Palatalization: A Tricky Pronunciation Rule in Korean

Palatalization: A Tricky Pronunciation Rule in Korean


 

Okay, I should clarify first. This sound change rule is not easy to understand. In Korean, you won’t come across this very often, except for one common word: 같이 [가치] [gachi] meaning ‘together.’

As a Korean language teacher, I don’t teach it in detail before learners reach the upper intermediate level. Lately, however, I’ve had a lot of messages asking me about it, so it’s a good time to explain.

 

  1. When  [d/t] as a final consonant (called 받침 [batchim]) is followed by 이 [i], the combination of and is pronounced 지 [ji].
  2. When ㄷ [d/t] as a final consonant is followed by 히 [hi], the combination of ㄷ and 히 is pronounced 치 [chi].
  3. When ㅌ [t] as a final consonant is followed by 이 [i], the combination of ㅌ and 이 is pronounced 치 [chi].

 

This rule is called “palatalization.” In Wikipedia, you’ll see this definition:

More confused? Don’t worry about it. Some of you might think it happens only in Korean, but this is a common feature in sound changes in many languages.

 

Let’s see how it works in English, to help understand better.

Try pronouncing this: “Did you?”

You probably pronounced it more like “/dɪdʒuː/ [di-jyu]” than “/dɪdjuː/ [did-yu],” right?

A similar phenomenon happens when is followed by . Now let’s see some examples and practice so you can get used to it.

1. Final consonant  +  → 

⓵ 해돋이 [해도지] [hedoji]:  sunrise

⓶ 맏이 [마지] [maji]: the oldest of one’s siblings

⓷ 굳이 [구지] [guji]: deliberately, is it really necessary to.., did you absolutely have to..

 

  • 남자친구와 저는 해돋이를 보러 아침 일찍 일어났어요.

[namjachinguwa jeoneun hedojireul boreo achim iljjik ireonasseoyo]

My boyfriend and I got up early to go see the sunrise.

  • 저는 맏이예요.

[jeoneun majiyeyo]

I’m the oldest sibling.

  • 굳이 그 미팅에 참석해야 하나요?

[guji geu miting-e chamseokheya hanayo]

Do I absolutely have to attend the meeting?

Word List   
남자친구 [namjachingu]boyfriend와 [wa](vowel +) with
저 [jeo]I는 [neun](vowel +) topic marker
해돋이 [hedoji]sunrise를 [reul](vowel +) object marker
보다 [boda]to see아침 [achim]morning
일찍 [iljjik]early일어나다 [ireonada]to get up
맏이 [maji]the oldest of one's siblings굳이 [guji]deliberately, is it really necessary to.., did you absolutely have to..
그 [geu]the미팅 [miting]meeting
참석하다 [chamseokhada]to attend

 

2. Final consonant  +  → 

⓵ 닫히다 [다치다] [dachida]: to be closed/ shut

⓶ 굳히다 [구치다] [guchida]: to solidify/ harden

 

  • 편의점이 이미 닫힌 상태였어요.

[pyeonuijeomi imi dachin sangteyeosseoyo]

The convenience store was already closed.

  • 다시 불을 붙이기 전에 양초를 굳히세요.

[dasi bureul buchigi jeone yangchoreul guchiseyo]

Allow your candle to solidify before re-lighting.

Word List   
편의점 [pyeonuijeom]convenience store이 [i](consonant +) subject marker
이미 [imi]already닫히다 [dachida]to be closed, shut
상태 [sangte]state다시 [dasi]again
불 [bul]fire을 [eul](consonant +) object marker
붙이다 [buchida]to light (a fire)전 [jeon]before
양초 [yangcho]candle를 [reul](vowel +) object marker
굳히다 [guchida]to solidify, harden

 

3. Final consonant  +  → 

⓵ 같이 [가치] [gachi]: together

⓶ 붙이다 [부치다] [buchida]: to affix/ attach/ stick

 

  • 내일 저녁 같이 드실래요?

[neil jeonyeok gachi deusilreyo]

Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow?

  • 편지에 우표 붙이는 걸 잊지 마세요.

[pyeonjie upyo buchineun geol itji maseyo]

Don’t forget to put a stamp on a letter.

Word List   
내일 [neil]tomorrow저녁 [jeonyeok]dinner, evening
같이 [gachi]together드시다 [deusida]to eat (honorific)
편지 [pyeonji]letter우표 [upyo]stamp
붙이다 [buchida]to affix, attach, stick잊다 [itda]to forget

 

Reference:

  1. Jaehoon Yeon, Lucien Brown. Korean: A Comprehensive Grammar (Routledge Comprehensive Grammars). 1st ed. Routledge; 2011.
  2. “Palatalization (Sound Change)”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatalization_(sound_change). Accessed 12 Aug 2018.