On Korean Fricatives

  • Published : 2000.09.01


Although Korean stops and affricates show a three-way contrast of phonemes into lax, tense and aspirated, Korean fricatives have only two types, so-called 'lax' and tense. Considering that all the other obstruents maintain a three-way distinction but fricatives, it might be interesting to investigate whether the lax fricatives are really 'lax' in their phonetic and phonological realizations, as assumed. From an acoustic analysis, I found that Korean lax fricatives had a heavy aspiration along with a high pitch for the following vowel, being more comparable to the aspirated category. By contrast, their durational properties were found to be short, or lax-like. In other words, Korean lax fricatives are phonetically neither lax nor aspirated, but both. This dual nature of the lax fricatives takes a better account of the fact that why lax fricatives are subject to tensification, but not aspiration phonologically. Is that simply because there is no aspirated fricative in Korean? I suggest that Korean lax fricatives undergo tensification because of their being short in duration, and that they are not subject to the aspiration rule because they are indeed aspirated sounds.