Korean speakers: pronunciation of Kim Jong Il's name?

Yesterday I was watching a National Geographic thing on North Korea. The Bulgarian subtitles referred to Kim Jong Il as Kim Cheng Ir. Is this a more accurate representation than the common English version of the Dear Leader’s name?

I have no idea how to phonetically write things out, but I’ll give it my best shot.
One of the problem lies with the K. It’s not a true K sound like you hear in “Kit Kat.” It’s closer to a hard G, like “Gun.” The “i” isn’t a short i like “is” but longer, more like “ee” but shorter.
So far we have:

Jong is pretty close to how I would say it, although I’d probably lengthen the “o” sound and shorten the “ng” sound.

Il is also an “ee” sound, and the “l” is not a true l like in English. The l is closer to a mix of R and L (which explains why so many Korean/Japanese speakers have a hard time pronouncing R and L).

Geem Joong Eel

Now, I’ll sit back and wait for somebody with real knowledge of how to write things out correctly comes along.

Set your browser to display Korean text and then examine the name of the “dear leader” displayed below:


As audiobottle mentioned, the first letter is not actually a K sound. It’s a hard G sound. The second letter is the long e sound as in seem. The third letter is the M. So you could, if it serves you better, transliterate the family name as Geem.

The second and third syallables are Kim’s (Gim’s) personal name. For the second syllable, the first letter is now transliterated as J. The second letter is the schwa (sounds like uh in “Uh, excuse me?”). The third letter is the ng sound as in sing. For the third syllable the ng at the beginning is silent and serves to “carry the vowel.” The vowel is the long e and the last letter is simply the L sound.

Current Republic of Korea Romanization would render his name as Gim, Jeong-Il. As the “dear leader” was widely known with a previous Romanization system’s rendering, the government here decided to leave well enough alone.

audiobottle’s comment

is erroneous.

The phonetic inventories of Japanese and Korean are quite different. Japanese does not have the L sound; whereas, Korean has both the L and the R sounds. Koreans, therefore, have no problem with pronouncing the R and the L sounds. The issue lies more in insufficient instruction than in native language phonetics or phonology.

(In case you’re wondering, I do live in Korea and I obtained my Linguistics degree back in the US. I also speak Korean; however, not as well as I would hope nor as well as I did many years ago.)

This is way out of my area of working knowledge, but I just thought I’d share a line out of this wiki article on the Dear Leader.

Assuming that is accurate, I guess the Sovs thought it sounded like “Ir,” too.

It really doesn’t matter what the Russians thought it sounds like. The simple fact of the matter (that matter being Korean phonetics) is that the short dude with the tall hair has a name that ends with an L sound. A lot of people in English-speaking lands think that the surname 박 sounds like it has an R in there, thus rendering it as Park. The OP asked what the Korean pronunciation is for Fuller-brush-top’s name is.

It’s not just translations that get lost in going from one language to another. Transliterations can get skewed/side-tracked/run-over/pick-your-favorite-metaphor too. Here’s an example. My personal name has just two syllable in English. Yet, just about every Korean I meet swears they hear it as three syllables. One Korean, the bishop in my previous ward, actually heard it the way I pronounce it. The odd thing is that the Korean phonetic system can handle that name just fine as the correct two syllables.

Could one of you perhaps describe the sounds in terms of IPA symbols? I don’t know of any way to display them here, but a description like, “a pharyngealized retroflex lateral approximant*” would help me greatly in understanding what is meant by and how to pronounce stuff like, “a hard G sound.”
*Not that I’d know how to twist that one out of my mouth.

I’ll try the breakdown (hope I get this right, I’m weak on vowels):
[Korean letter] [English transliteration] [IPA] [phonetic description]

ㄱ g k voiceless unaspirated velar plosive
ㅣ i i close front unrounded vowel
ㅁm m bilabial nasal

ㅈ j d​͡z voiced unaspirated alveolar affricate
ㅓ eo ə mid central unrounded vowel
ㅇ ng ŋ velar nasal
empty Ø no sound
ㅣ i i close front unrounded vowel
ㄹ l l alveolar lateral approximant

To an American English speaker, the only difficult part is the “ㄱ” sound. Our “k” sound is usually a voiceless aspirated velar plosive and our “g” is a voiced unaspirated velar plosive. So the Korean “ㄱ” is in a sense between the “k” and “g”. Very tricky without a sharp ear.

I say, “K to the J to the I-L”. But, that’s just me and Mad TV.

Is this really true? I can’t speak for Japanese, but in Korean at least the ㄹ has always sounded more like an inbetweener of L and R. Sort of like the Spanish rolled RR, but without the roll. I know that all my family has a very difficult time saying “rear”, for instance. I can definitely believe that Koreans could learn to pronounce L and R with proper education, but I’m not convinced that Korean has L and R.

Korean easily has L and R sounds. Generally, if the consonant is at the begining of the syllable, it has an R sound. At the end (like in the Leader’s name) it has the L sound.
If there is one at the end of a syllabel and begining of the next, you get a double L sound just like Molly or Golly.

롤리-폴리 would be pronounced "Rolly-Polly even by an untrained, non-English educated Korean.

Yes, it’s really true. If you really need convincing, consider the following names:

and, of course,

The difficulty for some native Korean speakers when attempting to pronounce the English word rear comes from the the phonotactics of English which “flys in the face of” the phonotactics of Korean: the R at the end of a Korean word is not pronounced as an English R, but rather as an English (and Korean) L.

“Kim Jong the Second”, of course.

What is interesting is that some Korean words/names that are transliterated with an initial “R” are pronounced as an “N.” As in former President Roh, who was referred to in newscasts (in the US) as “President No.” There used to be several threads on the Korean R/N. . . situation, but they seem to have disappeared.

Yeah, I hate it. On the 호적 my last name is spelled 레노 which looks to me like “Reno” or even worse, “Leno”. It should be spelled “네노” but because of some damn gramatical rule that I dont fully understand, it gets spelled the other way when my whole name is written.

It’s 베어_, damnit!

I’m sure you’re right, but my guess is that that’s probably what influenced the wacky Bulgarian transliteration.

Thanks for the information, everyone.

Hmm… now that I say those names to myself, I guess there are R and L sounds. I learn a little something every day. However, I think that 네노곰씨 (^^) has the sounds backwards in his 롤리폴리 example. As a test, since I’m not a 100% native speaker (having grown up in America), I asked my cousin (I’m currently in Korea) to say it. She said, “Loly Poly.” Very clear cut L sound at the beginning of Lo and Ly.

I hear he’s rearry, rearry ronery.

:: D&R ::