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An overhead sign in rose and white with a big number 8 and the words Chamshil and Amsa in hangul and Latin script.
In this sign on Seoul Subway Line 8, Chamshil () and Amsa () are romanized with McCune-Reischauer. They would be Jamsil and Amsa in Revised Romanization.

McCune-Reischauer romanization is one of the two most widely used Korean language romanization systems. A modified version of McCune-Reischauer was the official romanization system in South Korea until 2000, when it was replaced by the Revised Romanization of Korean system. A variant of McCune-Reischauer is still used as the official system in North Korea.[1]

The system was first published in 1939 by George M. McCune and Edwin O. Reischauer.[2][3] With a few exceptions, it attempts not to transliterate Korean hangul but to represent the phonetic pronunciation.[4]

Characteristics and criticism

Under the McCune-Reischauer system, aspirated consonants like p', k', and t' are distinguished by apostrophe from unaspirated ones, which may be falsely understood as a separator between syllables (as in -> twich'agi, which consists of the syllables twi, ch'a and gi). The apostrophe is also used to mark transcriptions of (n'g) as opposed to ? (ng): -> chan'g?m vs. -> chang?m), so these diverse applications of apostrophe made people confused once omitted. Also, the breve (?) is used to differentiate vowels in Korean. So if the apostrophe and breve are omitted, as on the internet, this made it impossible to differentiate between aspirated consonants k',t',p' and ch' and unaspirated consonants k,t,p and ch, separator between syllables, transcriptions of (n'g) to ? (ng) and vowels ? and ?, and ? and ?.

An omission of apostrophe in internet and breve (?) in keyboard was the primary reason the South Korean government adopted a revised system of romanization in 2000.[5] However, critics of the revised system claim it fails to represent ? and ? in a way that is easily recognizable and misrepresents the way that the unaspirated consonants are actually pronounced. However, the counterargument for this assertion is that it is impossible to find perfectly matching pairs of letters between the two different writing systems, Latin script and Hangul, and priority should be given to revised system of romanization created by the help of many Korean linguists at the National Academy of the Korean Language over a five-year period than the McCune-Reischauer system created by two foreigners with the help of three Korean linguists over a two-year period during the Japanese colonial era.

Meanwhile, despite official adoption of the new system in South Korea, North Korea uses a version of McCune-Reischauer, which does not accurately represent the phonetic characteristics of the Korean language.


This is a simplified guide for the McCune-Reischauer system. It is often used for the transliteration of names but does not convert every word properly, as several Korean letters are pronounced differently depending on their position.


Hangul ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Romanization a ae ya yae ? e* y? ye o wa wae oe yo u w? we wi yu ? ?i i
  • ? is written as ë after ? and ?. This is to distinguish ? (ae) from (), and ? (oe) and (). The combinations () and () very rarely occur except in sentences when a noun is followed by a postposition, as, for example, ? hoesaës? (at a company) and ch'agoë (in a garage).
  • The Korean surnames ?/?(?) and ?(?) are transcribed as Yi not I[6] (e.g. as Yi Sunsin)


Hangul ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Romanization Initial k kk n t tt r m p pp s ss - ch tch ch' k' t' p' h
Final k - l - t t ng t - t k t p -
  • The consonant digraphs (?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?) exist only as finals and are transcribed by their actual pronunciation.
Initial consonant of the next syllable
?1 ?
? k g kk ngn kt ngn(S)/ngr(N) ngm kp ks kch kch' kk' kt' kp' kh
? n n n'g nn nd ll/nn nm nb ns nj nch' nk' nt' np' nh
? t d tk nn tt nn(S)/ll(N) nm tp ss tch tch' tk' tt' tp' th
? l r lg ll/nn ld3 ll lm lb ls lj3 lch' lk' lt' lp' rh
? m m mg mn md mn(S)/mr(N) mm mb ms mj mch' mk' mt' mp' mh
? p b pk mn pt mn(S)/mr(N) mm pp ps pch pch' pk' pt' pp' ph
? ng ng ngg ngn ngd ngn(S)/ngr(N) ngm ngb ngs ngj ngch' ngk' ngt' ngp' ngh
  1. ? is an initial consonant before a vowel to indicate the absence of sound.
  2. ? is romanized shwi.
  3. In Sino-Korean words, lt and lch respectively.

For ?, ?, ?, and ?, the letters g, d, b, or j are used if voiced, k, t, p, or ch otherwise. Pronunciations such as those take precedence over the rules in the table above.


  • Voiceless/voiced consonants
    • kagu
    • t?ngdae
    • panbok
    • chujang
  • The initial consonant ? is disregarded in romanization, since it is only used in order to indicate the absence of sound.
    • (pronounced ) kug? (not kuk?)
    • (pronounced ) mid?m (not mit?m)
    • (pronounced ) p?bin (not p?pin)
    • (pronounced ) p'iryo (not p'ilyo)
  • r vs. l
    • r
      • Between two vowels? karo, p'iryo
      • Before initial ? h? Parhae, sirh?m
    • l
      • Before a consonant (except before initial ? h), or at the end of a word? nalgae, kuby?l, ky?lmal
      • is written ll? ppalli, ch?j?llo
  • Consonant assimilations
    • (pronounced ) y?llak
    • (pronounced ) tongnip
    • (pronounced ) p?mnyul
    • (pronounced ) ant'a
    • (pronounced ) mach'ida
  • Palatalizations
    • (pronounced ) midaji
    • (pronounced ) kach'i
    • (pronounced ) kuch'ida

Exceptions that do not exactly follow pronunciation

  • The sequences --, -- (only when palatalization does not occur)/--, -- are written kh, th, ph respectively, even though they are pronounced the same as ? (k'), ? (t'), ? (p').
    • sokhi (pronounced )
    • mothada (pronounced )
    • kophagi (pronounced )
  • When a plain consonant (?, ?, ?, ?, or ?) becomes a tensed consonant (?, ?, ?, ?, or ?) in the middle of a word, it is written k, t, p, s, or ch respectively, even though it is pronounced the same as ? (kk), ? (tt), ? (pp), ? (ss), or ? (tch).
    • (pronounced ) t'aekw?ndo
    • (pronounced ) sont?ng
    • (pronounced ) munp?p
    • (pronounced ) kuksu
    • (, pronounced ) hancha

North Korean variant

In North Korea's variant of McCune-Reischauer, aspirated consonants are not represented by an apostrophe but are instead by adding an "h".[7] For example, is written as Phy?ngs?ng. The original system would have it written as P'y?ngs?ng.

However, the consonant ? is transcribed as "ch", and not "chh", while ? is transcribed as "j".[7] For example, is spelled "Juche", and not "Chuch'e", as it would be transcribed using the original system.

  • ? is written as "jj" (for example, is spelled as "jjokpari").
  • is transcribed as "lr". Example: is spelled "ppalri".
  • is spelled "lh", and not "rh": e.g. is written as "palhae".
  • When ? is pronounced as ? (e.g. ), it is transcribed as "n" by the original system (Mongnan). Nevertheless, the North Korean variant keeps it as "r" (Mongran).
  • and are differentiated by using a "-". For example? is spelled "kang-in", and is spelled "in-gi".
  • When "ng" is followed by "y" or "w", however, the hyphen is not used ( and are written as "Phy?ngyang" and "Kangw?n").

The North Korean variant renders names of people with each syllable capitalized and no hyphenation between syllables of given names: e.g. "Kim Il Sung" for Kim Il-sung.[8] Native Korean names, however, are written without syllabic division.

South Korean variant

A variant of McCune-Reischauer was in official use in South Korea from 1984 to 2000. The following are the differences between the original McCune-Reischauer and the South Korean variant:

  • ? was written as shi instead of the original system's si. When ? is followed by ?, it is realized as the [?] sound (similar to the English [?] sound (sh as in show)) instead of the normal [s] sound. The original system deploys sh only in the combination ?, as shwi.
  • ? was written as wo instead of the original system's w? in this variant. Because the diphthong w (? or ? as a semivowel) + o (?) does not exist in Korean phonology, the South Korean government omitted a breve in w?.
  • Hyphens were used to distinguish between and , between and ?, and between and ? in this variant system, instead of the apostrophes and ë in the original version. Therefore, apostrophes were used only for aspiration marks and ë was not used in the South Korean system.
  • When ? is followed by ?, the ? was written as l in the South Korean variant. Under the original McCune-Reischauer system, it is written as r.
  • Assimilation-induced aspiration by an initial ? is indicated. is written as kh in the original McCune-Reischauer system and as k' in the South Korean variant.

The following table illustrates the differences above.

Word McCune-Reischauer South Korean variant Meaning
sijang shijang market
shwipta swipta easy
sow?n sowon wish, hope
ch?n'gi ch?n-gi electricity
sang? sang-? shark
? hoesaës? hoesa-es? at a company
ch'agoë ch'ago-e in a garage
Parhae Palhae Balhae
chikhalsi chik'alshi directly governed city[9]
mothada mot'ada to be poor at
kophagi kop'agi multiplication

Other systems

A third system, the Yale Romanization system, which is a transliteration system, exists but is used only in academic literature, especially in linguistics.

The Kontsevich system, based on the earlier Kholodovich system, is used for transliterating Korean into the Cyrillic script. Like McCune-Reischauer romanization it attempts to represent the pronunciation of a word, rather than provide letter-to-letter correspondence.

See also


  1. ^ "Working Paper No. 46" (PDF). UNGEGN. Retrieved .
  2. ^ Lee, Sang-il (2003). "On Korean Romanization". The Korean Language in America. via JSTOR. 8: 407-421. JSTOR 42922825.
  3. ^ Tables of the McCune-Reischauer System for the Romanization of Korean. Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Korea Branch. 1961. p. 121.
  4. ^ Jae Jung Song (2006). The Korean Language: Structure, Use and Context. Routledge. p. 87. ISBN 9781134335893.
  5. ^ "Romanization of Korean". Ministry of Culture & Tourism. July 2000. Archived from the original on 16 September 2007. Retrieved 2007.
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-06-16. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) page 13
  7. ^ a b Tertitskiy, Fyodor (2017-11-21). "Words, words: North and South Korea's differing romanization". Retrieved .
  8. ^ Sweeney, John (2013). North Korea Undercover: Inside the World's Most Secret State. London: Bantam Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-4481-7094-4.
  9. ^ (; "a directly governed city"; jikhalsi in the Revised Romanization) is one of a former administrative divisions in South Korea, and one of a present administrative divisions of North Korea. In 1995, it was replaced by (; gwangyeoksi; "metropolitan city") in South Korea.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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