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Romanization of Korean

The Revised Romanization of Korean

1) Why the change?

2) What has been changed?


3) Frequently asked questions


4) The Romanization of Korean (Full text)

5) Examples
 
1) Why the change?

The old system was a poor match for the Information Age. The breve used to write “어”as “ ” and “으” as “ ” and the apostrophes with k', t', p', and ch' were difficult to replicate consistently on standard QWERT keyboards and HTML-generated text. In fact some readers may see only “” in the sentence above because their programs cannot recognize letters using breve marks.

In addition, important phonetic differences were often neglected. For example, many writers simply left off apostrophes, making it impossible to tell if “k” stood for “ㄱ” or “ㅋ” or if “t” for “ㄷ” or “ㅌ,” etc. In the new system, such commonly confused Korean consonants are now clearly and consistently differentiated.

The breve was left off even more frequently than the apostrophe in the old system, so readers had no idea if “o” stood for “어” or “오,” or if “u” was “으” or “우.” These vowels appear frequently in Korean; switching them can completely change the meaning of a word. Such confusing abbreviations through the careless use of the old system coupled with the difficulty of typing diacritical marks made revision unavoidable.

2) What has been changed?


  • The consonants "ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ" have been changed from "k, t, p, ch" to "g, d, b, j," respectively, when used in the initial position:



  • Similarly, "ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, and ㅊ" have been changed from "k', t', p', ch'" to "k, t, p, ch":



  • The breve-marked vowels " " and "" have become "eo" and "eu":



  • And "ㅅ," formerly written as "sh" or "s" depending on the context, is now consistently "s."



  • Other changes

    As in the old system, words are not uniformly Romanized according to pure transliteration, but rather reflect Korean pronunciation. For example, the mountain 한라 [pronounced 할라] is written as “Halla,” not “Hanla.” Similarly …


    At the end of a word or when followed by a consonant, "ㄱ, ㄷ, and ㅂ" are written as "k, t, and p":


3) Frequently asked questions
  • Reasons for revision
    The old system is in wide use abroad; why change it now?

    From a general linguistic point of view, the old system has various shortcomings. The difference between some voiced and non-voiced sounds in Korean are little more than allophones, but the old system transcribed these as entirely different phonemes. This problem should have been remedied long ago.

    Because the old system did not reflect the Korean language's phonetic characteristics, native speakers of Korean had difficulty using it consistently. This difficulty contributed to various spellings for the same word. The old system's differentiation of voiced and non-voiced consonants, made it difficult for Koreans to understand and led to spellings like "Kumkang" and "Hankuk" for "금강" and "한국" instead of the formerly prescribed "Kumgang" and "Han'guk."

    There were contradictions as well. The city of Daegu (대구) was previously "Taegu," but its largest passenger-train terminal (동대구, now written as “Dongdaegu”) was Romanized as "Tongdaegu." Also, people rarely wrote "ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ" as "t, p, and ch" -even when they were familiar with the old rules - because they wanted to avoid confusion with words that should have been spelled with "t', p', and ch'" but often had the apostrophe omitted. Consequently, while "ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ" were written as "t, p, and ch" on road signs, they often appeared as "d, b, and j" on personal name cards and the signs for individual entities like companies, schools and temples.

    This revision was undertaken to reduce the amount of confusion and inconsistency. Priority was given to actual pronunciation out of consideration of the needs of foreigners, so in this sense, the government's Romanization policy remains unchanged. The main change is that phonological differences are now more clearly spelled out.


  • Lack of diacritical marks

    Why can't the old linguistic markings be used to show differences?


    The old Romanization system was based on the privately developed McCune-Reischauer system. Back in 1939, its use of the breve (v) was not a problem for professional printers of signs, maps and books. In the Computer Age, however, information is rapidly created and accessed from personal keyboards that are unable to easily reproduce the mark. While the old system's use of the apostrophe could be replicated, in actuality, these marks were omitted more often than not. Besides, existing ASCII code cannot employ k', t', p', or ch'. Rarely used properly anyway, it was logical that the apostrophe also be left out of the new system.

  • Distinctions of consonants

    Why is clear differentiation between "ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ" and "ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, and ㅊ" crucial in Romainization?


    Confusion would be rampant if such a distinction were not made. Proper names are particularly problematic: Take, for example, the case of two brothers, one named "대수" (Daesu) and the other "태수" (Taesu).

  • Distinctions of vowels

    Why is the difference between "어", and "오" and "으" and "우" so important?

    The vowels "어" and "오" are completely different phonemes, as are "으" and "우." The family names "선" and "손" both become "Son" in the absence of the difficult-to-type breve under the old system, just as "성" and "송" both become "Song." Koreans with a breve-less keyboard had little choice but to improvise, so the family "성" - not wishing to write their name as "Song" which would be indistinguishable from "송" - often felt the need to write it as "Sung" to make this distinction. Unfortunately, “Sung” is actually “숭” in both the old and new systems.

  • Usage overseas

    Most foreign-based maps and encyclopedias use the McCune-Reischauer System for Korean place names, won't the change cause confusion?


    Confusion must be expected for some time. The old system is widely used overseas, particularly in Western countries. Many other documents besides maps and encyclopedias use the old system as well. It will take considerable time before the new system is recognized globally, but if we delay needed changes out of fear of this initial confusion, the problems of inconsistency will only worsen. The Korean government is prepared to patiently do its part to make the new system widely recognized and understood in Korea and around the world.

  • The benefits of revision

    What's so good about the new system?

    The benefits will be great over the long run. Since the old system makes simple tasks such as Internet searches highly inefficient. Without a breve or apostrophe 대송 and 태성, for example, both become “Taesong.” A system that is easy to follow and type and always maintains critical and frequent phonetic differences - such as those between Daesong (대송) and Taeseong (태성) - will make finding people, places, and everything else immensely easier because there will be little need for arbitrary improvising.

  • Consonants

    Westerners tend to hear "ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ" as "k, t, p, and ch." Why do these consonants have to be written "g, d, b, and j"?

    It is true "ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ" can sound similar to "k, t, p, and ch" when foreigners hear these used as the first letter in a word. But the same is also true of "ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, and ㅊ." Still, the differences between these consonants are clear to native Koreans. Korean phonological opposition must be maintained, even if foreign ears cannot easily discern such differences. When "ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ" and "ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, and ㅊ" are consistently differentiated in Roman-based text, non-native pronunciation of Korean more closely approximates that of native speakers and becomes easier for the latter to distinguish.

  • Vowels

    Do "eo" and "eu" accurately reflect the sound of "어" and "으"

    Many have expressed opposition to transcribing "어" as "eo" and "으" as "eu." Some prefer to write "어" as "o" and "으" as "u," but then "어" would be indistinguishable from "오" and "으" from "우," as those vowels have long been Romanized as “o” and “u,” respectively. With " " and " " no longer an option because of the lack of a breve on modern keyboards, Romanization of "어" and "으" required the use of two letters. Since Korean vowels have no variation in pronunciation, learning to simply replicate the proper sound whenever the assigned pair appears in Romanized words should pose no problem.

    While "어" is similar to the vowel sound in “taught” and “bought” and "으" similar to the “u” and “e” in “put” and “oven,” clearly neither has a single letter that can be used for transliteration. Linguistically on sound origin charts, both "어" and "으" lie between “e” and "o," with the former more toward the front and the latter more toward the back. Consequently, an “e” was placed before each after the breve was removed from their previous forms; "어" went from " " to “eo” and "으" from " " to “eu.”

  • Family names

    Will family names be written according to the new system?

    In principle, personal names should follow the new system, but individuals are free to choose their own spellings. Adherence to the new system is particularly troublesome for the family name "이," which should be written as "I." No one with this surname has registered such a spelling. Ninety-five percent of all persons with the family name "이" Romanize the name as "Lee." Other less-common forms include "Rhee," "Yi," "Ri," "Li," "Rhie," and "Lie."

  • Business names

    Shouldn't businesses and schools change the spelling of their names to match the new system?

    As with personal names, businesses may continue to use previously established Romanization. Samsung and Hyundai, both known the world over, could not be expected to change to "Samseong" and "Hyeondae." Startups, however, will be encouraged to follow the new system. Also, the government encourages companies using inconsistent Romanization to adopt the new system exclusively.

4) The Romanization of Korean
  • Basic Principles of Romanization

    (1) Romanization is based on standard Korean pronunciation.
    (2) Symbols other than Roman letters are avoided to the greatest extent possible.


  • Standard Guidelines

    1) Vowels are transcribed as follows:

    ① simple vowels


    a eo o u eu i

    ② diphthongs

    ya
    yeo
    yo
    yu
    yae
    ye
    wa
    wae
    wo
    we
    ui

    Note: “의” is transcribed as “ui” even when pronounced as “이.”

    (1) Consonants are transcribed as follows:

    ① plosives (stops)

    g, k
    kk
    k
    d,t
    tt
    t
    b,p
    pp
    p

    ② affricates

    j
    jj
    ch

    ③ fricatives

    s ss h

    ④ nasals

    n
    m
    ng

    ⑤ liquids

    r, l

    * Note 1 : The Korean letters “ㄱ, ㄷ, and ㅂ” are transcribed respectively as “g, d, and b” when they appear before a vowel, but they become “k, t, and p” when following another consonant or forming the final sound of a word. This change better reflects cases where pronunciation -- as indicated in the brackets [ ] beside the word -- differs from the standard transliteration. Similarly, “ㅈ” and “ㅊ,” normally “j” and “ch” respectively, are also transcribed as “t” when preceding a consonant or ending a word

    e.g.

    구미 Gumi

    영동 Yeongdong

    백암 Baegam

    옥천 Okcheon

    합덕 Hapdeok

    호법 Hobeop

    월곶[월곧] Wolgot

    벚꽃[벋꼳] beotkkot

    한밭[한받] Hanbat

     

    * Note 2 : “ㄹ” is transcribed as “r” when followed by a vowel, and as “l” when followed by a consonant or when appearing at the end of a word. The pairing “ㄹㄹ” is transcribed as “ll.”

    e.g.

    구리 Guri

    설악 Seorak

    칠곡 Chilgok

    임실 Imsil

    울릉 Ulleung

    퇴게로 Toegyero


  • Important Variations

    (1) When Korean sound values change as in the following cases, the results of those changes are Romanized as follows:

    ① The case of assimilation of adjacent consonants

      e.g.

      백마[뱅마] Baengma

      신문로[신문노] Sinmunno

      종로[종노] Jongno

      왕십리[왕심니] Wangsimni

      별내[별래] Byeollae

      신라[실라] Silla


    ② The case of the epenthetic ㄴ and ㄹ

      e.g.

      학여울[항녀울] Hangnyeoul

      알약[알략] allyak


    ③ Cases of palatalization

      e.g.

      해돋이 haedoji

      같이[가치] gachi

      맞히다[마치다] machida


    ④ Cases where ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ are adjacent to ㅎ

      e.g.

      좋고[조코] joko

      놓다[노타] nota

      잡혀[자펴] japyeo

      낳지[나치] nachi


    However, aspirated sounds are not reflected in case of nouns where ㅎ followsㄱ, ㄷ, and ㅂ, as in the examples below.

      e.g.

      묵호 Mukho

      집현전 Jiphyeonjeon


    Note: Tense (or glottalized) sounds are not reflected in cases where morphemes are compounded, as in the examples below.

      e.g.

      압구정 Apgujeong

      낙동강 Nakdonggang

      죽변 Jukbyeon

      낙성대 Nakseongdae

      합정 Hapjeong

      팔당 Paldang

      샛별 saetbyeol

      울산 Ulsan


    (2) When there is the possibility of confusion in pronunciation, a hyphen '-' may be used.

      e.g.

      중앙 Jung-ang

      반구대 Ban-gudae

      세운 Se-un

      해운대 Hae-undae


    (3) The first letter is capitalized in proper names.

      e.g.

      부산 Busan

      세종 Sejong


(4) Personal names are written with family name first, followed by a space and the given name. In principle, syllables in given names are not separated by hyphen, but the use of a hyphen between syllables is permitted.

      e.g.

      민용하 Min Yongha (Min Yong-ha)

      송나리 Song Nari (Song Na-ri)


① Assimilated sound changes between syllables in given names are not transcribed.

    e.g.

    한복남 Han Boknam (Han Bok-nam)

    홍빛나 Hong Bitna (Hong Bit-na)

② Romanization of family and given names are a matter of personal preference.

5) The administrative units “도, 시, 군, 구, 읍, 면, 리, 동, and 가” are transcribed, respectively, as “do, si, gun, gu, eup, myeon, ri, dong, and ga” and are preceded by a hyphen. Assimilated sound changes before and after the hyphen are not reflected in the Romanization.

      e.g.

      충청북도 Chungcheongbuk-do

      제주도 Jeju-do

      의정부시 Uijeongbu-si

      양주군 Yangju-gun

      도봉구 Dobong-gu

      신창읍 Sinchang-eup

      삼죽면 Samjuk-myeon

      인왕리 Inwang-ri

      당산동 Dangsan-dong

      봉천1동 Bongcheon 1(il)-dong

      종로 2가 Jongno 2 (i)-ga

      퇴계로 3가 Toegyero 3 (sam)-ga

    Note: Terms for administrative units such as 시, 군, 읍 may be omitted.

    e.g.

    청주시 Cheongju

    함평군 Hampyeong

    순창읍 Sunchang


6) Names of geographic features, cultural properties, and man-made structures may be written without hyphens.

    e.g.

    남산 Namsan

    속리산 Songnisan

    금강 Geumgang

    독도 Dokdo

    경복궁 Gyeongbokgung

    무량수전 Muryangsujeon

    연화교 Yeonhwagyo

    극락전 Geungnakjeon

    안압지 Anapji

    남한산성 Namhansanseong

    화랑대 Hwarangdae

    불국사 Bulguksa

    현충사 Hyeonchungsa

    독립문 Dongnimmun

    오죽헌 Ojukheon

    촉석루 Chokseongnu

    종묘 Jongmyo

    다보탑 Dabotap


(7) Proper names- those belonging to individuals or companies - may continue to be written according to personal preferences, but the new system should be adopted whenever possible.

New Romanization System (Simplified Table)

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

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

kk

kt

kp

kh(k)

n

n

ng

nn

nd

II(nn)

nm

nb

ns

nj

nch

nk

nt

np

nh

l

r

lg

ll

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

pp

ph(p)

ng

ng

ngg

ngn

ngd

ngn

ngm

ngb

ngs

ngj

ngch

ngk

ngt

ngp

ngh

* "Final" refers to the final position in a Korean syllable.
"Initial" refers to the first position in a Korean syllable. As demonstrated in the table above, the phonetic value of some final and initial letters change in a limited number of pairings.


5) Examples

  • Comparison of Common Korean Words as Romanized in the Two Systems

    old

    new

    old

    new

    부산

    Pusan

    Busan

    대구

    Taegu

    Daegu

    광주

    Kwangju

    Gwangju

    대전

    Taej n

    Daejeon

    인천

    Inch'on

    Incheon

    전주

    Chonju

    Jeonju

    제주

    Cheju

    Jeju

    청주

    Ch' ngju

    Cheongju
    경주 Ky ngju Gyeongju 김포 Kimp'o Gimpo
    고구려 Kogury Goguryeo 동대구 Tongdaegu Dongdaegu
    부곡 Pugok Bugok 정읍 Ch ng p Jeongeup
    울산 Ulsan Ulsan 묵호 Muk'o Mukho
  • <scRIPT language=Javascript type=text/Javascript> </scRIPT>

     
     

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