Page 1 of 1

The 'g' or 'k' sound of ㄱ

Posted: Thu Mar 07, 2019 6:15 am
by JimmyJ
Hi,
I am a new learner of Korean and have downloaded a free lesson of the Michel Thomas method of learning.

However I'm slightly confused by something?
The teacher says that words with ㄱ in them can be pronounced 'g' or 'k' as the Korean's have no sound distinction between the 2. Is that correct?

The reason I ask is that I'm learning Hangul first, and that makes the distinction between ㄱ at the start of a word sounding more 'k' like, and towards the middle or end of the word sounding more 'g' like. But if there is no distinction in sound, how can I recognise the correct words being spoken?

Sorry if this question is a little ignorant but I'm very new to this. I'm also very excited to be learning this language :D
Thanks
Jimmy

Re: The 'g' or 'k' sound of ㄱ

Posted: Thu Mar 07, 2019 7:31 am
by Dragon27
JimmyJ wrote:The reason I ask is that I'm learning Hangul first, and that makes the distinction between ㄱ at the start of a word sounding more 'k' like, and towards the middle or end of the word sounding more 'g' like. But if there is no distinction in sound, how can I recognise the correct words being spoken?

I don't understand the question in this passage. The fact that you can distinguish this sounds when they have different positions in the word doesn't mean that this distinction is meaningful (it could be just allophonic) and has any bearing on the meaning of the words.

Yes, voicelessness isn't a phonological feature in Korean. Plain stop consonants (p, t, k, ch) sound more voiced or less voiced depending on their position in the word (they sound voiced between voiced sounds in the middle of the word). But there are other phonological features for stop consonants: there are plain consonants (p/b etc.), aspirated consonants (pʰ, etc) and 'tense' consonants (they have some glottal component to them, or they may be realized by adding laryngealization (a.k.a. "vocal fry") to the vowels after them). These features can actually change the meaning of the word.
When the teacher said that there's no 'sound distinction' between k and g what was meant is that these two sounds are perceived as the same phoneme in the language phonetic system, not that the actual physical sounds are indistinguishable.

Posted: Thu Mar 07, 2019 10:02 am
by nooj
My last name in English is Kim. It can be written Gim as well, although it is usually written as Kim. For Korean speakers, the English /k/ or /g/ or the Spanish /k/ or /g/ etc is perceived as one phoneme: our ㄱ.


Contrary wise, I have found that distinguishing between ㅂ ㅍ poses trouble for Arabic speakers whose native dialect does not distinguish between /b/ and /p/. For them ㅂ or ㅍ sound the same, /b/.

Re: The 'g' or 'k' sound of ㄱ

Posted: Thu Mar 07, 2019 2:09 pm
by Deinonysus
Hi JimmyJ,

To add to what Dragon27 said, there is another factor as well.

When you whisper an English /g/ sound and a /k/ sound, they sound different even though neither is voiced (because you're whispering). The difference is not only in aspiration, because you will also notice this for the unaspirated /k/ in "skill". So if you whisper "flax gill" and "flack skill", they will still sound different even though neither is voiced or aspirated.

This is because of a fortis-lenis contrast. In English, the voiced /g/ is lenis; it is pronounced with less force than either the aspirated or unaspirated /k/. In languages like Korean, Mandarin, or Icelandic, which have an unaspirated-aspirated contrast instead of a voiced-unvoiced contrast, the unaspirated sounds will generally be lenis like their voiced English equivalents. English speakers will often hear these unvoiced lenis consonants as voiced, which is why the Chinese city pronounced /pei.tɕiŋ/ is Romanized as "Beijing".

The fortis-lenis contrast is covered well in this video by Artifaxian:


When I was studying Icelandic, I had an easier time thinking of the unaspirated consonants b, d, and g as being devoiced b, d, and g than an unaspirated p, t, or k. The same strategy would probably work well for distinguishing between the korean ㄱ and ㅋ.

Re: The 'g' or 'k' sound of ㄱ

Posted: Sat Mar 09, 2019 4:59 pm
by JimmyJ
Thank you for such detailed replies, much appreciated

I am a very new learner so am a little daunted by some of your more experienced reasoning, so I will give you a small example of my query if i may please?

One of the sentences taught in the Michel Thomas course is "going to London". The pronunciation for this we are told can be either "London e kayo" or London e gayo"
So the native speaker says gayo or kayo is fine.

One of the reason's im confused however is that my text book says ㄱ is pronounced with a soft K at the start of a word, but with a soft G at the middle or end of a word. But in this instance it seems either is fine at the start of a word?

Thanks
Jimmy

Re: The 'g' or 'k' sound of ㄱ

Posted: Sat Mar 09, 2019 5:35 pm
by nooj
JimmyJ wrote:Thank you for such detailed replies, much appreciated

I am a very new learner so am a little daunted by some of your more experienced reasoning, so I will give you a small example of my query if i may please?

One of the sentences taught in the Michel Thomas course is "going to London". The pronunciation for this we are told can be either "London e kayo" or London e gayo"
So the native speaker says gayo or kayo is fine.

One of the reason's im confused however is that my text book says ㄱ is pronounced with a soft K at the start of a word, but with a soft G at the middle or end of a word. But in this instance it seems either is fine at the start of a word?

Thanks
Jimmy



There comes a point when it is useful to learn and use IPA, in conjunction with audio and video, because 'soft' is a fuzzy term that could mean a lot of things.

<ㄱ> is the letter that we use to represent the phoneme /k/. This abstact /k/ is in our heads, but when we say a word, the exact pronunciation of /k/ depends on when and where it comes in a word. When the sound comes in slanted brackets, we mean the abstract sound in our head. That is called a 'phoneme'. When we say it in real life, and we want to point to the exact realisation of the sound that our tongue, mouth and other organs makes, we put this sound between these brackets, like so: [].

In our head, the word cat is made up of three phonemes /kæt/. When we actually say it though, it might look like this [kʰætʰ].

As for Korean, at the the beginning of a word like 고민 /komin/, /k/ sounds like [k]. When it comes at the end of a word, like in the word 욕 /jok/, the /k/ is realised as a [k̚], which basically means that the aspiration or the little release of breath does not happen.

I recorded something for you to help you:

https://vocaroo.com/i/s1BglYhrlCZK

Re: The 'g' or 'k' sound of ㄱ

Posted: Sat Mar 09, 2019 8:25 pm
by JimmyJ
Hi,
Thankyou very much for taking the time to record an explanation for me, that was very good of you

I think I get the gist of what you are saying in that the sound can be plain or aspirated in it's nature, and thus pronounced differently.