The Shoe is on the Wrong Foot — Fun with Korean Spelling

(This material is also available here as a doc file with the correct layout.)

The Shoe Is On The Wrong Foot

Fun with Korean Spelling

Dick Grune

Version 1.4.0 – DRAFT

November 2015


Hangul was originally designed to record the sounds of the language on paper, breaking with the Chinese method of recording the notions of the language on paper, there being far fewer sounds than notions. In accordance with this design goal, originally, that is for many centuries, people wrote the way they spoke: 머거요–I eat; 머가써요–I ate. This ended with the spelling reform of 1933, when the Korean Language Society decided1 that when roots, particles, and endings could be written separately they should. So since 머거요 consists of the root , the particle –-, and the ending –, it now had to be written 먹어요. The spoken form 머가써요 consists of the root , the particle –-, the particle –-, and the ending –, but since the particle –– cannot be written by itself, it is combined with the preceding one into the writable form –-, resulting in the present-day written form 먹었어요.

This principle is not followed, however, when the components are not roots, particles, or endings that could in principle be replaced by other similar roots, particles, or endings. A clear example is 바깥–the outside, the open space, which is obviously composed of 밖–outside, and 앝–field (as in 터앝–vegetable garden) but is written 바깥 nevertheless.

It is instructive to try and identify more roots and particles in words that may otherwise look quite obscure. Below is a list, and I am sure that as I learn the language better, I’ll find lots more of them.

List of Wrong-Footers

In arbitrary order:

우습다–to be funny, from *웃읍다:

웃다–to laugh, and –읍다–an adjective ending

만큼–as much as, from *많금:

-–much, and –: some adverb ending, cf. 지금, 조금, etc.

무겁다–to be heavy, from *묵업다:

– in f.e. 묵직이–heavily, and –업다–an adjective ending

부터–starting from, from 붙어:

infinitive of 붙다–to stick to

즐겁다–to be enjoyable, from *즑업다:

-, and –업다–an adjective ending

즐기다–to enjoy, from *즑이다

-, and –이다–a causative ending

먹으러–with the plan of eating, from *먹을어:

먹을, future of “to eat”, and –, the infinitive ending

슬프다–to be sad, from *슲으다:

-, and , a filler vowel? although there exists a verb 읊다 – to recite

슬픔–sadness, from *슲음:

-, and –, a particle deriving a noun from a verb

너무–too much, from *넘우:

– (from 넘다–to exceed), and –, an old adverb ending

달걀–egg, from *닭의알:

닭의–of-chicken, and 알–egg

며칠–how many days, from *몇일:

몇–how much, 일–day

(although Martin [pg. 39] derives it from 흘–day, as in 사흘, 나흘, 열흘)

실큼하다 – to be somewhat dislikable, from *싫금하다:

싫다 – to dislike, and –, an adverb ending

말끔 – totally, from *맑금:

맑다 – to be clear, and –, an adverb ending

Absence of Right Foot

Sometimes the shoe will not fit on the right foot, as is the case with the prefix 암ㅎ-–female-, in which the should be under the , next to the . But the required patchim ㅁㅎ does not exist. This leads to moving the to the next syllable:

암캐–female dog (암ㅎ-–female-, 개–dog)

암탉–hen (암ㅎ-–female-, 닭–chicken)

and for consistency

수캐–male dog


although could be written: *숳개, *숳닭.

In the same category would probably come words like

예쁘다 – to be pretty, from *예ㅃ으다:

예ㅃ-, pretty (the should be written under the ,but is not a patchim),

and –(), some connecting vowel (see above)

나쁘다 – to be bad, id.

This does not apply to : words like 닦다 – to brush, and 깎다 – to reduce, do exist.

Are there verbs in –뜨다 or –쯔다?

The situation is even worse for words like

몰라요 – don’t know, from *몰ㄹ아요:

몰ㄹ-, not knowing (the ㄹㄹshould be written under the ,but ㄹㄹis not a

patchim, it’s not even an official double letter),

and –아요, the polite indicative ending.

1Ho-min Sohn, The Korean Language, pg 143