Exploring the Contrast Transitions of Korean Vowels: An Information-theoretic View

Ponghyung Lee 1 ,
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1Daejeon University
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ⓒ Copyright 2017 Language Education Institute, Seoul National University. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Feb 24, 2017 ; Revised: Mar 29, 2017 ; Accepted: Apr 16, 2017

Published Online: Apr 30, 2017


What present study purports is to explore two kinds of contrast transitions occurring to Korean vowel inventory, i.e. diphthongization of front rounded vowels /y/ and /ø/ and merger of front mid-vowels /e/ and /ɛ/. Overall, our endeavors start from the premise that the weak contrast associated with concerned vocalic segments might bring about the wavering of what they sound like. The null hypothesis is that the correlates derived from a certain amount of information as a measure of communicative efficiency deeply impact the determination of the degree of contrast among phonological units. For the purpose, relying on the corpora based on written and spoken texts, and other subsidiary data sources, the intervention of surprisal, entropic contribution, relative contrastiveness, and perceptual distance is examined as part of diagnostics on the segmental changes over time. What we found therein is that for a proper explication of /y/-/ø/ disintegration and /e/-/ɛ/ merger, the Information-theoretic approach is compelling to a certain extent.

Keywords: Korean contrast; Information Theory; /y/-/ø/ disintegration; /e/-/ɛ/ merger