Episode 9

Published on:

14th Dec 2021

Keuriseumaseu: Konglish, Christmas, and Korean Syllable Structure

Keuriseumaseu: Syllable structure in Korean

Word and meaning:

크리스마스 Keuriseumaseu means Christmas


It comes from the English word Christmas

Cultural Contexts:

Dating etc. (see the Hanmadi post on Christmas at https://hanmadikorean.com/christmas/)

Linguistic element: Syllable structure of Korean (Young-Mee Yu Cho)

General syllable structure: Aslam, M., & Kak, A. (2007). English Syllable Structure. In Introduction to English Phonetics and Phonology (pp. 60-68). Foundation Books. doi:10.1017/UPO9788175968653.005

“Every language manifests a particular way of combining its sounds to form meaningful words or parts of words, called syllables. Each language puts certain restrictions on these possible combinations. For example, in English we can't have a word which begins with a consonant sequence bfj, zbf or tzp. When we analyse what restrictions (and regularities) are found in the language under study, we are studying the syllable structure of that language. We can divide words into one or more syllables. For example, tin has one syllable, brother has two, important has three and computer has four syllables each.

A syllable is a group of one or more sounds. The essential part of a syllable is a vowel sound (V) which may be preceded and/or followed by a consonant (C) or a cluster of consonants (CC or CCC) (see below). Some syllables consist of just one vowel sound (V) as in I and eye/aI/, owe/ə/. In English, a syllable can consist of a vowel preceded by one consonant (CV) as in pie/paI/, or by two consonants (CCV) as in try/traI/, or by three consonants (CCCV) as in spry/spraI/. The vowel of the syllable may also be followed by one consonant (VC) as in at/æt/, or by two consonants (VCC) as in its/Its/, or by three consonants (CVCCC) as in text/tekst/or by four consonants (CVCCCC) as in texts/teksts/.”

Maximal syllable shape is the syllable type that contains the most possible segments in onset and coda positions, for instance CCCVCCCC in an English word like strengths (https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/el_centro_research/5/

Spanish: CCVC

Japanese: CV

Hawaiian: CV

Really different from English.

CGVC (onset consonant glide vowel coda consonant)

Note how the syllabic structure is actually embedded in the writing system.

값, 삶, 없[다]: alone, only one consonant surfaces, but in certain environments, the other does as well.

And additionally, some sounds can’t come at the beginning or end of a syllable. E.g., “sh” ; “ng” (as in English).

And some diphthongs don’t work in Korean as single syllables. E.g., “I”

Christmas: How many syllables? In English, 2. In Korean, 5.

Other examples:

프렌드 friend - clusters not allowed

콩글리쉬 Konglish


ice cream




Young-Mee Yu Cho. Syllable-based Phonological Processes. Lucien Brown and Jaehoon Yeon, eds. The Handbook of Korean Linguistics. Wiley; 2015. 22-40.

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About the Podcast

Hanmadi Korean Linguistics
The history, sociology, and structure of the Korean language
What do Portuguese explorers have to do with the Korean word for “bread”? Why has the Korean government started using a new word for “website”? And how come there’s a different word for “house” when you’re talking about your grandmother? This biweekly podcast takes you on a deep dive into Korean linguistics through the lens of a single word per episode. Hosted by Jaymin, a native Korean speaker and history professor, and Sara, a 2nd language Korean speaker with a graduate education in linguistics.

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