How do you pronounce the syllable 협 (hyeob) correctly in Korea?

I tried to listen in google translate but it is very difficult to make clear what part of the mouth that is actually being moved even when I had listen to it in slowmo. Tried to replicate it but it came out sounding different. Especially the "hy" part, the sound h and y seems to be fused in some unusual way, but I still can't figure it out.

  • 2
    If you are an English speaker, try saying 'yup' but add an 'h' sound to the initial 'y'
    – user17915
    Dec 16, 2018 at 3:37

1 Answer 1


It is true that Korean ㅎ has a very wide range of allophones, more so than the English h. So your perception that the ㅎ sounds "different" in the syllable 협 is not just based on an error.

This is the concept of allophones, and Korean ㅎ has a very large number of them. From Shin, Kiaer, Cha's 2012 seminal work, The Sounds of Korean:

Phoneme:  /h/
Major allophones: /ç/ before /j, i/ in word-initial position
                  /x/ before /ɯ/ in word-initial position
                  /ɸʷ/ before /u, o/ in word-initial position 
                  /h/ before all other vowels in word-initial position
                  /ʝ, ɣ, β, ɦ/ voiced counterparts in word-medial position

The fusion of the /h/ and the /j/ (the sound) in Korean 협 results in the voiceless palatal fricative [ç], which is quite common in British and Australian English (hue, pronounced [çʉː]), and also attested in American English. If you've studied German before, it is the ich-Laut of standard Hochdeutsch.

So 협 in IPA follows the allophonic change: /hjʌp/ -> [çʌ̹p̚]. Although it is most naturally pronounced this way, most English-speakers will be able to get away with the /hj/ being pronounced more like in English.

Note also that it may be affected by voicing if in the middle of a word, e.g. in the word 타협 "compromise".

  • @Tomsofty33 I don't think that /hj/ can go with /ʌ/ "short u" in native modern English phonotactics: the yod can only occur with the /uː/ "long u" phoneme.
    – Michaelyus
    Dec 17, 2018 at 12:30
  • @Tomsofty33 The notation [ʌ̹] I've just stolen from Wiktionary - it just says it's more rounded than the "cardinal" [ʌ], which you can tell from modern Korean speakers - to my ears it sounds a lot like [ɔ].
    – Michaelyus
    Dec 17, 2018 at 12:32
  • "the ich-Laut of standard Hochdeutsch". Just to clarify a bit, is this the ich-laut you are referring to? youtube.com/watch?v=HUKB4LxaRxw
    – Tomsofty33
    Dec 17, 2018 at 12:38
  • I was trying to edit my first comment, before u replied..but...it got deleted.. O well.
    – Tomsofty33
    Dec 17, 2018 at 12:44
  • 1
    It may seem paradoxical, but if you're learning Korean, you don't need to spend too much time worrying about the details of these allophones. Just consider them as rough guides. After all, even a native Korean speaker has little idea how many different allophones of ㅎ they make: it all happens automatically at a subconscious level. What's important is to be able to "recognize" a native ㅎ sound and make a similar sound when you speak. Mimicking the exact sound is much less important than, say, grammar or vocabulary.
    – jick
    Dec 18, 2018 at 1:27

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