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I have heard a few times 꽃잎 being pronounced as 꼰잎. For instances that I can actually remember, Eunji of Apink sang it this way in Hopefully Sky, and Taeyeon of Girls' Generation did the same in Why.

I am aware of other sound changes, such as aspiration of consonants adjacent to ㅎ, nasalization of final consonants following a nasal initial consonant, adjacent ㄴ and ㄹ in any order becoming ㄹㄹ, ㄹ becoming ㄴ following a velar consonant ㅇ or ㄱ (which itself becomes ㅇ), and final alveolar stops becoming alveolo-palatal affricates before /i/. However, among these I don't see any rule that applies to 꽃잎. What rule does it follow, or is it an exception?

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This is a phenomenon called ㄴ첨가. Although it originated from the deletion of ㄴ before /j/, but it's beyond that now. Compare it to the intrusive R in non-rhotic English accents, and you'll get the idea.

This phenomenon occurs at the border of two morphemes in a compound word, when the second morpheme starts with /j/. A ㄴ (or two ㄴs) gets added just before the second phoneme in these situations.

꽃잎 is 꽃+잎, so ㄴ gets added so that it becomes [꽃닢] -> [꼳닙] -> [꼰닙]. Other examples are 솜이불 [솜니불], 물약 [물략], 서울역 [서울력].

When the first phoneme ends in a vowel, this is reflected in the orthography as well, by adding ㅅ to the first phoneme. 나무+잎 [나문닙] is 나뭇잎, not 나무잎. This rule applys to every word that has this construction, with almost no exceptions.

Sometimes, this even happens between two separate words. 할 일 is pronounced [할릴], and 옷 입고 is [온닙꼬], etc. The one that occurs between separate words like this, however, are not universal, though, and may only apply when talking hastly.

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  • But that makes 꽃잎 a more exceptional one, because it happens even when talking slowly. Is it counted as an exception, perhaps along with a few other words? – busukxuan Jul 3 '16 at 2:20
  • @bushkxuan yes this is one of the exceptionals. The ㄴ첨가 rule must also apply to words like 서울역. – 짱멋진만찢남 Jul 3 '16 at 4:22
  • @busukxuan No, it's not an exception. ㄴ addition applys to all words, regardless of talking speed. It's the one occuring between separate words that depends on the talking speed. – MujjinGun Jul 3 '16 at 6:23
  • @MujjinGun Then there's only one exception: particle does not count? -이 doesn't seem to change it. I wonder if it's the same for -이나 – busukxuan Jul 3 '16 at 6:29
  • "ㄴ addition applys to all words, regardless of talking speed." Not really. Example: 그림일기, 송별연(送別宴) don't follow this rule – 짱멋진만찢남 Jul 3 '16 at 9:34
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There is a rule that words cannot begin with ㄴ/ㄹ+[i/j], as explained in this question. That is, they cannot begin with 니, 냐, 녀, 리, 료, 류, etc. Exceptions are recent borrowings. But this rule was not always so: in medieval Korean such words were possible, but recent sound changes eliminated the initial consonant.

잎 (leaf) was 닢 in the past; it's still listed as an archaic form in the dictionary. When it's alone, 닢 became 잎, but as the second part of a compound noun, the original pronunciation is retained. In the case of 꽃잎, the pronunciation following assimilation rules goes like this:

꽃닢 -> 꼳닙 -> 꼰닙.

Another example is 솔잎 (pine needle), which is pronounced like this:

솔닢 -> 솔립

Another tricky one is 깻잎, which is 깨 (sesame) + 잎, but it has a 사이 시옷 inserted between:

깻닢 -> 깯닙 -> 깬닙

In the case of 한자 words, we will write it as it is pronounced; hence 여자 but 소녀; but in the case of the pure Korean word 잎, we always write 잎, which is where the confusion comes from.

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  • Lol, the question you linked to is one of my own questions! So for native Korean words each has only one written form, unlike hanja which may be written with or without the ㄹ or ㄴ? – busukxuan Jul 3 '16 at 0:30
  • In this case; now that I think of it, 이 (tooth) is written 니 when it's pronounced that way: 사랑니, 덧니, 송곳니, etc. I can't think of any other examples, actually; maybe 잎 is the only one, and I'm not sure why they standardized the spelling in that way. – gaeguri Jul 3 '16 at 1:19
  • I've also heard 옷 입다 pronounced 온닙다, but in that case it's 2 separate words getting pronounced together. – gaeguri Jul 3 '16 at 1:22
  • Speaking of that, it's actually written as two words in the lyrics: 꽃 잎. Is that the reason all along? – busukxuan Jul 3 '16 at 1:59

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