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Korean (was Re: Alphabet)

From:Yoon Ha Lee <yl112@...>
Date:Friday, November 2, 2001, 6:47
On Thursday, November 1, 2001, at 09:02 , David Peterson wrote:

> In a message dated 11/1/01 8:10:44 PM, fortytwo@GDN.NET writes: > > << Korean hangul is also based on phonetic principles, but I don't know > much of the details. Yoon Ha would probably know more. >> > > From what I've seen, the [m] is a box, which kind of looks like a > closed > mouth, and then if you look at the rest as a side view with the mouth > facing > left, you see that t/d/n have a line touching the upper line that would > correspond to the alveolar ridge. It's really neat. But yeah, I'm > curious > to hear Yoon Ha's explanation.
It still frightens me that I'm sort of the list's "Korean expert"--but then, it's forced me to learn more about Korean, so it's all good. :-) But yes, David has it right. :-) Here's a link showing the alphabet: (Note that this is the modern alphabet, which is slightly different from the original alphabet developed by King Sejong.) Another site gives a brief background: (Whoa, Korean had vowel harmony? Good grief, couldn't've proved it by me. ) It says that the consonants are based around 5 basic shapes, from which the others are derived. Okay, I hadn't known that. I guess the groups would be: "square": [p], [p_h], [m] "L-shaped": [t], [t_h], [n], [r] "fork-shaped": [s], [c], [c_h] (I hear [c] more as [dZ] and [c_h] more as [tS]. Also, the nonaspirated consonants are tending to become voiced before vowels.) "rotated-L-shaped": [k], [k_h], [n] "circle": [h], [N] (The just-plain circle functions either as a null-consonant in one position, or as [N] in final position. It's sorta funky. I think one of the now- unused characters was circle-derived, for [x].) So roughly speaking, the shape tells you the place of articulation, which is mostly-derived from some shape of the mouth or placement of the tongue. (Some of them are apparently slightly funky because peering into mouths without the benefit of photography and stuff used to be annoying...) Manner of articulation: the basic shape gives you the nasal stop (or in the case of the fork-shaped ones, [s], which isn't nasal or a stop, but I didn't design it). Add another line, and you get the nonaspirated stop. Add one line beyond that and you get the aspirated version. The fork-shaped ones ([s], [c], [c_h]) and the circles are a bit funky, but that's probably because I don't know offhand what the *original* alphabet with its 4 more characters looked like, plus the phonology's shifted somewhat since the alphabet was devised. The glottalized consonants, which are "produced by tensing the speech organs involved" (I read that somewhere and I *know* it's not helpful, but I can't explain it any better than that, though I'm happy to *say* glottalized consonants for anyone who wants to look me up), are shown by doubling the base (nonaspirated) character. There are also mutations and different initial/medial/final pronunciations, but what the hey, that's another story. So that's the consonants. (God, I hope I'm making sense.) Vowels are trickier, because Sejong had some Heaven, Earth and Man philosophy that worked into the geometry, plus the damn things are all rotations of each other so if you're remotely dyslexic it sucks. The way the alphabet is ordered they go from low to high vowels, roughly. Another regularity is that initial [j] (which is counted as a single "Vowel," e.g. [ja] from [a]) is added by doubling the protruding line. Look at the links for pictures. :-/ Compound vowels are more confusing; various combinations will give you [w] on-glides, though a couple of them used to be rounded vowels instead (like the German umlaut vowels, and which I hear in my grandmother's speech). Also, [e] and [E] are for whatever reason written as compound vowels: [e] is [@] (? or is it the upside-down v?) plus [i], while [E] is [a] plus [i]. No, I don't know where it comes from, and I left _The Korean Alphabet_ in New York. :-/ I hope I haven't confused anyone too badly--the problem with the alphabet is, it's much easier to show with actual pictures of the characters, and I' m still not very knowledgable. Yoon Ha Lee [] The grass is always greener on the other side of the timeline.--Alex Kay


Frank George Valoczy <valoczy@...>