3 In Korean Lessons

Korean – Vowel harmony

In the Korean langauge, vowels are divided into 2 groups: ying and yang.

yang vowels: in linguistics, known as ‘low’ vowels – articulated at low positions in the mouth

아, 야, 애, 오, 요, 외, 와, 왜

yin vowels: ‘high vowels’ – articulated at high positions in the mouth

어, 여, 우, 유, 에, 위, 워, 웨, 으, 의, 이

(please note that high and low has NO relation to high/low pitch, it’s simply the articulation position in the mouth)

So why are they called yin and yang?

Ans: When pronouncing the yang vowels, do you find that they sound brighter, clearer and sharper compared to the yin vowels which sounds lower, deeper. Hence the reference to ying and yang.

Vowel alternations are used mostly in onomatopoeics to differentiate between the ‘degree’ of expressions.


소복하다: to be in neat stacks

수북하다: to be in piles

Besides vowel alternations, Korean does have consonant alternations, albeit to a small extent. So how do consonants alternate?

Ans: They alternate between lax, reinforced and aspirated consonants. (예: ㅂ ㅃ ㅍ)

The best examples on how vowel and consonant alternations work together is in describing color intensity.


Red – deep to light (left to right)

Bright:  새빨갛다  – 빨갛다 발갛다 붉다 발그스름하다

Dark:    시뻘겋다 뻘겋다 벌겋다 붉다 벌그스름하다

Prefixes,suffixes and vowel/consonant alternations are all employed to show the gradual change from deep to light and bright to dark.



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  • Reply
    14 February, 2009 at 5:52 PM

    This is interesting, but I wonder if you could elaborate more? Like how to construct vowel/consonant alternations, so that we could use the function in our Korean language speaking? Thank you so much oh~~~~ ^^

  • Reply
    16 February, 2009 at 8:02 AM

    hello (:

    heh I’ll have to read up more about it! 😀 I’ll post more about it soon.

    즐거운 하루 되세요 ^^

  • Reply
    16 February, 2009 at 10:46 PM

    Thanks for the comment on my blog! These days I don’t have much time to study Korean, but I hopefully the next couple of weeks, I will be able to concentrate a little more. I have been enjoying reading your blog!

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