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The Jeju dialect of Korean is exceptional for its preservation of ㆍ, which is an obsolete vowel in the standard Korean (표준어). As such, I wondered how well the preservation happened.

Jeju has ㆍ /ɒ/, ㅡ /ɨ/, ㅣ /i/, ㅗ /o/, ㅏ /a/, ㅜ /u/, ㅓ /ə/, ㅐ /æ/, and ㅔ /e/ as its monophthongs. Medieval Korean also had them, though ㅐ and ㅔ were diphthongs.

Yet the pronunciation of vowels of medieval Korean is disputed, especially for ㆍ. To paraphrase 훈민정음 해례:

ㆍ는 혀가 오그라져 소리가 깊으니…
For ㆍ, the tongue shrinks and the sound is deep…

ㅡ는 혀가 조금 오그라져 소리가 깊지도 얕지도 않으니…
For ㅡ, the tongue shrinks slightly and the sound is neither deep nor shallow…

ㅣ는 혀가 오그라지지 않아 소리가 얕으니…
For ㅣ, the tongue doesn't shrink and the sound is shallow…

ㅗ는 ㆍ와 같으나 입이 오므라지며…
ㅗ is like ㆍ but with narrow mouth…

ㅏ는 ㆍ와 같으나 입이 펴지며…
ㅏ is like ㆍ but with wide mouth…

ㅜ는 ㅡ와 같으나 입이 오므라지며…
ㅜ is like ㅡ but with narrow mouth…

ㅓ는 ㅡ와 같으나 입이 펴지며…
ㅓ is like ㅡ but with wide mouth…

For this explanation is commonly thought to not match the usual vowel quadrangle, I thought I'd modify the vowel quadrangle anyway. One way is to reflect the curved shape of the palate. In this way, I could reproduce the pronunciation of vowels as:

  • ㆍ [ɤ]
  • ㅡ [ɯ]
  • ㅣ [i]
  • ㅗ [o]
  • ㅏ [ɑ]
  • ㅜ [u]
  • ㅓ [ɜ]

which is quite consistent with 표준어, but not quite with Jeju. ㆍ is too closed, and ㅏ is too drawn back. Is this just a usual phenomenon about a dialect? Or did I reproduce them wrong?

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It depends somewhat on what you mean by "preservation". But yes, it is well-preserved.

In its most basic form, /ɒ/ ㆍ is distinct from other vowel phonemes in Jeju, whereas in the central varieties of Korean that form the standard, by the late eighteenth century, the 아래아 merged with /a/ ㅏ word-initially (hence the modern name "아래 lower 아 a"), and merged into /ɯ/ ㅡ or occasionally /o/ ㅗ (as in the first syllable of Contemporary Standard Korean 소매 "sleeve", from Middle Korean ᄉᆞ〮ᄆᆡ〮) within words.

Jeju does not preserve all the Middle Korean instances of ㆍ; there are many cases where the later syllables of a word had ㆍ but modern Jeju is starting to change them, e.g. Middle Korean 사ᄅᆞᆷ has become modern Jeju 사름 /saɾɨm/, even if some may cling to 사ᄅᆞᆷ in writing.

Interestingly, some of the more exotic diphthongs employing ㆍ are preserved in Jeju. With the ㆍ merging with ㅡ, found during the 15th-16th centuries, we also have ᄋᆢ merging with 여, with attested hesitation between 여듧 and 여ᄃᆞᆲ for "eight"; in Jeju ᄋᆢᄃᆞᆸ /jɒtɒp/ is the modern reflex.

The phonetic nature of the modern Jeju ㆍ has been transcribed as any of /ɒ/, /ɐ/, /ɔ/, /ʌ/, and those have also been used for the phonetic values of ㆍ in Late Middle Korean. As stated by Lee & Ramsay (2011):

[The vowel ㆍ] has been preserved as a distinct entity in the Cheju dialect, where it is pronounced [ɔ] or [ʌ]. Largely for that reason, the vowel is believed to have been pronounced similarly, as [ʌ], in Middle Korean.

Note also that Middle Korean certainly had significant changes through its several centuries, so although we think we have relatively good idea of the relative vowel space, it might be difficult to narrow it down any further. In fact, there are disputes on the nature of all of ㆍ, ㅡ and ㅓ in Middle Korean, mainly because of how far the modern reflexes have ended up from each other. This isn't surprising at all for historical dialect phonological studies.

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