Korean vowels in Hangul can be both positively and negatively charged. Positive vowels are those that point up or to the right side([ㅏ], [ㅗ]). Negative vowels ([ㅓ], [ㅜ]) are those that point down or to the left side. Positive vowels express ‘light, bright, and small’ feelings, whereas negative vowels express ‘heavy, dark, and big’ feelings. When positive vowels are replaced with negative vowels, this replacement results in different nuances of meaning. For example, the mimetic word 반짝반짝 [banjjak banjjak], which uses the positive vowel sound, expresses an image of small stars shining. On the other hand, 번쩍번쩍 [beonjjeok beonjjeok], which uses the negative vowel sound, conjures up images of rather strong light strikes.
|반짝반짝 [banjjak banjjak]||번쩍번쩍 [beonjjeok beonjjeok]|
Another example is the sound of falling into the water. 퐁당 [pongdang] is used to express small things like a stone falling into the water. 풍덩 [pungdeong] is used to depict large objects plunging into the water, such as people diving.
|퐁당 [pongdang]||풍덩 [pungdeong]|
Vowel harmony also appears in many Korean onomatopoeic words. 똑똑 [ttok ttok] represents the sound of a gentle tap or knock. On the other hand, 쿵쿵 [kung kung] represents a large thumping sound.
|똑똑 [ttok ttok]||쿵쿵 [kung kung]|
Knowing this fundamental phonological rule helps Korean learners understand why similar-sounding words can have such contrasting connotations.
Edited by Hayoung (Wendy) Lee
Gahyun (Ellen) Ki
Member of GaNaDa Society