I've been recently studying 한자어 and have seen that many times the pronunciation of the Chinese word is different (sometimes very) than the equivalent Korean word.

I was wondering if this is due to pronunciation differences in old chinese, or due to which part of china it was borrowed from or if there was another reason?


  • 유학 (留學): mandarin(liúxué), cantonese(lau4hok6)
  • 미래 (未來): mandarin(wèilái), cantonese(mei6lei4)
  • 경찰 (警察): mandarin(jǐngchá), cantonese(ging2caat3)
  • Why do you think their pronunciation, not prononciation, should not be different? Does English pronounce Latin origin words in the same way as Latin does?
    – user7
    Aug 2, 2016 at 13:30
  • 한자 should be treated as a completely different language. Some 한자 characters may be pronounced in Korean in the same way, but a lot of them won't
    – user17915
    Aug 2, 2016 at 13:51
  • I always treated them as loan words, so I guess another way to phrase my question would be: "why is <loanword in korean> pronounced differently than than <original word>?" Maybe theres no answer, I was mostly just curious about it Aug 2, 2016 at 14:06
  • @rathony as for latin (and greek/old french/germanic) words, while they are sometimes not exactly the same sounds, i think they tend to be pretty close to the equivalent prefix/suffix/root in english or at least closer than chinese<>korean Aug 2, 2016 at 14:11
  • 2
    The one that changed more is Chinese. For example, Beijing is pronounced as Puk-gyong in Korean. And in Cantonese, it is Peking. Pretty similar. Isn't it? Cantonese and Korean are preserving the old chinese pronunciation better. However, Mandarin has been influenced by other languages much so they changed a lot from its original.
    – jungyh0218
    Aug 4, 2016 at 14:37

2 Answers 2


Actually, the Chinese pronunciation has probably changed and the Korean pronunciation is much closer to the original Chinese pronunciation (albeit without tones).

This is due to Korean culture's fixation with maintaining tradition. Another very relevant example: Japan and most of China have switched to simplified Chinese characters, but Korea keeps using the unaltered traditional Chinese characters.

Sources: University Korean professors and the book Korea Unmasked.

There is a similar phenomenon where the American accent is closer to what Britain spoke a long time ago. Americans didn't lose the British accent so much as Britain changed their accent while America maintained the original one.

  1. It is wrong to assume that all the Korean words that can be written in Chinese characters are loan words. Some of them are, but others, especially those made in Korea, are not. We need to note that there are Chinese characters made by Koreans and they have been used only in Korea for hundreds of years such as '串(곶)·畓(답)·䢏(두)·垈(대)·洑(보)·䢘(수)...' They can never be pronounced in Chinese in the same way as Korean does.

  2. It is believed that the Chinese characters were introduced to Korea around the 2nd century B.C. It is natural that each language should develop their own way of pronouncing their words regardless of where the words came from.

  3. Chinese and Korean are not very closely related and have very different grammar and syntax. Chinese is a tonal language, but Korean has changed from a tonal language to non-tonal language several centuries ago. There is no way a tonal language and non-tonal language could pronounce a Chinese character in the same way.

  4. Chinese and Korean don't have the same vowels.

  • 1
    How can you support the statement that some Chinese characters are created by Koreans?
    – user237
    Aug 2, 2016 at 17:52

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