one ^^ I have it in my book though.

  • Reply
    Courtney
    15 December, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    Shanna, did you find the long and short vowel list in your Yonsei book? How about the different pronunciations for different hanja based words, also from Yonsei? (Since I know all of about 15 hanja, I don’t know how I’ll keep that straight…) You are so right, when people say Korean pronunciation is very straightforward, I don’t know what they’re talking about. The Hangeul alphabet may be very logical, but all the pronunciation rules make actually speaking Korean much more complicated.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      15 December, 2010 at 10:57 PM

      nope. i found them in this book called KBS 한국어능력시험준비서. ^^ It’s actually a preparatory book for koreans who wanna take their mother tongue proficiency exam. Pretty advanced >,<

  • Reply
    alodia
    5 February, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    흑! this is difficult! ㅜㅜ

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