The Evolution of Vowel Shapes in Korean

The Evolution of Vowel Shapes in Korean


 

As a learner of Korean, you might have noticed similarities among the shapes of each vowel. Interestingly, Korean vowels EVOLVE from three basic vowel shapes. Unfortunately, most learners miss out on this unique process of vowel formation. Let’s take a look at how it works. It’ll help you recognize how scientific Hangeul (Hangul) is!


1. Vowels in Hangeul (Hangul) start from three basic vowel shapes

Basic vowel shapes are shaped to represent the three basic elements of universe: Sky, Earth, and Human.

3-korean-basic-vowel-shapes

The first shape ‘●’ represents the sky, and the second shape ‘ㅡ’ symbolizes the plate shape of the land. The third shape ‘ㅣ’ indicates human beings, who stand upon the earth under the sky. These three—sky, earth and human—are considered the fundamental features of all things in many East Asian philosophies.


2. The sky shape ‘●’ doesn’t stand alone
● is only added to the other two vowel shapes to make more vowels. The two vowel shapes are vowels in themselves and form the base of all the others.

formation-of-korean-vowels1

 

3. Ten simple vowels from the three basic vowel shapes
Look at the chart below. Can you see how ten simple vowels are built by the three basic shapes?
From the basics in black to the first stroke-added letters in red, and then to the second stroke-added ones in blue.

formation-of-korean-vowels2

 

ㅣ → ㅏ → ㅑ

When you add on dot (stroke) to the outside of ‘ㅣ [i],’ you get ‘ㅏ [a].’ Adding a second dot (stroke) makes ‘ㅑ [ya].’

ㅣ → ㅓ → ㅕ

When you add a dot (stroke) to the inside of ‘ㅣ [i],’ you get ‘ㅓ [eo].’ Adding a second dot (stroke) makes ‘ㅕ [yeo].’

ㅡ → ㅗ → ㅛ

When you add a dot (stroke) to the upper side of ‘ㅡ [eu],’ you get ‘ㅗ [o],’ and a second dot (stroke) makes ‘ㅛ [yo].’

ㅡ → ㅜ → ㅠ

When you add a dot (stroke) to the lower side of ‘ㅡ [eu],’ you get ‘ㅜ [u],’ and a second dot (stroke) makes ‘ㅠ [yu].’

 

You can rotate the chart in any direction and get the same shapes.

 

formation-of-korean-vowels3

 

4. Eleven compound vowels from ten simple vowels

Hangeul (Hangul) has 21 vowels. Once you know the ten simple vowels, you can get 11 other compound vowels in yellow by combining them. For examples, ㅗ + ㅣ -> ㅚ, ㅜ+ㅓ -> ㅝ, and ㅗ + ㅏ -> ㅘ.

Look at the chart below.

formation-of-korean-vowels4

 

5. Vowel sound stability

English has many vowel sounds but doesn’t have exact letters for each of them the way Hangeul (Hangul) does. This phonetic characteristic would get English learners into trouble. For example, the ‘a’ in English words such as ‘apple, party, pall, about’ looks the same but is pronounced differently (in hangeul : ㅐ, ㅏ, ㅗ, ㅓ) . In contrast to English, each hangeul vowel has a single sound, so it will never confuse you.

 

6. Summary

21-korean-vowels

 

Reference:

  1. Young-Key Kim-Renaud. The Korean Alphabet: Its History And Structure. University of Hawaii Press; 2016.
  2. 한글, the Korean Alphabet. Indianaedu. 2016. Available at: http://www.indiana.edu/~korean/K101/hangul.html. Accessed October 2, 2016.
  3. Yisook Kim, Susan Dirende. Korean Hangeul: A New Kind Of Beauty. Hanbando Books; 2014.
  4. :::::::: 알고 싶은 한글 ::::::::. Korean.go.kr. 2016. Available at: http://www.korean.go.kr/eng_hangeul/principle/003.html. Accessed October 2, 2016.