Why are ㅔ and ㅐ referred to as diphthongs in some Korean teaching materials even though the equivalent sounds (/e/, /ɛ/) do not constitute a change from one sound to another?

I understand the orthography is a combination of ㅏ andㅣbut shouldn't diphthongs be based on phonology?

3 Answers 3


You are referring to the difference between the pedagogical use of the term "diphthong", versus the linguistic use. The pedagogical use is based on the fact that those vowels are written with two vowel letters. If you are operating in a linguistic context, then you "should" refer to those sounds as vowels and not diphthongs. It is generally pointless to demand that language teachers learn and adopt contemporary technical linguistic terminology.


In addition to user6726's answer, it is likely that the materials originally referred to "double vowel letters" (or graphemes, or however you call 한글 자모) but was incorrectly translated to "diphthong", which generally only means "double vowel sound" in English.

For example, in the Korean wikipedia article on Hangul, the vowel letters ㅐㅒㅔㅖㅘㅙㅚㅝㅞㅟㅢ are listed under "겹홀소리" (compound vowel), which should be understood as "compound vowel letters".


Because, historically, when Hangul was first created, they did represent diphthong sounds. But over time, sounds changed and many evolved either into either new monophthongs or approximant+vowel pairs. The naming is outdated, obviously, but its still used obviously. Probably because, like people have said, the characters are all combinations of two vowel symbols.

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