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Voicing and Pronunciations of Korean Consonants

You may wonder why when you hear Korean words with consonants or , sometimes they are b-, d-, g- and j-like, but some other times they are p-, t-, k-, and ch-like respectively. One of the factors effecting their pronunciations is voicing.

Voicing is one of the 3 important concepts for Korean pronunciations. If you are not sure what voicing is, please review this post. In a nutshell, all Korean vowels are always voiced, so are nasal consonants and consonant . On the other hand, all other consonants are voiceless when they are at the beginning of a word. As a result, or are more p-like, t-like, k-like, and ch-like than b-like, d-like, g-like and j-like respectively at the beginning of a word.

But how about when these consonants are pronounced in between a word? They become fully voiced, i.e., or becomes b-, d-, g- and j-like respectively when they are pronounced in between voiced sounds. It explains why, for the same consonant symbol, you may hear different sounds at different situations.

Examples

WordMeaningNotes
rainㅂ is voiceless
나비butterflyㅂ is b-like
allㄷ is voiceless
바다seaㄷ is d-like
dogㄱ is voiceless
무지개rainbowㄱ is g-like
자리locationㅈ is voiceless
여자womanㅈ is j-like
PhrasePronunciationMeaningNotes
아니야[입] 아니야it is not a leafㅂ is b-like
없어요[맏] 없어요it is tastelessㄷ is d-like
어두워 [박] 어두워outside is darkㄱ is g-like

As you can see from the second set of examples, voicing can apply across word boundary, if the ending consonant needs to be pronounced as or , and the following word begins with a vowel.

Summary of Voicing and Pronunciations of Korean Consonants

At the beginning of a word
voiceless, more p-like than b-like
voiceless, more t-like than d-like
voiceless, more k-like than g-like
voiceless, more ch-like than j-like
Between two voiced sounds within a word
fully voiced, b-like
fully voiced, d-like
fully voiced, g-like
fully voiced, j-like
At the end of a word followed by a word beginning with a vowel
fully voiced, b-like
fully voiced, d-like
fully voiced, g-like
does not apply

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