Hangeul - Letters - Obsolete Letters

Obsolete Letters

Several letters are obsolete. These include several that represent Korean sounds that have since disappeared from the standard language, as well as a larger number used to represent the sounds of the Chinese rime tables. The most frequently encountered of these archaic letters are:

  • ㆍ (transcribed ə (arae-a 아래아 "lower a"): Presumably pronounced, similar to modern ㅓ eo. It is written as a dot, positioned beneath (Korean for "beneath" is arae) the consonant. The arae-a is not entirely obsolete, as it can be found in various brand names.
    • The ə formed a medial of its own, or was found in the diphthong ㆎ arae-ae, written with the dot under the consonant and ㅣ (transcribed i) to its right – in the same fashion as ㅚ or ㅢ.
  • z (bansiot 반시옷): A rather unusual sound, perhaps IPA (a nasalized palatal fricative). Modern Korean words previously spelled with ㅿ substitute ㅅ or ㅇ.
  • ʔ (yeorinhieut 여린히읗 "light hieut" or doenieung 된 이응 "strong ieung"): A glottal stop, "lighter than ㅎ and harsher than ㅇ".
  • ŋ (yesieung 옛이응): The original letter for ; now conflated with ㅇ ieung. (With some computer fonts such as Arial Unicode MS, yesieung is shown as a flattened version of ieung, but the correct form is with a long peak, longer than what one would see on a serif version of ieung.)
  • β (gabyeounbieup 가벼운비읍): IPA . This letter appears to be a digraph of bieup and ieung, but it may be more complicated than that. There were three other, less-common letters for sounds in this section of the Chinese rime tables, ㅱ w ( or ), a theoretical ㆄ f, and ㅹ ff ; the bottom element appears to be only coincidentally similar to ieung. However its exact shape, it operates somewhat like a following h in the Latin alphabet (one may think of these letters as bh, mh, ph, and pph respectively). Koreans do not distinguish these sounds now, if they ever did, conflating the fricatives with the corresponding plosives.

There were two other now-obsolete double letters,

  • x (ssanghieut 쌍히읗 "double hieut"): IPA or .
  • ᅇ (ssang-ieung 쌍이응 "double ieung"): Another letter used in the Chinese rime table.

In the original Hangul system, double letters were used to represent Chinese voiced (濁音) consonants, which survive in the Shanghainese slack consonants, and were not used for Korean words. It was only later that a similar convention was used to represent the modern "tense" (faucalized) consonants of Korean.

The sibilant ("dental") consonants were modified to represent the two series of Chinese sibilants, alveolar and retroflex, a "round" vs. "sharp" distinction (analogous to s vs sh) which was never made in Korean, and which was even being lost from southern Chinese. The alveolar letters had longer left stems, while retroflexes had longer right stems:

Original consonants
Chidueum (alveolar sibilant)
Jeongchieum (retroflex sibilant)

There were also consonant clusters that have since dropped out of the language, such as the initials ㅴ bsg and ㅵ bsd, as well as diphthongs that were used to represent Chinese medials, such as ㆇ, ㆈ, ㆊ, ㆋ.

Some of the Korean sounds represented by these obsolete letters still exist in some dialects.

Read more about this topic:  Hangeul, Letters

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