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McCune–Reischauer romanization (/ /) is one of the two most widely used Korean language romanization systems. A modified version of McCune–Reischauer was the official romanization system in South Korea until 2000, when it was replaced by the Revised Romanization of Korean system. A variant of McCune–Reischauer is still used as the official system in North Korea.
Characteristics and criticism
Under the McCune–Reischauer system, aspirated consonants like p', k', and t' are distinguished by apostrophe from unaspirated ones, which may be falsely understood as a separator between syllables (as in 뒤차기 → twich'agi, which consists of the syllables twi, ch'a and gi). The apostrophe is also used to mark transcriptions of ㄴㄱ (n'g) as opposed to ㅇ (ng): 잔금 → chan'gŭm vs. 장음 → changŭm), so these diverse applications of apostrophe made people confused once omitted. Also, the breve (˘) is used to differentiate vowels in Korean. So if the apostrophe and breve are omitted, as on the internet, this made it impossible to differentiate between aspirated consonants k',t',p' and ch' and unaspirated consonants k,t,p and ch, separator between syllables, transcriptions of ㄴㄱ (n'g) to ㅇ (ng) and vowels 어 and 오, and 으 and 우.
An omission of apostrophe in internet and breve (˘) in keyboard was the primary reason the South Korean government adopted a revised system of romanization in 2000. However, critics of the revised system claim it fails to represent 어 and 으 in a way that is easily recognizable and misrepresents the way that the unaspirated consonants are actually pronounced. However, the counterargument for this assertion is that it is impossible to find perfectly matching pairs of letters between the two different writing systems, Latin script and Hangul, and priority should be given to revised system of romanization created by the help of many Korean linguists at the National Academy of the Korean Language over a five-year period than the McCune–Reischauer system created by two foreigners with the help of three Korean linguists over a two-year period during the Japanese colonial era.
Meanwhile, despite official adoption of the new system in South Korea, North Korea uses a version of McCune–Reischauer, which does not accurately represent the phonetic characteristics of the Korean language.
This is a simplified guide for the McCune–Reischauer system. It is often used for the transliteration of names but does not convert every word properly, as several Korean letters are pronounced differently depending on their position.
- ㅔ is written as ë after ㅏ and ㅗ. This is to distinguish ㅐ (ae) from ㅏ에 (aë), and ㅚ (oe) and ㅗ에 (oë). The combinations ㅏ에 (aë) and ㅗ에 (oë) very rarely occur except in sentences when a noun is followed by a postposition, as, for example, 회사에서 hoesaësŏ (at a company) and 차고에 ch'agoë (in a garage).
- The Korean surnames 이/리(李) and 이(異) are transcribed as Yi not I (e.g. 이순신 as Yi Sunsin)
- The consonant digraphs (ㄳ, ㄵ, ㄶ, ㄺ, ㄻ, ㄼ, ㄽ, ㄾ, ㄿ, ㅀ, ㅄ) exist only as finals and are transcribed by their actual pronunciation.
|Initial consonant of the next syllable|
- ㅇ is an initial consonant before a vowel to indicate the absence of sound.
- 쉬 is romanized shwi.
- In Sino-Korean words, lt and lch respectively.
For ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ, the letters g, d, b, or j are used if voiced, k, t, p, or ch otherwise. Pronunciations such as those take precedence over the rules in the table above.
- Voiceless/voiced consonants
- 가구 kagu
- 등대 tŭngdae
- 반복 panbok
- 주장 chujang
- The initial consonant ㅇ is disregarded in romanization, since it is only used in order to indicate the absence of sound.
- 국어 (pronounced 구거) kugŏ (not kukŏ)
- 믿음 (pronounced 미듬) midŭm (not mitŭm)
- 법인 (pronounced 버빈) pŏbin (not pŏpin)
- 필요 (pronounced 피료) p'iryo (not p'ilyo)
- r vs. l
- Between two vowels: 가로 karo, 필요 p'iryo
- Before initial ㅎ h: 발해 Parhae, 실험 sirhŏm
- Before a consonant (except before initial ㅎ h), or at the end of a word: 날개 nalgae, 구별 kubyŏl, 결말 kyŏlmal
- ㄹㄹ is written ll: 빨리 ppalli, 저절로 chŏjŏllo
- Consonant assimilations
- 연락 (pronounced 열락) yŏllak
- 독립 (pronounced 동닙) tongnip
- 법률 (pronounced 범뉼) pŏmnyul
- 않다 (pronounced 안타) ant'a
- 맞히다 (pronounced 마치다) mach'ida
- 미닫이 (pronounced 미다지) midaji
- 같이 (pronounced 가치) kach'i
- 굳히다 (pronounced 구치다) kuch'ida
- The sequences -ㄱㅎ-, -ㄷㅎ- (only when palatalization does not occur)/-ㅅㅎ-, -ㅂㅎ- are written kh, th, ph respectively, even though they are pronounced the same as ㅋ (k'), ㅌ (t'), ㅍ (p').
- 속히 sokhi (pronounced 소키)
- 못하다 mothada (pronounced 모타다)
- 곱하기 kophagi (pronounced 고파기)
- When a plain consonant (ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅅ, or ㅈ) becomes a tensed consonant (ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, or ㅉ) in the middle of a word, it is written k, t, p, s, or ch respectively, even though it is pronounced the same as ㄲ (kk), ㄸ (tt), ㅃ (pp), ㅆ (ss), or ㅉ (tch).
- 태권도 (pronounced 태꿘도) t'aekwŏndo
- 손등 (pronounced 손뜽) sontŭng
- 문법 (pronounced 문뻡) munpŏp
- 국수 (pronounced 국쑤) kuksu
- 한자 (漢字, pronounced 한짜) hancha
North Korean variant
In North Korea's variant of McCune–Reischauer, aspirated consonants are not represented by an apostrophe but are instead by adding an "h". For example, 평성 is written as Phyŏngsŏng. The original system would have it written as P'yŏngsŏng.
However, the consonant ㅊ is transcribed as "ch", and not "chh", while ㅈ is transcribed as "j". For example, 주체 is spelled "Juche", and not "Chuch'e", as it would be transcribed using the original system.
- ㅉ is written as "jj" (for example, 쪽발이 is spelled as "jjokpari").
- ㄹㄹ is transcribed as "lr". Example: 빨리 is spelled "ppalri".
- ㄹㅎ is spelled "lh", and not "rh": e.g. 발해 is written as "palhae".
- When ㄹ is pronounced as ㄴ (e.g. 목란), it is transcribed as "n" by the original system (Mongnan). Nevertheless, the North Korean variant keeps it as "r" (Mongran).
- ㅇㅇ and ㄴㄱ are differentiated by using a "-". For example: 강인 is spelled "kang-in", and 인기 is spelled "in-gi".
- When "ng" is followed by "y" or "w", however, the hyphen is not used (평양 and 강원 are written as "Phyŏngyang" and "Kangwŏn").
The North Korean variant renders names of people with each syllable capitalized and no hyphenation between syllables of given names: e.g. "Kim Il Sung" for Kim Il-sung. Native Korean names, however, are written without syllabic division.
South Korean variant
A variant of McCune–Reischauer was in official use in South Korea from 1984 to 2000. The following are the differences between the original McCune–Reischauer and the South Korean variant:
- 시 was written as shi instead of the original system's si. When ㅅ is followed by ㅣ, it is realized as the [ɕ] sound (similar to the English [ʃ] sound (sh as in show)) instead of the normal [s] sound. The original system deploys sh only in the combination 쉬, as shwi.
- ㅝ was written as wo instead of the original system's wŏ in this variant. Because the diphthong w (ㅗ or ㅜ as a semivowel) + o (ㅗ) does not exist in Korean phonology, the South Korean government omitted a breve in wŏ.
- Hyphens were used to distinguish between ㄴㄱ and ㅇㅇ, between ㅏ에 and ㅐ, and between ㅗ에 and ㅚ in this variant system, instead of the apostrophes and ë in the original version. Therefore, apostrophes were used only for aspiration marks and ë was not used in the South Korean system.
- When ㄹ is followed by ㅎ, the ㄹ was written as l in the South Korean variant. Under the original McCune–Reischauer system, it is written as r.
- Assimilation-induced aspiration by an initial ㅎ is indicated. ㄱㅎ is written as kh in the original McCune–Reischauer system and as k' in the South Korean variant.
The following table illustrates the differences above.
|Word||McCune–Reischauer||South Korean variant||Meaning|
|회사에서||hoesaësŏ||hoesa-esŏ||at a company|
|차고에||ch'agoë||ch'ago-e||in a garage|
|직할시||chikhalsi||chik'alshi||directly governed city|
|못하다||mothada||mot'ada||to be poor at|
The Kontsevich system, based on the earlier Kholodovich system, is used for transliterating Korean into the Cyrillic script. Like McCune–Reischauer romanization it attempts to represent the pronunciation of a word, rather than provide letter-to-letter correspondence.
- "Working Paper No. 46" (PDF). UNGEGN. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
- "Romanization of Korean". Korea.net. Ministry of Culture & Tourism. July 2000. Archived from the original on 16 September 2007. Retrieved 9 May 2007.
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-06-16. Retrieved 2015-07-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) page 13
- Tertitskiy, Fyodor (2017-11-21). "Words, words: North and South Korea's differing romanization". NKNews.org. Retrieved 2018-10-23.
- Sweeney, John (2013). North Korea Undercover: Inside the World's Most Secret State. London: Bantam Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-4481-7094-4.
- 직할시 (直轄市; "a directly governed city"; jikhalsi in the Revised Romanization) is one of a former administrative divisions in South Korea, and one of a present administrative divisions of North Korea. In 1995, it was replaced by 광역시 (廣域市; gwangyeoksi; "metropolitan city") in South Korea.
- A Practical Guide to McCune–Reischauer Romanization: Rules, guidelines, and font
- Comparison table of different romanization systems from UN Working Group on Romanization Systems (PDF file)
- PDF files of the 1939 paper, and the 1961 paper
- Romanization System of Korean: McCune Reischauer (with minor modifications) BGN/PCGN 1945 Agreement at the Wayback Machine (archived March 27, 2009)
- Online tool for McCune–Reischauer romanization (with BGN modifications)
- This page is based on the Wikipedia article McCune–Reischauer; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.