Wednesday 21 October 2009

A Korean IPA?

This is one last posting about Korean.
A claimed advantage of hangul over the Roman and other alphabets is that it is feature-based. The symbols for the aspirated plosives, ᄑᄐᄏ [pʰ tʰ kʰ], are derived from those for the unaspirated/voiced ᄇᄃᄀ [p~b t~d k~g] by the addition of a single horizontal line (sort of). Those for the tense plosives, ᄈ ᄄᄁ [p* t* k*], involve doubling the basic jamo. Given that [e] is written ㅔ and [je] as ㅖ, it is logical that from ㅏ [a] we get ㅑ [ja]. And so on. Further, by exercising a modicum of imagination we can see in ᄀ [k~g] the outline of the tongue dorsum raised against the velum, and in ᄂ [n] the tongue tip raised to contact the alveolar ridge.

Hyun Bok Lee, the Professor Emeritus of Phonetics at SNU, wants to go beyond this. He is keen that the Korean writing system should also be used internationally in place of the IPA. You can read about his “IKPA” proposal here. It involves extending the hangul by adding various additional and modified letters so as to cover everything included in the IPA. And — an important point which he fails to discuss — it is to be written linearly, not arranged in syllable-sized character spaces as is done in Korean orthography.
It is exemplified, as applied to Korean, in the IPA Handbook, p. 123, and he has also produced a booklet about it. Unfortunately the web page supposedly devoted to it,, doesn’t seem to be available.
(As you can perhaps see, the English sentence transcribed actually ends “evening”, not “morning”. And there doesn’t seem to be any indication of vowel nasalization in the French [bõ-].)


  1. I don't see this catching on. Hangul is very easy to learn, but it takes quite some time to begin reading it with any speed.

    It's a bit like proposals to replace the five-line notation of music with something else – it ain't gonna happen.

  2. 'He is keen that the Korean writing system should also be used internationally in place of the IPA.'
    A bit appalled... A large literate part of the world uses some sort of an alphabetic system. It's reasonable for the majority of us to use similar characters as alphabets even in describing the sounds. Otherwise, I personally prefer to use a more politically neutral (?) Bell's Visible Speech. What's wrong with some Korean poeple with such an extreme nationalism? He sounds like follwing the footsteps of Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church and Daisaku Ikeda of the Soka Gakkai International.

  3. Actually, the putative web page is there, but neither requires nor permits the usual "www." prefix. Thus the actual address of the page is (typed from memory, because for no obvious reason I cannot paste into this text box using SeaMonkey 2.0).

  4. Thanks to John Wells for posting IKPA(or Korean IPA/Lee's IPA). A revised version of IKPA transcription of world languages with due corrections will be mailed to you.

  5. As aptly pointed out by Chaaoo6, one can open the IKPA homepage by
    or simply by
    Further information on IKPA: Type HB Lee IKPA in the internet window.

  6. IKPA has nothing whatsoever to do with nationalism or politics. It is science, phonetics,linguistics and speech pathology, etc. No one would say that Bell proposed Visible speech with British nationalism in mind. IKPA is just as neutral and scientific as Bell's or Sweet's Visible speech except that IKPA is based on the Korean Alphabet that was invented by King Sejong in the 15th entury for the common people who couldn't afford to struggle with the difficult Chinese characters.


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