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(EDIT: this question now has a new home at https://korean.stackexchange.com/)
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Most Korean words and sounds do not have an equivalent English form (Example: 한글 -> Hanguel, 서울 -> Seoul) and vice versa, so I believe some kind of standard is in place for transliteration. However, I do not understand why an 'F" character in the beginning of an English word gets transliterated into a ㅎ, which is an 'h' sound.

For example, Fighting -> 화이팅, Family mart -> 회미리 마트, Fanta -> 환타

This does not happen when an an 'f' or 'ph' sound comes in the middle of a word.

What is the logic behind transliterating the 'f' at the beginning of a word into a ㅎ ?

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Korean has no /f/ sound (unvoiced labiodental fricative), so it has to approximate it with a sound it does have. There are two possibilities.

ㅍ is a labial plosive that is heavily aspirated. The heavy aspiration makes it similar to a fricative, so it sounds similar. It's also unvoiced, so that helps. So it's used in loanwords like 파일 (file).

ㅎ is generally an 'h' sound, but its pronunciation actually changes a lot depending on the vowel that follows it. So when it's followed by an ㅜ (or ㅗ, to a lesser extent) it makes a bilabial fricative sound - quite similar to the labiodental fricative sound of the English 'f'. So the ㅎ makes a good substitute for the English 'f', at least when we can put an ㅗ or ㅜ after it, like muffler -> 마후라 and fry[ing] pan -> 후라이팬, where we have to insert a vowel anyways. This is found in Japanese too, where , though belonging to the 'h' set, makes a [ɸu] sound - and is written fu in English. Words borrowed through Japanese will especially tend to use 후 to translate the English 'f' sound.

Incidentally, we can see ㅎ used to translate other sounds in European languages - [Van] Gogh is translated 고흐, because 흐 makes a velar fricative sound, and Zurich is translated 취리히, because 히 makes a palatal fricative sound.

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  • Welcome to Linguistics SE, and thanks for your (comprehensive) answer! – Ivan Kapitonov Nov 22 '15 at 12:56
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Kang, Kenstowicz & Ito observe that treatment of [f] is a bit more variable. They say that direct loans from English have [pʰ] ([pʰodɨ] "Ford"), but ultimately English-based loans can also come via Japanese, where [h] is an allophone of /φ/ which is the closest fricative in Japanese to English [f]. So this can lead to pairs like "muffler" appearing in Korean as [mahura] via Japanese [mahuraa], or as [mʌpʰɨllʌ], a direct loan from English. This suggests looking at a larger corpus of English loans to check your generalization.

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