How to Say Ry- in Japanese or Korean

Friday’s focus on the Korean Wave hallyu 韩流 (Trad. 韓流, Hangul 한류, Hiragana はんりゅう) got me thinking that I might have paused on the linguistic footnote of how to pronounce 流 (Hangul 류, Hiragana りゅう, Roman ryu) in Korean or Japanese. The Chinese liú is pretty straightforward, except that the ‘u’ is pronounced ‘o’, but the ry- in Korean and Japanese can cause a little trouble.

To put things into perspective, it’s not a huge deal. It’s not an extremely common combination in either language. 流 appears, however, in things like schools of sporting traditions or arts, like kyūdō (archery), taekwondo, and tea ceremony. Every time I go to Home Depot, I see it in their line of power tools called “Ryobi”. And most travelers to Japan will stay in a form of traditional inn called a “ryokan”.

English-speakers usually look at ry- and pronounce it as in the name Ryan, as in Rye-Oh. Or maybe ree-oh, so that ryokan often comes out REE-o-kan. In Japanese, the trick is to pretend the ‘r’ is a soft sort of ‘d’ sound. 流 is pronounced close to “dew” or “due” if you pronounce the vowel “yoo” and not so that the word rhymes with “do”.

Full disclosure. I do NOT speak Korean, but in my exhaustive research for this blog, I looked for videos of people speaking Korean and using words with ry-. Interestingly, I heard several people say that you should just pronounce 류 as “yu”, but if you listen to native speakers, you can hear a soft “d” sound in there as well. Linguists have never established a relationship between Korean and Japanese, but, in this regard, to my ear at least, the phonology is quite similar.

Thanks to Ellie for entering the raffle for Friday’s copy of our 500 Basic Korean Verbs by Kyubyong Park. Thanks, Ellie!

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