Why does Korean have so many vowels

The Scriptures of the World: The Korean Hangeul Script


by Christine Tettenhammer

Up until the end of the 14th century, all texts in Korea were written in Chinese characters. In the 15th century, King Sejong the Great had his own script drawn up. The aim of his writing revolution was to create a font that follows systematic rules and was therefore easy to learn for all of his people.
Under his leadership, the best scholars in the country developed and distributed an alphabet that contained all the sounds of the Korean language and all the Chinese loanwords used, as well as the sounds of other foreign languages ​​and even sounds from nature (such as the chirping of a bird or the rustling of the wind in the Treetops). The result of this research was the Hangeul script (also known as Hangul). This font is used in Korea to this day - although in a modernized form.
In order to read, speak and understand Korean one has to learn this alphabet.

The letters of the Hangeul alphabet

The Hangeul alphabet includes fourteen consonants and ten vowels.
These are always grouped into blocks (so-called syllable blocks). Different basic characters are systematically combined with one another. Following this system, syllables that are pronounced similarly resemble each other in their typeface.
The Hangeul script can be written both vertically and horizontally. You will find both ways of writing in Korea.
First get to know the individual letters that make up the syllables of the Korean script.

The characters of the Hangeul script

As mentioned earlier, there are fourteen different consonants in Korean. To do this, you also need to know the ten symbols for the vowels. In addition to these basic forms of consonants and vowels, so-called double sounds also occur. These double sounds can be doubles of consonants or vowels.
In the case of consonants, the two characters are simply written next to each other. The doubles see a little differentlyvowelsof Korean. Here a new sign is created, which is strongly based on the simple vowel, but looks a little different than two vowel signs placed one behind the other. In pronunciation, too, one speaks a different sound and not just a reinforced or extended, simple vowel.
Here we have prepared an overview of the characters in Korean for you. You can print out this sheet and hang it above your desk, for example. Read the characters over and over and try to write them often.
With these letters in mind, you can begin learning to read and write Korean. Because every syllable in the Korean script is composed of individual letters that describe the initial, the internal and the final of a syllable.

Combining the individual letters into syllables - learn to write Korean

The individual letters that you have now learned are not written one after the other, but are always combined into blocks that represent a syllable.
The following rules apply:
  • A syllable is made up of a consonant and a vowel.
  • A syllable begins with a consonant.
    Exception! If a syllable begins with a vowel, the silent sound ㅇ is written. This is not pronounced in this case; he remains silent. This sound is only pronounced as [ɳ] at the end of a syllable.
  • To the right of or below the consonant or the mute ㅇ one writes the vowel of the syllable.
    These vowels are on the right side of the consonant: ㅏ, ㅓ, ㅔ, ㅐ, ㅒ, ㅖ, ㅑ, ㅕ and ㅣ.
    These vowels are below the consonant: ㅗ, ㅜ, ㅛ, ㅠ and ㅡ.
    The other vowel signs can be found in both places. You can't make a rule here.
  • If a syllable consists of three letters, the third letter is written under the initial consonant and the vowel.

And now let's practice reading and writing a little:
Look at this syllable: 안.
The silent sound ㅇ is at the beginning of the syllable. Next to it there is a ㅏ [a]. Below the [a] there is a third letter, the consonant ㄴ [n]. So we read.
Next we examine this syllable: 녕.
It begins on the left with the consonant ㄴ [n]. To the right of this is the vowel ㅕ [yeo]. There is also a third letter in this syllable, the ɳ-sound (ㅇ) - it is spoken as [ng]. So this syllable is read as [nyeong].
The third example consists of just two letters: 하.
A ㅎ [h] is followed by a ㅏ [a]. So we read [ha].
The fourth syllable of our word also has only two letters: 세.
The consonant ㅅ [s] is followed by the double vowel ㅔ [e]. The syllable is pronounced [se].
Finally we read this syllable: 요.
Here we read the vowel ㅛ [yo] under the silent sound ㅇ. - So the syllable is called [yo].
Now you can read your first Korean word: 안녕하세요!
It is pronounced [an-nyeong-ha-se-yo] and is called in German Hello!.
The Sprachlernen24 editorial team wishes you lots of fun and success with your further learning!