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Transliteration of Korean family name

Posted: 2005-12-12, 18:29
by Pips
Can anyone tell me why the very common Korean surname 이 is usually transliterated/pronounced in English as "Lee"? Where the heck does that "L" come from?

Posted: 2005-12-12, 18:32
by Psi-Lord
I've once seen it transliterated as Rhee / Ree, too. Go figure. :lol:

Posted: 2005-12-13, 0:02
by Kirk
Because it came from a historical Chinese word which had /l/ in it, but that /l/ has since disappeared in Modern Korean. However, out of historical analogy or the simple desire to not Romanize the name to "I" (which is what it would be under Korean Romanization) it's usually given a spelling with <l> and more rarely with <r>. Sometimes "Yee" or "Yi" are also seen.

If you're curious, a while ago I posted a message which showed how many people at my university had last names with different versions of the spelling. Not surprisingly, "Lee" was most common, but there were 8 spelling variations in total. Here's my earlier post.

Posted: 2005-12-13, 3:06
by Karavinka
이(李) is originally pronounced "리."

But when a word starts with ㄹ the initial sound ㄹ changes to ㅇ, therefore '리' as a surname becomes '이.' This is called 'Initial Law.' -- when the character 李 is placed in the middle or the end of the word, it is pronounced '리.'

It is transcribed into (most often) Lee in English because such law doesn't exist in English. (Well, at least this is my guess.)

Initial Law doesn't exist in North Korean standard language, so their name is written 리 without modification.

Rhee is an alternative spelling but it's rarely used nowadays.

Posted: 2005-12-16, 16:09
by 勺园之鬼
noir wrote:이(李) is originally pronounced "리."

But when a word starts with ㄹ the initial sound ㄹ changes to ㅇ, therefore '리' as a surname becomes '이.' This is called 'Initial Law.' -- when the character 李 is placed in the middle or the end of the word, it is pronounced '리.'

It is transcribed into (most often) Lee in English because such law doesn't exist in English. (Well, at least this is my guess.)

Initial Law doesn't exist in North Korean standard language, so their name is written 리 without modification.

Rhee is an alternative spelling but it's rarely used nowadays.


South Koreans and the pronunciation are so strange... :P ;)

noir, Kirk, I saw 이/리 spelled according to many strange ways in bilingual lists of Korean students studying in China (hanja + romanisation), and the strangest I bumped into was "Leigh"... :lol: Did any of you see that? This made me laugh so hard. :P