How did the final consonants of each syllable sound in Middle Korean?

English Wiktionary (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%EA%B3%B6) states that 곶(flower, 꽃) sounded kòs̚, but not kòt͡s. Can you tell me why?

  • I don’t really know anything about Middle Korean (or much about any form of Korean), but presumably it’s considered that affricates could not appear syllable-finally, where they were simplified to, in this case, the fricative part of the affricate (unreleased here). It’s very common cross-linguistically for consonants and clusters to be simplified in final position and then appear in their ‘full’ forms in inflected or derived forms where it’s no longer in word-final position. Dec 23, 2021 at 9:16

1 Answer 1


From page 80 of the 2012 tome The Languages of Japan and Korea on Middle Korean (한글 has been added by myself):

MK [Middle Korean] observed implosivization (unrelease) of syllable-final consonants, except s {ㅅ} which was, unlike in CK [Contemporary Korean], not neutralized to t {ㄷ} but spelled s {ㅅ}, suggesting it was pronounced [s], as in mos {못} [mos] ‘pond’ versus mot {몯〯} [mot] ‘unable’.

So where did final c ㅈ fall then? From page 65 of the 2011 reference A History of the Korean Language:

In Middle Korean, /s, c, ch/ no longer remained distinct before a pause, but were, rather, pronounced as the sibilant [s].

According to the above, final /ts/ in 곶, as attested in the 1447 龍飛御天歌 용비어천가 Yongbi eocheonga would have been pronounced [s], different to the Korean language of today.

There are many cases of this lexeme for "flower" being spelled with a ㅅ instead of ㅈ in the period. From the 月印釋譜 월인석보 Worin Soekbo of 1459:

닐굽 줄기ᄅᆞᆯ 가져 겨샤ᄃᆡ

... which in Modern Korean would be "꽃 일곱줄기를 가져 가시되...", in English: [She] was holding seven [stalks of] flowers, and [...]. One 2002 article 중세국어 곡용 어미의 특징 파악 "Characteristics of Middle Korean Declension Endings" has the following claim (emphasis mine):

중세국어에서 체언의 특정 말음은 자음으로 시작하는 조사나 휴지(休止) 앞에서 8종성(ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ)으로 교체된다. 이것은 주로 말음이 ‘ㅈ, ㅊ, [ㅂ], ㅍ, ㅌ’ 자음군인 경우에 일어난다.

예) 곶 ~ 곳 (花), ~ 즛(貌), ~밧(外)

Roughly translated: "In Middle Korean, certain final phonemes of substantives are substituted [either] with postpositions that start in a consonant or with one of eight pre-pausal coda consonants (ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ). This mainly occurs in situations involving the final consonants ㅈ, ㅊ, [ㅂ], ㅍ, ㅌ."

There is also earlier evidence from the 1400 Korean-Chinese glossary 朝鮮館譯語 Cháoxiǎn-guǎn Yìyǔ, where 花 "flower" is glossed as 果思 (in modern Mandarin, guǒsī), that 思 representing a final /s/ of 곳. Note that final /t/ was represented with whichever Chinese character had an Early Mandarin reading with a glottal final, e.g. 筆 "writing brush" was glossed as 卜, which is in Modern Standard Mandarin but had a glottal ending in Early Mandarin, and represented 붇〮 (which only later became 붓 in Korean).

All this confirms that final ㅈ/ㅊ had all merged to final ㅅ [s] by the Late Middle Korean of the 15th century, with this final [s] subsequently merging with final ㄷ and ㅌ into [t̚] throughout the later 16th century and complete by the 17th century.

  • Not necessarily even intentional, but I like the glossing of a flower as the ‘thought of a fruit’. There’s a poetic reality to that. Dec 23, 2021 at 15:57
  • Thank you, it is very helpful! I'm actually a Korean interested in this field, but there have been few people to ask it in Korean communities. Dec 23, 2021 at 20:21

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