(EDIT: this question now has a new home at https://korean.stackexchange.com/)
(Please visit https://korean.stackexchange.com/ for questions about Korean language)

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 ?

2 Answers 2


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.

  • Welcome to Linguistics SE, and thanks for your (comprehensive) answer! Nov 22, 2015 at 12:56

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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.