Middle Korean was a tonal language and Chinese loan words were also starting to be imported during this same time; however, everything I've seen about the tones references native Korean examples. This makes me wonder:

  1. Did the Chinese words retain their tones during this time? Middle Korean was only three tones, so not a perfect match, but I'm assuming the tones would have survived to a degree.
  2. If so, do the Korean dialects that retain tones (i.e. Kyongsang and Hamgyong) also retain the tones for any Sino-Korean words?
  • See this analysis of Middle Chinese > Middle Korean > modern Daegu dialect hanja-eo.
    – Michaelyus
    Jul 10, 2017 at 18:31

1 Answer 1

  1. Yes. Middle Korean did retain the Chinese tones, and Middle Chinese had four tones, 平, 上, 去, 入. Middle Korean also had four tones, 平, 上, 去, 入. So in fact, it was a perfect match.

    You probably thought that Middle Korean had three tones because there were two tone marks, one dot (가〮) for 去 tone, two dots (가〯) for 上 tone, and no mark for 平 tone. But this is not true, the 入 tone was marked with the final consonant. If the final consonant was a stop (ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅅ), it was automatically a 入 tone.

  2. Yes. Even the Seoul dialect partially retains the tones in the form of lengthened syllables (although vowel length is losing distinction in the younger generation). You can find the connection in between Modern Mandarin and Standard Korean, such that if a character has tone 3 in Modern Mandarin, it's very likely that a word starting with that character in Korean is lengthened.

    For example, 好 (Mandarin hǎo) which uses tone 3, is lengthened in Korean words like 호감(好感) [호ː감], 호경기(好景氣) [호ː경기], etc. Similarly 里 (Mandarin lǐ) is lengthened in Korean words like 이장(里長) [이ː장].

    This is because Middle Korean 上 tone mostly became lengthened syllables in the word-initial position, and most of the Mandarin tone 3 comes from Middle Chinese' 上 tone.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.