The basic phonemes of Korean language can be largely classified into 19 consonants, 6 vowels and 2 semivowels, forming syllables by the syllable formation rule. After syllables are formed, phonemes of the syllables are changed to appropriate ones by the essential phonological rules and other optional rules. Although there are regulations on standard Korean pronunciation, most Koreans are not conscious of the standard pronunciation except those who are required to speak with standard pronunciation, such as announcer. This is something that the readers should be concerned about when speaking Korean, which requires them to acquire both the idealistic standard pronunciation and the realistic common pronunciation.
Consonants of Korean is roughly classified as voiceless and voiced; and the voice is grouped as basic(예사소리, unmarked), asprated(거센소리, adding ʰ, but we'll write as "h" simply) and tense(된소리 adding ˈ or doubbling the letter) once more. The voicless makes a pair as "basic-asprated-tense" except the only pair of sound " s - s' "(basic-tense). Following is the pairs of voicless:
- p - ph - p'
- t- th - t'
- s - s'
- tɕ - tɕh - tɕ'
- k - kh - k'
The asprated sound is almost similar with voicless in English when it is first sound in word, such as; /ph/ in pen, /th/ in tea, /kh/ in car. /tɕh/ is similar with [tʃ] of chair, but it is shallower and sharper, pronounced between two places of articulation in English, [j] and [tʃ]. English [s] in sea is not similar with Korean /s/, but /s'/. The tense sound is similar with voicless foregone by [s] in English, such as; /p'/ in sponge, /t'/ in stone, /k'/ in school, /tɕ'/ in question.
The basic sound is most difficult because this sound tends not to be found out in other languages as well as English. You can refer to pronunciation of some initial voiceless consonants of Japanese to understand it: /k/ in kusa (くさ), /t/ in tama (たま) /s/ in sake(せけ) (basic sound /s/ is founded in all arrangement unless followed by a doubling sound mark small tsu (っ) such as jasshi (ざっし), which is rather similar to the tense sound /s'/), but the basic sound /p/ is not founded even in Japanese while the tense sound /p'/ is always findable in every arrangement of Japanese /p/.
/s/ and /s'/ is patalized into alveolo-palatal sound [ɕ] and [ɕ'], which is pronounced in the same place as that of /tɕ/, when preceding /i/ or /j/-connected diphthongs such as /si/ changed into [ɕi] (because most of Koreans cannot recognize the difference between [si] and [ɕi], the branches used in this example to represent the sound pronounced in real speech are the phonetic branches [ ], not the phoneme branches / /).
In category of voiced are 3 nasals and a mere liquid. Here is the following table of consonants, formed from the places and the manners. Read it carefully and remember.
|two lips||gum||hard palate||soft palate||throat|
|Voiceless||Plosive||p, ph, p'||t, th, t'||k, kh, k'|
|Affricate||t∫, t∫h, t∫'|