Diachronic change and synchronic variation in the Korean stop laryngeal contrast

Hyunjung Lee, Jeffrey J. Holliday, Eun Jong Kong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


In this review, we survey the acoustic and perceptual properties of the three-way laryngeal contrast among voiceless stops in Korean. Paying special attention to variation across dialects and generations, we show how the phonetic properties of the stops have changed over the past 60 years and how different phonological features across regional dialects have interacted with the phonetic cues of the stop contrast. Presenting both acoustic and perceptual evidence, we argue that the Seoul Korean stop system is a good example of phonetic reorganization of distinctive phonological categories in that the importance of the consonantal cue (VOT) has decreased over time as that of the vocalic cue (F0) has increased. The innovative phonetic pattern is also observed in children's speech, indicating that children also need to acquire F0 as well as VOT to differentiate the stop contrast. This sound change seems to have spread widely to other regional and diaspora varieties of Korean as well. For tonal varieties such as Kyungsang and Yanbian Korean, the role of the innovative cue, F0, is less reliable than it is for non-tonal varieties of Korean, though recent studies have revealed that even in these varieties the importance of F0 to the laryngeal contrast is increasingly becoming similar to Seoul Korean. Finally, non-tonal varieties, such as Jeju, Shenyang Korean, and North American heritage Korean, have displayed Seoul-like changes, suggesting that although these varieties of Korean are in a different stage of the change, they share the same direction.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12374
JournalLanguage and Linguistics Compass
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jul 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
National Research Foundation of Korea, Grant/Award Number: NRF‐2017S1A5A2A03068448; Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea Funding information

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language


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