‘Yongogul’, a Hangul adaptation for English (‘이옹오굮’, 어 한굮 야덮테썬 뽈 잉그낐)

Hangul is an alphabetic script widely used to write the Korean language, and was originally developed in 1446 by Joseon Dynasty ruler Sejong the Great and his ministers to improve literacy. As the only widely used script in the world to be based on linguistic features, I thought it would be cool to have a go at adapting it to write English.

The end result is a slightly hacky phonetic system that I call Yongogul (from the Korean words for ‘English language’ and ‘writing’ put together), which fully utilises all letters in standard Korean hangul. Nevertheless, it works pretty well and visually looks like actual written Korean.

Adaptation process

To adapt a script for a different language, we must consider its features and limitations. Hangul has 19 initial consonants, 21 medial vowels and 28 final consonants. That seems like a lot of consonants to play around with, until you realise that:

  • Korean hangul does not distinguish between ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds (ㄹ is pronounced either ‘r’ or ‘l’ depending on context)
  • Korean hangul does not have letters for ‘f’, ‘v’, ‘sh’ as in ‘share’, ‘zh’ as in ‘azure’, ‘z’, and ‘th’ as in both ‘the’ or ‘thank’.
  • The Korean language has a lot of diphthongs starting with ‘y’ or ‘w’, compared with English
  • Not all consonants can be located in final position

Another consideration is that all Korean Hangul syllables are written in a single block. Here’s a picture depicting the ways in which letters can be arranged:

HangulSilebelPlēsment

Assigning the vowels

With this in mind, let’s start with the vowels. The 5 basic vowels shall be almost exactly as in Korean:

  • ㅏ = /a/
  • ㅓ = /ə/
  • ㅣ = /ɪ/
  • ㅗ = /ɔ/
  • ㅜ = /ʊ/

Some of the remaining vowel letters represent diphthongs that are seldom used in English. But since I’m not attempting to faithfully imitate Korean orthography, I’ll just take these letters and use them to represent other English vowels. (I’m calling this a hack for a reason) As an example, one of the vowels, ㅑ, is pronounced ‘ya’ in Korean hangul. But since ‘ya’ is not a common English vowel and the vowel sound in ‘can’ is far more common, I assigned ㅑ to that vowel. This process was repeated for the other 4 English monophthongs, resulting in the following:

  • ㅑ = /æ/
  • ㅕ = /e/
  • ㅢ = /iː/
  • ㅗ오 = /ɔː/
  • ㅗ우 = /uː/

You might have noticed that I chose to write /ɔː/ and /uː/ as 2 letters. This is because there are not a lot of situations where /ɔ/ and /ɔː/ contrast with each other, as well as /u/ and /uː/, and it would be simpler to just write /ɔː/ as ㅗ and /uː/ as ㅜ in most cases.

Writing ‘y’ or ‘w’

Korean Hangul does not have a dedicated letter for ‘y’ or ‘w’. To get around this, Yongogul uses 이 to represent ‘y’ and 우 to represent ‘w’, written in their own syllable block.

E.g. yacht (/jot/) = 이옽, yay (/jeɪ/) = 이에, wet (/wet/) = 우옅

If there’s another consonant before ‘w’ or ‘y’, include it in the 1st syllable block. E.g. (/kwet/) = 쿠옅

Assigning diphthongs

For the diphthongs, it is helpful to re-examine some of the existing Hangul vowels from a historical perspective. When originally conceived, the letter ㅐ was originally pronounced like ‘eye’ (/aɪ/), but sound changes in the Korean language have changed its pronunciation to ‘eh’ (/ɛ/). Since ㅐ is literally ㅏ /a/ and ㅣ /ɪ/ put together, and /aɪ/ is a common English diphthong, I assigned ㅐ to that diphthong. The remaining English diphthongs can then easily be assigned to their corresponding hangul vowels.

  • ㅐ = /aɪ/
  • ㅔ = /eɪ/
  • ㅚ = /ɔɪ/
  • ㅠ = /ju/
  • ㅝ = /ʊə/, /wə/
  • ㅛ /oʊ/
  • ㅒ /aʊ/ (hacky compromise, by analogy with ㅐ as both start with the /a/ sound)
  • ㅖ /ɪə/ (hacky compromise, by analogy with ㅔ)
  • ㅙ /waɪ/
  • ㅞ /weɪ/
  • ㅘ /wa/
  • ㅟ /wɪ/

Assigning consonants

Most consonant assignments were fairly straightforward and have the same sound values as in Korean. (The letter ㄹ is assigned to the ‘r’ sound, as there are more instances of ‘r’ than ‘l’ in English.)

  • ㅁ /m/
  • ㅂ /b/
  • ㄴ /n/
  • ㄷ /d/
  • ㅇ /ŋ/ (final consonant only)
  • ㄱ /g/
  • ㅈ /dʒ/
  • ㅅ /s/
  • ㄹ /ɹ/
  • ㅎ /h/
  • ㅍ /p/
  • ㅌ /t/
  • ㅋ /k/
  • ㅊ /tʃ/

As for the doubled counterparts, they were assigned as shown:

  • ㅃ /f/ as the fricative version of ㅂ /p/
  • ㅉ /θ/ as the fricative version of ㅌ /t/, which forms part of ㅊ /tʃ/
  • ㄸ /ð/ as the fricative version of ㄷ /d/
  • ㅆ /ʃ/ as a palatalised version of ㅅ /s/
  • ㄲ /l/ as an abbreviation of ㄹㄹ (a digraph commonly used to write /l/ in Korean hangul. Think of ㄲ as the chopped-off top half of ㄹㄹ)

Note: ㅃ, ㅉ, and ㄸ cannot be located in final position, as Korean Hangul does not do so. To indicate final position, it needs to be in a separate syllable block with the null vowel (more on that soon).

At this point I’ve run out of Hangul letters for the last 3 English consonants, so I’ll have no choice but to use digraphs for those ones.

  • ㅂㅎ /v/ (ㅂ is commonly used to transcribe ‘v’ in Korean)
  • ㅈㅎ /z/ (ㅈ is commonly used to transcribe ‘z’ in Korean)
  • ㅆㅎ /ʒ/ (ㅆ /ʃ/ is the closest sound to /ʒ/)

So here’s a quick recap of all the Yongogul letters:

Vowels 브햬얶스

Guide: /IPA phoneme/ Letter (example word with letter’s indicated phoneme in bold)

/a/~/ʌ/ (sun)/æ/ (can)
/ə/~/ɜ/ (sure)/ɛ/~/e/ (red)
/ɪ/ (bid)/iː/ (bead)
/ɔ/ (pot)/ɔː/ ㅗ오 (call)
/ʊ/ (pull)/uː/ ㅗ우 (pool)
/-/

Diphthongs 디쁘똥스

/aɪ/ (side)/aʊ/ (now)
/ɔɪ/ (toy)/oʊ/ (dough)
/eɪ/ (say)/ɪə/ (hear)
/ʊə/ (tour)/ju/ (news)
/weɪ/ (way)/waɪ/ (why)
/wa/ (want)/wɪ/ (win)

Triphthongs 트리쁘똥스

/aɪə/ ㅐ어 (flyer)/aʊə/ ㅒ어 (tower)
/jʊə/ ㅠ어 (cure)

Consonants 콘소넌틋

/p/ (port)/b/ (born)/f/ (free)/v/ ㅂㅎ (van)/m/ (muse)
/t/ (tree)/d/ (drive)/θ/ (thank)/ð/ (the)/n/ (new)
/k/ (call)/g/ (get)/x/ ㅋㅎ (loch)/ɣ/ ㄱㅎ/ŋ/ (sing, final only)
/s/ (soon)/z/ ㅈㅎ (zoo)/ʃ/ (share)/ʒ/ ㅆㅎ (azure).
/tʃ/ (change)/dʒ/ (joke)...
/ɹ/ (run)/l/ (laugh)/h/ (house)/w-/ 우- (way)/j-/ 이- (yell)
/-/ (initial only)....

Numerals 뉴머럮스 (optional, based on Chinese numerals)

0 1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9

Syllable structure

The syllable structure of Yongogul is as follows:

[Initial consonants] – [Hangul syllable with final consonants that fit] – [remaining final consonants]

Hangul, as encoded in Unicode, was originally designed for Korean, and only Korean. Korean Hangul syllables consist of an initial consonant (only 1 allowed), a medial vowel, and 0 to 2 final consonants. Even then, only some of the consonants can be in final position. Compare this with English’s consonant clusters in both initial and final position (‘strengths’ is a notorious example), and you might be wondering: “How to make it work with Unicode Hangul?”

My solution is somewhat hacky, but it is based on how English loanwords are written in Korean hangul:

The null vowel ‘ㅡ’

This is basically a vowel letter that has no pronunciation – it’s just there to allow you to cluster 2 consonants in a single character. For example, ‘st’ would be written as 슽 (not ㅅㅌ), ‘pr’ as 플, and ‘s’ would simply be 스.
All remaining consonants not in a Hangul syllable must end with the null vowel: 스탼드 (stand) but not ‘ㅅ탼ㄷ’.

In Korean, the vowel letter ‘ㅡ’ (pronounced /ɯ/ in Korean) is commonly used to write English loanwords, specifically the initial and final consonants that dont fit entirely in a syllable, as in the word ‘스트레스’ (seuteureseu), from the English ‘stress’. (In Yongogul, ‘stress’ would be written as 슽렷, half the length of the Korean version)

Digraph consonants

As you may have seen earlier, some of the consonants need to be written with 2 letters. How is this done in practice? Let’s use ㅂㅎ /v/ as an example.

  • At the start of a syllable – The 1st letter is put into its own syllable block with a null vowel. E.g. /vo/ = 브효
  • Between syllables – the components are spread across 2 syllables. E.g. /ævo/ = 얍효
  • At the end of a syllable – the 2nd letter is put into its own syllable block with a null vowel. E.g. /æv/ = 얍흐

Dealing with digraph issues

To read Yongogul, it is useful to think of it as a stream of letters that happen to be formed into syllable blocks.

LatinHangul
/obvɪ/옵브히
/ovbɪ/옵흐비

Usage of Hangul final consonant clusters

Korean Hangul allows certain 2-consonant clusters in final position. The majority of them can be utilised in Yongogul, as they easily correspond to common English consonant clusters.

  • ㄳ /gs/ = ‘ks’ (e.g. 볷 ‘box’)
  • ㄵ /ndʒ/ = ‘nj’ (e.g. 첹 ‘change’)
  • ㄶ /nh/ = ‘nh’ (not in English)
  • ㄺ /ɹg/ = ‘rg’ (e.g. 벍 ‘berg’)
  • ㄻ /ɹm/ = ‘rm’ (e.g. 턺 ‘term’)
  • ㄼ /ɹb/ = ‘rb’ (e.g. 헓 ‘herb’)
  • ㄽ /ɹs/ = ‘rs’ (e.g. 돐 ‘doors’)
  • ㄾ /ɹt/ = ‘rt’ (e.g. 헕 ‘hurt’)
  • ㄿ /ɹp/ = ‘rp’ (e.g. 벒 ‘burp’)
  • ㅀ /ɹh/ = ‘rh’ (not in English)
  • ㅄ /bs/ = ‘bs’ (e.g. 홊 ‘hobs’)

Writing ‘x’

In Yongogul, the Latin letter ‘x’ (where it stands for /ks/ or /gz/) is written as ㄳ, as in ‘explain’ 엯브껜 and ‘boxy’ 볷이, as it is a relatively convenient abbreviation. (It should be noted that 복시 would be interpreted as ‘bogsi’, since the components of ㄳ are separated.)

Writing other consonant clusters

To write other consonant clusters not defined in Korean hangul, you must put any stray letters with the null vowel, as shown:

  • Initial position – put the leading consonant(s) in their own syllable block. E.g. /steɪ/ = 스테
  • Between syllables – put the middle consonant(s) in their own syllable block. E.g. /mastɹa/ = 맛트라
  • Final position – put the trailing consonant(s) in their own syllable block. E.g. /teɪst/ = 텟트

Syllable examples

  • /meɪ/ (may) = [nil] – [ㅁㅔ] – [nil] =
  • /sam/ (some) = [nil] – [ㅅㅏㅁ] – [nil] =
  • /maɹt/ (mart) = [nil] – [ㅁㅏㄹㅌ] – [nil] =
  • /teɪk/ (take) = [nil] – [ㅌㅔㅋ] – [nil] =
  • /steɪk/ (stake) = [ㅅ] – [ㅌㅔㅋ] – [nil] = 스텤
  • /bænd/ (band) = [nil] – [ㅂㅑㄴ] – [ㄷ] = 뱐드
  • /steɪks/ (stakes) = [ㅅ] – [ㅌㅔㅋ] – [ㅅ] = 스텤스
  • /stɹeɪksp/ = [ㅅㅌ] – [ㄹㅔㅋ] – [ㅅㅍ] = 슽렠슾
  • /stɹɛŋθs/ (strengths) = [ㅅㅌ] – [ㄹㅕㅇ] – [ㄸㅅ] = 슽령쯧

This structure is such that there are usually 1 to 3 syllable blocks for each English syllable.

Sample texts

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

유닙헐섞 딬꺄레썬 오쁘 휴먼 랱스

옦 휴먼 븽스 알 볼느 쁘릐 얀드 이쿾 인 딕니티 얀드 랱스. 떼 알 연댿 위뜨 릦헌 얀드 콘썬스 얀드 쑫 얔트 툐얼듯 완 어나떨 인 어 스피맅 오쁘 브라떨훋.
(알티컦 一 오쁘 떠 유닙헐섞 딬꺄레썬 오쁘 휴먼 랱스)

Excerpt from a short story I wrote a while ago

For comparison, you can view the original one here.

애 햗 어 슽렍 드릠 떁 냍.

인 떁 드릠, 애 뺸드 매셖쁘 어웨커닝, 깨잉 온 소쁱 그릔 그랏, 인 어 뺜터시 八-빝 월끋 서럔덛 배 콤퓨턼. 떠 꾸미넌스 오쁘 브낑킹 묘뎜스 얀드 우오옴, 쳴뿎 칲튠 뮺힠 삒드 띠 열. 옦쬬 엽흐리찡 꿐드 브꼬킈 얀드 스쿠열, 잍 브롵 믜 뱤 투 뚖흐 뎃. 오쁘 옦 떠 콤퓨턼 애 소오, 一 오쁘 뗨 웢흐 프께잉 매 뻽허렅 송! 애 잠프 얀드 끺 인 죄 욥헐 떠 샡. 애 뗜 소오 매 햿, 얀드 애 셛 “해” 투 매 볏트 멭스, 후 월 웨팅 얱샏. 위 우옦긑 투겨떨, 햡힝 어 쳬리 챹 아벁 어 콤퓨털 겜 애 웢흐 월킹 온 얼꼘.

“쇼 왙스 떁 쿢 겜 고나 비 어벁, 에?” 완 오쁘 뗨 앗큳.
“이쁘 유 껍흗 마리요, 윢 껍흐 띳!” 애 셛.
“오섬!!! 칸트 윁 투 싀 잍!” 인샏 믜 떠 빼얼 투 킢 믜 교잉 비켐 슽롱걸.

위 우옦긑 인투 어 브힙힏 산셭. 애 려미닛드 떠 며모릿 오쁘 팟트 사멄, 프께잉 렽료 브히디요 겜스 인 떠 쿢 쎋, 입헌 뚀 떠 산 얱샏 픸드 얕 四二 딕릣 얀드 멲턷 엽흐리찡 엮스.

11 thoughts on “‘Yongogul’, a Hangul adaptation for English (‘이옹오굮’, 어 한굮 야덮테썬 뽈 잉그낐)

  1. what is the difference in sound between 아 & 야? the first is listed as /a/ & the second one is listed as /æ/ but according to wikipedia’s IPA chart, they are both basically the same sound. Is this another case of them being different in British English, but the same in American English?

    Like

    1. If you look at the table under the quick recap, you can see that I use ㅏ to represent the /ʌ/ vowel as in ‘sun’, ‘fun’, ‘some’. I pronounce ‘/ʌ/’ as /a/ in my accent, which is a shorter version of the long /aː/ in ‘father’, ‘bath’, etc.

      Like

  2. You’re right. I just saw the ‘/a/~/ʌ/ ‘. I’m not a linguist so I don’t always understand very similar sounding IPA representations, especially when it comes down to things like American/British pronunciation, What about a word like ‘of’? 아쁘 pronounced phonetically would be ‘off’. 압흐 would be the phonetic spelling ‘ʌv’. If the vowels are represented phonetically, shouldn’t the consonants be phonetic also (says would be 셔쯯 instead of 셧)?

    Like

    1. I’m not a full-time linguist either, but I did study the basics during my uni studies.

      Anyway, 셔쯯 would be ‘sethh’. Unless if you meant to write 셪흐 ‘sez’ which is the literal pronunciation of the word ‘says’.

      At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide how you want to write phonetically. If you pronounce ‘of’ as /ʌv/, it’s fine to write it as 압흐. Personally, I write the final -z in common words like ‘says’ and ‘is’ as -s, because it is more compact to write in Yongogul: compare 잇흐 (iz, 2 characters) and 잇 (is, just 1 character needed). I also write ‘of’ as 오쁘 /ɔf/ since it is close to how I pronounce it in my accent.

      Like

      1. With practice. You can start by typing sample texts on your phone, starting with short phrases like ‘This is a test’ (띳 잇 어 텻트) and ‘Hello world’ (혀꾜 월끝), observing the letters and how they are placed, and then progressing to longer sentences as you get more familiar. (Typing on the phone is better because you can actually see the letters you are typing directly, compared to desktop keyboards.) This was how I learnt all the alternate scripts described on this blog.

        Since you specifically mentioned vowels, try make a sentence that contains all the vowels in your idiolect and then type it in Yongogul on your phone.

        Like

    1. I found ㄳ. It’s written by simply typing ‘gs’ and it switches automatically as long as it’s at the beginning of the vowel 먃이맘=ma(gs)imum. I was thinking about it being used as ks/x instead of it being spelled as ‘gs’.

      Like

  3. Here’s a multiling layout for 이옹오굮. to type letters like ㅅ just tap. to type doubles like ㅆ swipe up/down/left/right:

    {
    “title”:”이옹오굮”,
    “onScreen”:{
    “main”:[
    “1234567890”,
    “[4D:ㅂ 븧][4D:ㅈ 즣 ㅉ][4D:ㄷ ㄸ][4D:ㄱ ㄲ][4D:ㅅ 씋 ㅆ]ㅛㅕㅑㅐㅔ”,
    “ㅁㄴㅇㄹㅎㅗㅓㅏㅣ”,
    “[SHIFT]ㅋㅌㅊㅍㅠㅜㅡ[DEL]”,
    “[TOOL][ALTGR:,][SPACE][][][SYM:.][ENTER]”
    ],

    “sym”:[
    “£¥€$%^&*()№”,
    “~ˋ{}\\_-=|+«»”,
    “[]@#±/÷’\”‹›.”,
    “…!;:?,।§”,
    “[LOCK][ALTGR:,][SPACE][][][SYM:.][ENTER]”
    ],

    “altGr”:[
    “1234567890”,
    “qwertyuiop”,
    “asdfghjkl'”,
    “zxcvbnm÷”,
    “[LOCK][ALTGR:,][SPACE][][][SYM:.][ENTER]”
    ],

    “shifted”:[
    “!@#$%^&*()”,
    “ㅃㅉㄸㄲㅆ ㅒㅖ”,
    ” “,
    “[SHIFT] [DEL]”,
    “[LOCK][ALTGR:,][SPACE][][][SYM:.][ENTER]”
    ]
    }
    }

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.