The spread of the High toned /il/ in Seoul Korean: from ‘one’ to other meanings

Sunghye Cho


Seoul Korean is known to show a LH-LH phrasal tonal pattern in an Accentual Phrase (AP), unless an AP-initial consonant is tensed or aspirated (Jun 1993, 2000). Since an AP shows LHLH unless the phrase-initial segment is tensed or aspirated, a vowel-initial AP is expected to show LHLH. However, Jun & Cha (2011) report that an AP-initial /il/ is sometimes produced with a H tone. Their study finds that i) younger speakers aged less than the mid 40s are more likely to produce /il/ with a H tone; ii) out of three meanings of /il/, ‘one (1)’, ‘day’, and ‘work’, /il/ meaning ‘one’ is most frequently produced with a H tone; iii) the High toned /il/ seems to be a unique feature of Seoul Korean.

Since Jun & Cha (2011) is the only previous study on the phenomenon, there is still much to be learned about its development. In particular, considering that many studies on linguistic changes have shown that a linguistic change is the most advanced among adolescents (e.g., Trudgill, 1974; Labov, 2001; and among others), it is hard to fully describe a developing sound change without investigating teenagers. Thus, I examine the High toned /il/ phenomenon by conducting a production experiment with 40 speakers of Seoul Korean and I provide further evidence that the phenomenon is spread to all meanings of /il/.

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