Why are English loanwords ending in /d/ or /t/ systematically transcribed into Hangul syllables ending in ㅅ rather than ㄷ? This seems strange, since when ㅅ is followed by a vowel, the coda is realised as [ɕ] or [s]. Also, there are native words ending in ㄷ, which would be a better phonetic match. Is there a principle explaining why ㅅ might be preferred?

For instance, Internet is transcribed in South Korea as 인터넷, yielding the pronunciation [in.tʌ.ne.ɕi] when followed by the subject particle 이, or [in.tʌ.ne.sɨɭ] followed by the object particle 을.

  • To me, sounds nothing like ʌ. sounds like ɔ and the closest to ʌ is maybe . – hippietrail Nov 13 '12 at 9:41
  • Yes, I agree (using conventional phonetic values) -- ㅓ is very slightly rounded but not as rounded as [ɔ], and lower than what is usually transcribed ʌ. Nevertheless, ʌ is traditionally used in the literature to transcribe ㅓ. – jogloran Nov 13 '12 at 9:47

Before we start, I should explain for non-Korean speakers how coda-position ㅅ ("S") is pronounced in Korean. First, as jogloran has already hinted at, Korean has a tendency to avoid codas, converting them into onsets wherever possible (i.e. if the next syllable has no onset). Slight simplification but good enough for now. Second, ㅅ ("s") when pronounced as a coda (i.e. the syllable is pronounced in isolation or the following syllable has a non-null onset) it loses its [+stri] feature and is pronounced more like a soft (unaspirated) "t".

The point being that 인터넷 ("internet". Literally "intheneys", pronounced "intheneyt") is pronounced in isolation in more-or-less the same manner as the English "internet". However, again as jogloran noted, when followed by a null-onset syllable, as in 인터넷이 (intheneys-i, internet-SUB) or 인터넷에 (intheneys-ey, internet-DAT, "to/at the internet") the coda ㅅ adjoins to the following syllable as an onset and does not lose it's [+stri] feature. This results in the surface forms "in-the-ney-si" and "in-the-ney-sey" respectively.

It is important to note that several codas undergo the same reduction as ㅅ. Namely, 밧, 받, 밭, and 밪 (pas, pat, path, and pac respectively) all have the same surface structure: 받 (pat). Of these "t" codas, ㅅ is by far the most common.

Therefore, Koreans most readily associate "t" codas with ㅅ. From here it is not difficult to imagine why ㅅ used as a "t" coda, even in English loanwords.

Loanword adaptation as first-language phonological perception. by Boersma and Hamann is a paper I have heavily cited on this website. Essentially they propose that a learning algorithm dynamically ranks OT perception constraints over time such that rules preventing specific phonetic units from being perceived as specific phonological units become ranked in such a way that valid perceptions (for example *[a]/a/, "don't interpret the phonetic [a] as the phonologic /a/" becomes lowly ranked because it can be violated freely with no loss of meaning).

Essentially, this paper provides a mechanism by which Koreans can perceive phonetic [t]s in the coda position as the phonologic /s/ (since the constraint forbidding this perception becomes lowly ranked). The result is a UR containing the /s/ coda which then explains its production as [s] in cases like "인터넷이". This UR /s/ is then reflected in their orthography.


Independent of implementation-specific details such as one that acattle mentioned, the possible alternative that you mentioned appear word-finally only in native Korean nouns -- word-final coronals do not appear in Sino-Korean nouns (Sohn 2001). It's plausible that they're more likely to adapt to the Sino-Korean pattern, which has the common t-s alternation.

More significantly, I think it's too strong to say that it's "systematically adapted as /s/." Kang 2003 took a corpus of loanwords and found that word-final coronal stops ([t]/[d]) were largely adapted with an epenthetic final vowel.

Kang 2003, p232

As you can see, there's a coronal place effect: vowel insertion is far more common for them than for /p/ and /k/. In fact, every instance of final [d] was adapted with vowel insertion.

  • I'm not sure about the idea that since Sino-Korean borrowings never end in ㄷ, loanwords don't either. After all, to my knowledge no SK borrowings end in ㅅ. The issue with epenthetic vowel insertion is very interesting data, but I was interested in the justification behind the 'no vowel insertion' case. – jogloran Nov 9 '12 at 1:39
  • See the Kang paper -- she cites multiple studies noting that speakers are reanalyzing an etymological /t/ to an /s/ word-finally in nouns, so the citation form still has a final [t], but before vowels is realized as an [s]. Moreover, this is generalized so that words with other coronal segments like [ts] have optional [s] forms (example (24) in the paper). Hence words with the coronal stop/s alternation is prevalent in non-loanword Korean, moreso than words ending in /t/, which is restricted to NK, so the former is being extended to loans. – Aerlinthe Nov 9 '12 at 3:16
  • Also, the vowel insertion case is very much relevant to your question since the adaptation through acoustic matching is still the most popular -- the /s/-adaptation is exceptional and appears to be based on non-phonetic aspects of the lexicon. – Aerlinthe Nov 9 '12 at 4:47

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