McCune-Reischauer 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. Another 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. It does not attempt to transliterate Hangŭl but rather to represent the phonetic pronunciation. McCune-Reischauer is widely used outside of Korea. 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 one-to-one transliteration system—exists, but is only used 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.
According to some people, the McCune-Reischauer system is basically friendly to Westerners. For example, Korean has phonologically no distinction between voiced and voiceless consonants, but it phonetically distinguishes them. Aspirated consonants like "p' ", "b' ", and "t' " are distinguished by apostrophe from unaspirated ones, which is intuitive to Westerners. The apostrophe is also used to disambiguate syllables (chŏn'gŭm vs. chŏng'ŭm).
Critics 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 of the McCune-Reischauer system, however, respond that a casual user unfamiliar with Korean can easily approximate 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, generally continue to use either the McCune-Reischauer or Yale system, as do North Korea and many international geographic and cartographic conventions. Even within South Korea, usage of the new system is less than universal (as was the case when McCune-Reischauer was the official Romanization system).
This is a simplified guide for the McCune-Reischauer system. It is very useful for the transliteration of names, but will not convert properly every word. The reason is that several Korean letters sound differently depending on their position.
- ㅏ a
- ㅑ ya
- ㅓ ŏ
- ㅕ yŏ
- ㅗ o
- ㅛ yo
- ㅜ u
- ㅠ yu
- ㅡ ŭ
- ㅣ i
- ㅘ wa
- ㅝ wŏ
- ㅐ ae
- ㅔ e (written as ë after ㅏ and ㅗ)
- ㅚ oe
- ㅟ wi
- ㅢ ŭi
- ㅙ wae
- ㅞ we
- ㅒ yae
- ㅖ ye
| || Initial consonant
| 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 || LT || 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.
- 부산 pusan
- 못하다 mothada
- 먹다 mŏkta
- 먹었다 mŏgŏtta
Ones with assimilation:
- 연락 yŏllak
- 한국말 han'gungmal
- 먹는군요 mŏngnŭn'gunyo
- 역량 yŏngnyang
- 십리 simni
- 같이 kach'i
- 않다 ant'a
Examples where pronunciation takes precedence:
- 漢字 (한자) hancha, Sino-Korean character (cf. 한字 (한자) hanja, "one word")
- 外科 (외과) oekwa, surgery (cf. 外踝 (외과) oegwa, "outer anklebone")
- 안다 anta and its conjugation 안고 anko (as a rule, all verbs ending in -ㄴ다 and -ㅁ다 are nta and mta except for the present progressive verb ending -ㄴ다/-는다, which is nda or nŭnda)
- 올해 서른여덟입니다. Olhae sŏrŭnnyŏdŏlbimnida.
- 좋은 choŭn, good
North Korean variant
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 Phyongan. With the original system this would be written as P'yŏngan.
South Korean variant
In South Korea's variant of McCune-Reischauer, used 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 an sh sound than an s sound, are romanised with an sh instead of s. The original system deploys sh only in the combination 쉬, as shwi.
Additionally, assimilation-induced aspiration by an initial ㅎ is indicated, e.g. 직할시 is written as Chik'alshi, which under the official system is Chikhalsi.