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McCune–Reischauer romanization is one of the two most widely used Korean language romanization systems, along with the Revised Romanization of Korean, which replaced (a modified) McCune–Reischauer as the official romanization system in South Korea in 2000. A variant of McCune–Reischauer is used as the official system in North Korea.

The system was created in 1937 by two Americans, George M. McCune and Edwin O. Reischauer. With a few exceptions, it does not attempt to transliterate Korean text but rather to represent the phonetic pronunciation. McCune–Reischauer is widely used outside of Korea. A variant of it was used as the official romanization system in South Korea from 1984 to 2000. A third system — the Yale Romanization system, which is a transliteration system — exists, but is used only in academic literature, especially in linguistics. During the period of Russian interest in Korea at the beginning of the 20th century, attempts were also made at representing Korean in Cyrillic.

Characteristics and criticism[edit]

The McCune–Reischauer system is friendly to westerners.[according to whom?] For example, Korean has phonologically no distinction between voiced and voiceless consonants, but it phonetically distinguishes them. 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 뒤차기 → twich'agi, which consists of the syllables twi, ch'a and gi). The apostrophe is also used to mark transcriptions of ㄴㄱ as opposed to ㅇㅇ: 잔금chan'gŭm vs. 장음changŭm).

Critics[who?] of the McCune–Reischauer system claim that casual users of the system omit the breves ( ˘ ) over the o for 어 and the u for 으, because typing o or u without the breves is often easier than adding them. This, in turn, can lead to confusion over whether the o being Romanized is 오 or 어 or the u being Romanized is 우 or 으. Casual users also often omit the apostrophe that differentiates aspirated consonants (ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, and ㅊ) from their unaspirated counterparts (ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ), which can also lead to confusion. Defenders[who?] of the McCune–Reischauer system, however, respond that a casual user unfamiliar with Korean can easily approximate the actual pronunciation of Korean names or words even when breves and apostrophes are omitted, although it is still best to include them.

Such common omissions were the primary reason the South Korean government adopted a revised system of romanization in 2000. Critics of the revised system claim it fails to represent 어 and 으 in an easily recognizable way, and that it misrepresents the unaspirated consonants as they are actually pronounced.

Meanwhile, despite official adoption of the new system in South Korea, many in the Korean Studies community – both in and out of South Korea – and international geographic and cartographic conventions generally continue to use either the McCune–Reischauer or Yale system, and North Korea uses a version of McCune–Reischauer. Even within South Korea, usage of the new system is less than universal, as was the case with the variant of McCune–Reischauer that was the official Romanization system between 1984/1988 and 2000.


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


Romanization a ae ya yae ŏ e* ye o wa wae oe yo u we wi yu ŭ ŭi i
* e – written as ë after ㅏ and ㅗ


Romanization Initial k kk n t tt r m p pp s ss - ch tch ch' k' t' p' h
Final k k n t - l m p - t t ng t - t k t p t
  • The consonants digraphs (ㄳ, ㄵ, ㄶ, ㄺ, ㄻ, ㄼ, ㄽ, ㄾ, ㄿ, ㅀ, ㅄ) only exist in finals. These digraphs are transcribed by their actual pronunciation.
Initial consonant of the next syllable














ㅇ ng ng ngg ngn ngd ngn ngm ngb ngs ngj ngch' ngk' ngt' ngp' ngh
ㄱ k g kk ngn kt ngn ngm kp ks kch kch' kk' kt' kp' kh
ㄴ n n n'g nn nd ll nm nb ns nj nch' nk' nt' np' nh
ㄹ l r lg ll ld ll lm lb ls lch lch' lk' lt' lp' rh
ㅁ m m mg mn md mn mm mb ms mj mch' mk' mt' mp' mh
ㅂ p b pk mn pt mn mm pp ps pch pch' pk' pt' pp' ph

† An initial consonant before a vowel to indicate absence of sound.

Basically, when deciding whether g or k, b or p, d or t and j or ch is used, use g, b, d or j if it is voiced, and k, p, t or ch if it is not. Pronunciations such as these take precedence over the rules in the table above.


Simple examples:

  • 부산 Pusan
  • 못하다 motada (pronunciation: 모타다)
  • 먹다 mŏkta (pronunciation: 먹따)
  • 먹었다 mŏgŏtta (pronunciation: 머걷따)

Examples with assimilation:

  • 연락 yŏllak (pronunciation: 열락)
  • 한국말 Han'gungmal (pronunciation: 한궁말)
  • 먹는군요 mŏngnŭn'gunnyo (pronunciation: 멍는군뇨)
  • 역량 yŏngnyang (pronunciation: 영냥)
  • 십리 simni (pronunciation: 심니)
  • 같이 kach'i (pronunciation: 가치)
  • 않다 ant'a (pronunciation: 안타)

Examples where pronunciation takes precedence:

  • 漢字 (한자) hancha (pronunciation: 한짜 hantcha), Sino-Korean character (cf. 한 字 (한 자) han ja, "one letter (one character)")
  • 外科 (외과) oekwa (pronunciation: 외꽈 oekkwa), surgery (cf. 外踝 (외과) oegwa, "outer anklebone")
  • 鐵道 (철도) ch'ŏlto, railway (pronunciation: 철또) (cf. ~도 ~do, "~ too/either". for example, 鐵도 (철도, iron too/either) is ch'ŏldo)
  • 안다 anta (pronunciation: 안따 antta) and its conjugation 안고 anko (pronunciation: 안꼬 ankko) (as a rule, all verbs ending in -ㄴ다 (pronunciation: -ㄴ따 ntta) and -ㅁ다 (pronunciation: -ㅁ따 mtta) are nta and mta except for the present progressive verb ending -ㄴ다/-는다, which is nda or nŭnda)
  • 올해 서른여덟입니다. Orhae sŏrŭnnyŏdŏlbimnida. (pronunciation: 올해 서른녀덜빔니다, but 올해 서른녀더림니다 is also common)
  • 좋은 chn, good (pronunciation: 조은)

For an example of a short text transcribed in the McCune–Reischauer system, see Aegukka, the national anthem of North Korea.

North Korean variant[edit]

In North Korea's variant of McCune–Reischauer, aspirated consonants are not represented by an apostrophe, but instead by adding an "h". For example, 평안 is written as Phyŏngan. With the original system this would be written as P'yŏngan.[citation needed]

South Korean variant[edit]

In South Korea's variant of McCune–Reischauer, in official use from 1984 to 2000, 시 is written as shi instead of the original system's si, and others like 샤, 셔 and so on, where the pronunciation is deemed closer to a /ʃ/ sound than a /s/ sound, are romanised with sh instead of s. The original system deploys sh only in the combination 쉬, as shwi.

ㅝ is written as wo instead of the original system's in this variant. Because the diphthong w (ㅗ or ㅜ as a semivowel) + o (ㅗ) does not exist in Korean phonology, the South Korean government omitted a breve in .

Hyphens are used to distinguish between ㄴㄱ and ㅇㅇ in this variant system, instead of the apostrophes in the original version. Therefore, apostrophes are used only for aspiration marks in the South Korean system.

Additionally, assimilation-induced aspiration by an initial ㅎ is indicated, e.g. 직할시 (直轄市; "a directly governed city")[1] is written as chik'alshi, which under the official system is chikhalsi.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 직할시 (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 광역시 (廣域市; gwangyeoksi; "metropolitan city") in South Korea.

External links[edit]