1.4 Spring 2020 (COVID Archives),  Korean

An Ear for Accents

Helpful Definitions
phoneme An indivisible unit of sound in a given language.
morpheme The smallest linguistic unit within a word that can carry a meaning, such as “un-“, “break”, and “-able” in the word “unbreakable.”

I spent a lot of time with G and I have the fondest memories. But I didn’t realize I picked up something else of hers: Gyeongsangnam dialect.

Gyeongsangnam region; Busan is considered its own metropolitan jurisdiction and as such is not included on the map. Source

I was working through my tutor’s given Korean homework and reading aloud when I caught myself pronouncing one phrase a peculiar way. And when I thought more about it, I pronounced it this way since working with G.

-ㄹ 요/거예요

ㄹ + = ㄹ +

As you know, ㄲ when it is not the beginning letter (phoneme), is my favorite Korean sound.

고 is a close second, I think because I love the grammar 라고, 다고. In Korean, you must of course use this special grammar suffix for reported speech….

Recall that Korean is agglutinative and English is analytical. In analytical languages. we simply add more individual words to get our point across while in agglutinative language, think of “gluten” and sticking together, grammatical morphemes are attached directly to the verb to convey meaning. That’s why Korean verbs can look like this:


Segmented, it looks like this:

In English I can say: I said he likes you.

In Korean we must use the structure: (he) likes you다고 I said. That’s of course an oversimplification: the reported speech verb, in this case “hates” must be conjugated and attached to 다고: 너를 좋아한다고 말했어요. (Lit: you like(special conjugation)다고 said).

It’s a bit more straightforward for direct quotes:

“I like you,” she said.

“I like you”라고 she said.
“너를 좋아해요”라고 말했어요

Use 다고 when indirectly reporting someone’s quote and use 라고 when directly quoting someone OR quoting only a noun.

The interesting thing about this particle is that it carries meaning on its own. In English, you must use “said” to convey that you are reporting someone else’s quote. But in Korean, repeating the quote and simply attaching the reported speech particle, without adding “she said”, delivers the same meaning.

For example, in Crash Landing on You, the main characters says:

뭐라고 (lit: what라고)

Netflix translated this line just as “what?” but you know the implication of 라고 is she really means “what (did you say)?”. I watched a video recently of an American woman and Korean man going about their daily routine. The boyfriend said, “you said you would be finished by now!” and the girlfriend responded “알았다고!” Lit: knew다고. Can you guess the real meaning?

“I said I know!”

Neat, right?

Back to my favorite sound!

ㄱ in Korean is often romanized as g or k; the sound falls on a spectrum between these two English phonemes depending on letter placement and speaker.

ㄲ is romanized as gg or kk but the sound, when preceded by another phoneme, is what I might describe as a swallowed k. In Korean phonetics it is called “tense” which means no air should escape your throat when speaking. It is very similar to the c in acrobat or the k in Arkansas when said with a neutral American accent.

English also has tense consonants but we don’t distinguish these as different letters:



Notice the t in top has a breathier sound that than the t in top. Korean recognizes these sounds as distinct and separate letters:

ㄱ ㄲ ㄷ ㄸ ㅈㅉ (double means tense)

So I was sitting on my floor, working through Korean homework and reading aloud to myself when I noticed my strange pronunciation. Since it turned around the time I spent time with G, could it be I adopted some of her Busan habits?

I went straight to the source. Busan Boy confirmed that I had not misheard; the to change is a part of the Busan/Southeastern accent. I felt so validated! And since this is a real pronunciation, I feel it gives me license to keep pronouncing it as my favorite phoneme.

for the win!

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