In the Korean word for elevator, "엘리베이터", coming from the English word "elevator", why are there two 'l'-s (ㄹ-s) in the beginning of the word?  The 'l' in the English word is geminated neither in pronunciation nor in writing. And it's not the only such word in Korean. The word for olive, "올리브", also has two 'l'-s for no obvious reason.

  • 1
    A single ㄹ is pronounced R (or sometimes L based on circumstances). Double ㄹ as shown here is always pronounced as an elongated L.
    – user17915
    Jun 5, 2023 at 2:59

1 Answer 1


ㄹ is like the L sound, but when it comes between two vowels, it becomes a much lighter sound which is closer to an R (more like a Spanish flapped R than English R). To make the sound more closely match L even when it comes between vowels, as in "elevator", you need two ㄹ's. 에리베이터 with a single ㄹ sound like "erivator", but 엘리베이터 with two L's sound just like "elevator". That's just how the ㄹ normally sounds in Korean - for instance the native word 골고루 (uniformly distributed) is pronounced /golgoru/. This phonetic principle is applied when borrowing foreign words.

Liekwise, "blouse" would be pronounced and transcribed as 블라우스 whereas "browser" would be 브라우저, and "Albert" is 알버트 whereas "argon" is 아르곤. "opera" is never pronounced or written as 오펠라(X), and "acapella" is always 아카펠라, "olive" 올리브, and so on.

ㄹ at the beginning of a word is a bit shaky though. Traditionally Korean was averse to such a formation, so most such words are foreign-originated and the pronunciation is not as consistent as the other cases mentioned. It is most often pronounced as L (I see newscaster pronouncing 러시아 like "Lussia" for instance), but some people may say it like R, and still others may say L or R following the original word's pronunciation.

Related to this is how the R in different positions is represented in Korean. Often an extra ㅡ (으) is added to make the word more accurately represented. For example, "argon" can't be written like 알곤 since that would be "algon", and making it 아곤 dropping the R doesn't sound right either, so we add another syllable ㅡ (the least obtrusive vowel in Korean) to make it 아르곤. ㄹ is now between the 아 and 으 vowel sounds and naturally becomes an R sound. With this principle, the Kurds are spelled as 쿠르드족 (족 being a suffix meaning "people/tribe"), and the Uyghurs 위구르족. Sometimes the syllable for an ending or middle R sound is omitted, as in the names 헌터 (Hunter) or 카터 (Carter) if it's not crucial for recognizing the word (it is not pronounced in British English anyway).

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