Retarded Romanization of Korean

Revised Romanization of Korean

The Revised Romanization of Korean is the official Korean language romanization system in South Korea. It is the official South Korean replacement for the 1984 McCune-Reischauer–based romanization system. The new system is similar to the older system, but eliminates diacritics and is touted as being more closely based on Korean phonology than on western perception of Korean phonetics.

The Revised Romanization uses no non-alphabetic symbols except very limited, often optional, use of the hyphen. It was developed by the National Academy of the Korean Language from 1995 and was released to the public on July 7 2000, by South Korea's Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Proclamation No. 2000-8. The proclamation included the following reasons for the new system:

  • It is convenient to type on computers since it uses only Latin letters and symbols, omitting the apostrophes and breves that were problematic with the McCune-Reischauer system.
  • It promotes consistent romanization by native Korean speakers by better transcribing important language characteristics.
  • It reduces the confusion caused by the tendency to ignore apostrophes and diacritics.
  • It rationalizes the Korean language with the plain ASCII text of internet domain names.


Notable features of the Revised Romanization system are:

  • 어 and 으 are written as digraphs with two vowel letters: eo and eu, respectively (replacing the ŏ and ŭ of the McCune-Reischauer system).
    • However, ㅝ is written as wo and ㅢ is written as ui.
  • Unlike McCune-Reischauer, aspirated consonants (ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅊ) have no apostrophe: k, t, p, ch. Their unaspirated counterparts (ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅈ) are written with letters that are voiced in English: g, d, b, j. However, all consonants that are pronounced as unreleased stops (which basically means all except ㄴ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅇ that are not followed by a vowel or semivowel) are written as k, t, p, with no regard to their morphophonemic value: 벽 → byeok, 밖 → bak, 부엌 → bueok (But: 벽에 → byeoge, 밖에 → bakke, 부엌에 → bueoke)
  • ㅅ is always written as s before vowels and semivowels; there is no sh except when transliterating.
  • ㄹ is r before a vowel or a semivowel, and l everywhere else: 리을 → rieul, 철원 → Cheorwon, 울릉도 → Ulleungdo, 발해 → Balhae. Just like in McCune-Reischauer, ㄴ is written l whenever pronounced as a lateral rather than a nasal consonant: 전라북도 → Jeollabuk-do

In addition, there are special provisions for regular phonological rules that makes exceptions to transliteration (see Korean language#Phonology).

Other rules and recommendations include:

  • A hyphen may optionally be used to disambiguate syllables: 가을 → ga-eul (fall; autumn) versus 개울 → gae-ul (stream). However, no official publications seem to make use of this provision.
    • A hyphen must be used in transliterations, where it denotes syllable-initial ㅇ (except at the beginning of a word): 없었습니다 → eobs-eoss-seubnida, 외국어 → oegug-eo, 애오개 → Ae-ogae
  • While in principle, syllables in Korean given names are not separated by a hyphen, the rules permit doing just that. Certain phonological changes that are otherwise indicated are ignored between the syllables of given names: 강홍립 → Gang Hongrip or Gang Hong-rip, 한복남 → Han Boknam or Han Bok-nam
  • Syllables of Korean administrative units (such as do) are separated from the placename with a hyphen: 강원도 → Gangwon-do
    • One may omit terms “such as 시, 군, 읍”: 평창군 → Pyeongchang-gun or Pyeongchang, 평창읍 → Pyeongchang-eup or Pyeongchang.
  • However, names for geographic features and artificial structures are connected to the placename: 설악산 → Seoraksan 해인사 → Haeinsa
  • Capitalize proper nouns.


The Revised Romanization is not expected to be adopted as the official romanization of Korean family names. For example, the common family name, Lee (이), would be I in both the Revised Romanization and McCune-Reischauer. Given names and commercial names are encouraged to change, but it is not required. All Korean textbooks were required to comply with the new system by February 28, 2002. English-language newspapers in South Korea initially resisted the new system, citing its flaws, though all later gave in to government pressure. The Korea Times was the last major English newspaper, which switched in May 2006 to the Revised Romanization.

North Korea continues to use a version of the McCune-Reischauer system of Romanization, which was in official use in South Korea from 1984 to 2000.

Transcription rules

Vowel letters

a eo o u eu i ae
e oe wi ya yeo yo yu
yae ye wa wae wo we ui

Consonant letters

g, k kk k d, t tt t b, p pp p
j jj ch s ss h n m ng r, l

The revised romanization transcribes certain phonetic changes that occur with combinations of the final consonant of one character and the initial consonant of the next:

initial →
final ↓ g n d r m b s j ch k t p h
k g kg ngn kd ngn ngm kb ks kj kch k-k kt kp kh, k
n n n-g nn nd ll, nn nm nb ns nj nch nk nt np nh
t d, j tg nn td nn nm tb ts tj tch tk t-t tp th, t, ch
l r lg ll, nn ld ll lm lb ls lj lch lk lt lp lh
m m mg mn md mn mm mb ms mj mch mk mt mp mh
p b pg mn pd mn mm pb ps pj pch pk pt p-p
ng ng- ngg ngn ngd ngn ngm ngb ngs ngj ngch ngk ngt ngp ngh


Despite the South Korean government's intentions to promote the Romanization of Korean words and place names, the release of the revised system met with considerable opposition among international residents in Korea, many of whom felt the revised system was seriously flawed and felt disgruntled that the government failed to consult with them beforehand, since they are the primary users of Romanized Korean inside South Korea.

Critics of the Revised Romanization System say that the one-to-one correspondence of Korean characters to Roman letters (e.g., usually representing ㄱ as g) which is the hallmark of the new system is overly simplistic and fails to represent sound changes that occur naturally when the position of a consonant changes (e.g., at the beginning of a word, ㄱ is pronounced closer to an unaspirated k, rather than as a straight g). A frequent complaint of many foreign residents and visitors to South Korea is that both Romanization systems hinder their ability to come close to an accurate and comprehensible rendering of Korean pronunciation.

Critics also complain that people unfamiliar with hangul pronunciation may be confused by what "eo" and "eu" are intended to represent in the revised system. With common English words or names such as "geography", "Leonardo", and "neon" representing a two-syllable sound for eo, a neophyte to Korean words may fail to recognize that eo is supposed to represent a vowel sound like that of "son" or "fun". Defenders of the system cite English words such as surgeon as evidence of the appropriateness of the combination, even though the sound is not an exact match. Other supporters point out that it is a system intended to transliterate into the Roman alphabet, not English.

There is no one-to-one correspondence between the Roman letters and hangul in the new system. One needs to familiarize himself to the phonological rules of Korean before he can easily comprehend the sound each Roman letter gives sound. For example, the word 악클 when romanized in the new system it would be "akkeul (ak-keul)". A neophyte could misinterpret that the k in the two syllables represent one same sound. He needs to learn the phonological rules of Korean before he would know that the two sounds are different since k in batchim position would never be an aspirated one. This situation would not happen to either McCune-Reischauer (akk'ŭl [kk is cannot be aspirated]) or Yale (ak.khul).

The motivation for the digraph "eo" appears to have been the wide international use of "Seoul" as the spelling of the name of the Korean capital. This spelling derives from an old French romanization Séoul in which the two syllables of this name were "" and "oul." However, because of antipathy to the use of diacritics in the McCune-Reischauer system, the revised romanization treats this as "seo" and "ul," and then uses the digraph "eu" by analogy.

The Ministry of Culture & Tourism says that the change was necessary because the McCune-Reischauer system did not adequately reflect important characteristics of the Korean language, making it difficult for native Korean speakers to use. For example, "The difference between some voiced and non-voiced sounds are in Korean little more than allophones, but [the] old system transcribed these as entirely different phonemes."

This difficulty contributed to confusion and inconsistency in the Romanizing of Korean. The old system differentiated between voiced and non-voiced consonants, making it very difficult for Koreans to understand and contributing to spellings such as "Kumkang" and "Hankuk" for "금강" and "한국" instead of "Kŭmgang" and "Han'guk," as would have been correct according to the old system. There were contradictions as well. "대구" was written "Taegu," but 동대구, the name of Daegu's largest passenger train terminal, was Romanized "Tongdaegu." And because "ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ" have to be written in a way that a distinction is maintained between "ㅌ, ㅍ, and ㅊ," people rarely wrote "ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ" as "t, p, and ch," even when they were conscious of the fact that this was not correct according to the old system, since they would not want to have words confused with the "t', p', and ch' " that often had the apostrophe omitted. The result was that "ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ" were written "t, p, and ch" on road signs but as "d, b, and j" almost everywhere else, such as personal names and the names of companies and schools. | 4=Ministry of Culture & Tourism | 5=The Revised Romanization of Korean

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