What was the original value of syllable-initial ᆼ?

ᆼ (whose archaic form was ㆁ, not the other ᆼ that it was conflated with and that is truly zero) represents zero in modern Korean syllable-initially, but /ŋ/ syllable-finally, so it's probable that its historical value was /ŋ/ in all environment. Consider 雅樂, which yields Cantonese ngaa5 ngok6, Japanese gagaku and Vietnamese nhã nhạc, but Korean aak. I haven't found any reliable sources to confirm my theory though; the only lead I've got is on Wikipedia, which claims that /ŋ/ was probably lost over time syllable-initially, but the claim is not sourced.

1 Answer 1


and were originally two different jamo. From Hunminjeongeum:

ㆁ,牙音,如業字初發聲 (ㆁ, "molar sound"/velar consonant, pronounced like the initial of 業)

ㅇ,喉音,如欲字初發聲 (ㅇ, "throat sound"/dorsal consonant, pronounced like the initial of 欲)

Hangul was not originally created just for the Korean language of the 15th century; it was also created to transcribe Chinese sounds regardless of whether they have existed in Korean back then. However, 'Chinese sounds' was not any particular Chinese topolect of the middle ages, but rather pronunciation glosses from fanqie dictionaries, and these dictionaries were written as a deliberate effort to consolidate pronunciation divergences between the varieties of Chinese.

As a consequence, Hangul was consciously designed to be morphophonemic with regards to the Chinese fanqie system. This is particularly important with respect to imported Chinese vocabulary, as it means that a hangul block which represented 業 started off with ㆁ rather than ㅇ, even though

  • ㆁ represents the velar nasal /ŋ/;
  • all Chinese characters (including 業) which were rimed with /ŋ/ initial have lost this initial in Korean upon importation.

This means that 業 is not pronounced with initial /ŋ/ in Korean, but rather silence or a glottal stop /ʔ/.

Since the null consonant ㅇ never occurs as a final, there was almost no chance of confusing the phonetic value of ㅇ and ㆁ in written Hangul, and thus standardisation efforts in the late 19th to early 20th centuries have merged the two.

  • It's not that I misunderstood. I meant to clarify that I was talking about "the ㅇ that represents /ŋ/, not the true zero ㅇ", so I put ㆁ in parentheses to make it clearer. Also, could you provide reliable sources for your answer? Nov 6, 2017 at 13:46
  • Oh, okay. I hoped the answer helped, but in any case the TL;DR is that ㆁ represented /ŋ/, but Korean does not pronounce initial /ŋ/ as it was an artefact of Chinese rimes.
    – user1228
    Nov 6, 2017 at 13:54
  • @Vun-HughVaw you'll have to be specific as to what information you'd like sources for. Wiktionary contains enough Middle Chinese reconstruction information for any particular character that was derived straight from fanqie dictionaries, and you're able to check that some Chinese topolects (particularly the northern varieties) have lost this initial, and that for characters which have /ŋ/ initial which have been lost in northern varities of Chinese start off with the null consonant ㅇ in modern Korean. See literature by Prof. Gari Ledyard (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gari_Ledyard).
    – user1228
    Nov 6, 2017 at 14:20

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