Articulation and Acoustics of Korean Liquids: A Case Study in Loanword Adaptation


  • Naim Lim University of Toronto, CA
  • Alexei Kochetov University of Toronto, CA
  • Yoonjung Kang University of Toronto, CA


This paper is a case study in phonetic variation in the realization of liquid consonants (laterals and rhotics) in Korean loanwords from English. Korean has a single liquid phoneme, /L/, which is restricted in the native vocabulary to word-medial and word-final positions. Word-medially, it is realized as a tap if single and as a lateral if geminate; word-finally, it is realized as a lateral (Ahn, 2002). The restriction against word-initial liquids, however, is relaxed in English loanwords (Iverson & Kim, 1987), with recent studies observing a range of realizations: a tap, a lateral, or an approximant (Yun & Kang, 2019).To better understand the details of this variation, we collected electropalatography (EPG) and acoustic data from two native Korean speakers fluent in English. The speakers produced word-initial and word-medial liquids in loanwords, as well as similar sounds in native words and in English words.Articulatory measurements of Center of Gravity (CoG) of linguopalatal contact, the amount of contact (Q), and liquid duration revealed clear lateral-rhotic distinctions in native Korean words, in English words, as well as in loanwords – in word-medial position. As anticipated, word-initial liquids in loanwords exhibited a range of linguopalatal patterns. A follow-up acoustic analysis using Yun and Kang's (2019) criteria showed that word-initial liquids were realized as laterals, approximants, or taps, with these realizations only partially dependent on the English source consonant (/l/ or /ɹ/) and somewhat different between the speakers. The male speaker favoured approximant and laterals realizations (47% and 39%), while the female speaker favoured taps and, to a lesser extent, laterals (68% and 31%).In sum, this study provides some new insights into individual strategies in the production of liquids in Korean, adding to our understanding of loanword adaptation. To confirm these findings, we are currently collecting acoustic data from additional Korean speakers.

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How to Cite

Lim N, Kochetov A, Kang Y. Articulation and Acoustics of Korean Liquids: A Case Study in Loanword Adaptation. Canadian Acoustics [Internet]. 2023 Oct. 9 [cited 2023 Dec. 4];51(3):208-9. Available from:



Proceedings of the Acoustics Week in Canada