Korean has many allophones, so it is important here to distinguish morphophonemics (written in pipes | |) from corresponding phonemes (written in slashes / /) and allophones (written in brackets [ ]).
The following are phonemic transcriptions of Korean consonants.
|Nasal||ㅁ |m|||ㄴ |n|||ㅇ |ŋ|2|
|plain1||ㅂ |p|||ㄷ |t|||ㅈ |tɕ|||ㄱ |k||
|tense||ㅃ |p͈|||ㄸ |t͈|||ㅉ |tɕ͈|||ㄲ |k͈||
|aspirated||ㅍ |pʰ|||ㅌ |tʰ|||ㅊ |tɕʰ|||ㅋ |kʰ||
|Fricative||plain||ㅅ |s|||ㅎ |h||
Example words for consonants:
|ㅂ |p|||불 [pul]||bul||'fire' or 'light'|
|ㅃ |p͈|||뿔 [p͈ul]||ppul||'horn'|
|ㅍ |pʰ|||풀 [pʰul]||pul||'grass' or 'glue'|
|ㅁ |m|||물 [mul]||mul||'water' or 'liquid'|
|ㄷ |t|||달 [tal]||dal||'moon'|
|ㄸ |t͈|||딸 [t͈al]||ttal||'daughter'|
|ㅌ |tʰ|||탈 [tʰal]||tal||'mask'|
|ㄴ |n|||날 [nal]||nal||'day'|
|ㅈ |tɕ|||자다 [tɕada]||jada||'to sleep'|
|ㅉ |tɕ͈|||짜다 [tɕ͈ada]||jjada||'to squeeze' or 'to be salty'|
|ㅊ |tɕʰ|||차다 [tɕʰada]||chada||'to kick' or 'cold'|
|ㄱ |k|||가다 [kada]||gada||'to go'|
|ㄲ |k͈|||까다 [k͈ada]||kkada||'to peel'|
|ㅋ |kʰ|||칼 [kʰal]||kal||'knife'|
|ㅇ |ŋ|||방 [paŋ]||bang||'room'|
|ㅅ |s|||살 [sal]||sal||'flesh'|
|ㅆ |s͈|||쌀 [s͈al]||ssal||'uncooked grains of rice'|
|ㄹ |l|||바람 [paɾam]||baram||'wind' or 'wish'|
|ㅎ |h|||하다 [hada]||hada||'to do'|
The IPA symbol <◌͈> (a subscript double straight quotation mark, shown here with a placeholder circle) is used to denote the tensed consonants . Its official use in the Extensions to the IPA is for 'strong' articulation, but is used in the literature for faucalized voice. The Korean consonants also have elements of stiff voice, but it is not yet known how typical this is of faucalized consonants. They are produced with a partially constricted glottis and additional subglottal pressure in addition to tense vocal tract walls, laryngeal lowering, or other expansion of the larynx.
Sometimes the tense consonants are indicated with the apostrophe-like symbol <ʼ> symbolising glottalization, as in Americanist phonetic notation. This should not be confused with official IPA, as IPA <ʼ> represents the ejective consonants, with their piston-like upward glottal movement and non-pulmonic air pressure, which the Korean tense consonants do not feature.
|Monophthongs||/i/ ㅣ, /e/ ㅔ, /ɛ/ ㅐ, /a/ ㅏ, /o/ ㅗ, /u/ ㅜ, /ʌ/ ㅓ, /ɯ/ ㅡ, /ø/ ㅚ|
|Vowels preceded by intermediaries,|
|/je/ ㅖ, /jɛ/ ㅒ, /ja/ ㅑ, /wi/ ㅟ, /we/ ㅞ, /wɛ/ ㅙ, /wa/ ㅘ, /ɰi/ ㅢ, /jo/ ㅛ, /ju/ ㅠ, /jʌ/ ㅕ, /wʌ/ ㅝ|
Korean has 8 different vowel qualities and a length distinction for each. Two more vowels, the close-mid front rounded vowel (IPA: /ø/, hangul: ㅚ) and the close front rounded vowel (IPA: /y/, hangul: ㅟ), can still be heard in the speech of some older speakers, but they have been largely replaced by the diphthongs [we] and [wi] respectively. In a 2003 survey of 350 speakers from Seoul, nearly 90% pronounced the vowel 'ㅟ' as [wi]. Length distinction is almost completely lost; length distinction for all vowels can still be heard from older speakers, but almost all younger speakers either do not distinguish length consistently or do not distinguish it at all. The distinction between /e/ and /ɛ/ is another decreasing element in the speech of some younger speakers, mostly in the area of Seoul, whereas in other dialectal areas the two vowels can be distinctly heard. For those speakers who do not make the difference [e] seems to be the dominant form. Long /ʌː/ is actually [əː] for most speakers.
|Short vowel||Long vowel|
|/i/ 시장 (sijang [ɕidʑaŋ] 'hunger')||/iː/ 시장 (sijang [ɕiːdʑaŋ] 'market')|
|/e/ 베개 (begae [peɡɛ] 'pillow')||/eː/ 베다 (beda [peːda] 'cut')|
|/ɛ/ 태양 (taeyang [tʰɛjaŋ] 'sun')||/ɛː/ 태도 (taedo, [tʰɛːdo] 'attitude')|
|/a/ 말 (mal [mal] 'horse')||/aː/ 말 (mal [maːl] 'word, language')|
|/o/ 보리 (bori [poɾi] 'barley')||/oː/ 보수 (bosu [poːsu] 'salary')|
|/u/ 구리 (guri [kuɾi] 'copper')||/uː/ 수박 (subak [suːbak] 'watermelon')|
|/ʌ/ 벌 (beol [pʌl] 'punishment')||/əː/ 벌 (beol [pəːl] 'bee')|
|/ɯ/ 어른 (eoreun [əːɾɯn] 'seniors')||/ɯː/ 음식 (eumsik [ɯːmɕik] 'food')|
|/ø/ 교회 (gyohoe 'church')||/øː/ 외투 (oetu 'overcoat')|
|je||[jeːsan]||예산||yesan||'budget'||we||[kwe]||궤||gwe||'chest' or 'box'|
Traditionally, |l| was disallowed at the beginning of a word. It disappeared before /j/, and otherwise became /n/. However, the inflow of western loanword changed the trend, and now word-initial |l| (mostly from English loanwords) are pronounced as a free variation of either [ɾ] or [l]. The traditional prohibition of word-initial |l| became a morphological rule called "initial law" (두음법칙) in South Korea, which pertains to Sino-Korean vocabulary. Such words retain their word-initial |l| in North Korea.
/kʰ/ can appear together with fricatives in front of [ɯ] or [i], as [kʰxɯ] and [kʰɕi].
Plosive stops become nasal stops before nasal stops, and the lateral |l| likewise becomes a nasal /n/ after a nasal stop. These phonemic assimilation rules can be seen in the following:
One difference between the pronunciation standards of North and South Korea is the treatment of initial |l| and /n/. For example,
Spoken syllables may not start or end with consonant clusters, even though some morphemes may end with one. Consequently, consonant clusters are usually limited to sequences of two. When a morpheme ends with a consonant cluster before a vowel, both consonants are pronounced, like in . However, when a morpheme ending in one of these consonant clusters is said without a following vowel, one of the consonants is elided. The elided consonant is the obstruent that would otherwise become [t̚] in this position, or if there is none, then the other coronal, |l|, drops out. Therefore, word-finally or before a consonant, these clusters are pronounced ㄳ [k̚], ㄵ [n], ㄶ [n], ㄺ [k̚], ㄻ [m], ㄼ [p̚], ㄽ [l], ㄾ [l], ㄿ [p̚], ㅀ [l], ㅄ [p̚], with the same effects on the following consonant as single consonants. (For example, ㄶ |nh| and ㅀ |lh| cause a following plain stop to become aspirated.)
The combinations are not allowed and it is impossible to write them using standard hangul.
|Positive/"light"/Yang Vowels||ㅏ (a)||ㅑ (ya)||ㅗ (o)||ㅛ (yo)|
|ㅐ (ae)||ㅘ (wa)||ㅚ (oe)||ㅙ (wae)|
|Negative/"heavy"/Yin Vowels||ㅓ (eo)||ㅕ (yeo)||ㅜ (u)||ㅠ (yu)|
|ㅔ (e)||ㅝ (wo)||ㅟ (wi)||ㅞ (we)|
|Neutral/Centre Vowels||ㅡ (eu)||ㅣ (i)||ㅢ (ui)|
There are three classes of vowels in Korean: positive, negative, and neutral. The vowel eu is considered partially a neutral and negative vowel. The vowel classes loosely follow the negative and positive vowels; they also follow orthography. Exchanging positive vowels with negative vowels usually creates different nuances of meaning, with positive vowels sounding diminutive and negative vowels sounding crude.