Ban Ki-Moon, Lee Mung Bak (Pronunciation)


Senior Member
Hi there,
My question is about these names that are pronounced quite differently between English and Japanese. So that makes me wonder
1. How are the names pronounced in Korean?
2. Why do Korean names have 2 pronunciations?

English => Japanese
Ban Ki-Moon => Pan Gi-Moon
Li Myung Bak => I Myun Bak

Thanks for any help you can give me..
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  • 코미디 갤러리

    My suggestion is to go to Arirang News (google it) and listen to what the announcer pronounces their names.

    The announcers are all Korean-born.

    I found that Jan 16, 2009 version has both "Ban Ki-Moon" and "Lee Myung Bak" in the transcript. You can perhaps use Ctrl+F on the transcript window^^

    And no, there is only one way to pronounce Korean names in Korea. The Japanese, of course, adopted their own ways of pronouncing Korean names but as closely as possible!
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    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Hello Comedy Gallery,

    I think gerardovox was asking if you might want to explain what the Korean pronunciations would be. I checked the news site you recommended and now I have two questions.

    1. Which transcription do you think is closer to the native pronunciation of 潘基文; the English <Ban Ki-Moon> or the Japanese <Pan Gi-Mun>? I listened to a clip with the native pronunciation of the name of the UN Secretary General and I didn't hear any /b/ or /k/. (And I am not sure if English speakers would hear them either.)

    2. "Li Myung Bak => I Myun Bak"
    The name of your president sounds to me <I Myong Bak> or <Yi...>; no /l/ involved. Does 李 have different pronunciations according to the position it has in a word? I know 行李 is /hengni/, so I wonder if <I> is another variation of 李. I am wondering if the English practise of transcribing 李 as <Li> is a convention that reflects a traditional pronunciation.

    코미디 갤러리

    I think I misunderstood the questions...

    1. Ban Gi Moon is the closest pronunciation. (closer than Pan) But it's not quite the same as English "b".
    2. There's ongoing discussion as to change "Lee" to the way it is (and should be!) pronounced, which is "Yi". Especially among linguists. But it's quite customary up to this day to romanize the surname as "Lee".

    It's possible some people with the surname "李" choose to use "Yi" in their passports.


    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I'm guessing the "b" in Ban-Ki Moon is actually a non-aspirated [p]. The "p" in "Pan" (pronounced the English way) is normally aspirated, IPA [pʰ].

    It seems that the transliteration of Korean follows similar conventions to Pinyin: b, d, g for unaspirated plosives, and p, t, k for aspirated plosives.

    Here's the UN norm for transliterating Korean. You can read more about this on Wikipedia.


    Senior Member
    Hello :)
    Wow, almost a month had passed since you posted the question;;

    Before we go, you should know it's not a problem of a language usage, but of following a 'ramanization' rule.
    I believe you know that every nation has a (or more) rule(s) for romanization of its own language, regardless of who made the rule.
    ('Romanization' is to write a language in Roman characters.)
    It is used for global official works, I believe.

    Korea didn't have its own romanization rule until 2000,
    so we had used McCune-Reischauer romanization and Yale romanization.
    You can use those Wikipedia links for more information,
    but shortly, they were romanization rules made by Americans.

    However, because they were made by foreigners,
    it did not reflect how Korean was actually read by Koreans,
    it just followed how Korean was sounded to foreigners (especially Americans, native-English-speakers.)

    So they had inconsistency with real Korean.
    The biggest inconsistency appears when Americans hear pronunciation of the first consonant of Korean.
    Korean has initial and final consonant.
    For example '반', 'ㅂ' is the initial consonant and 'ㄴ' is the final one.
    As far as I know, for Americans, it is sounded much stronger than it really is.

    So, for example, a Roman character 'p' indicated a Korean consonant 'ㅂ',
    which is pronunciated almost like 'b' by Koreans.

    Therefore the Korean government made Revised Romanization of Korean.
    It reflects how Korean is actually sounded and should be read.
    So, for the name of the Secretary General, 'Pan' was once used, but now 'Ban' is correct.
    (Unless the UN does not have its own romanization rule.)

    Maybe those confusions are from this change.
    According to the Revised Romanization of Korean,
    the correct romanization is 'Ban Gi-Moon' and 'I Myeong Bak.'

    But the thing is,
    there are few Koreans who know how we should romanize Korean,
    so most of them just follow what they had seen and used before.
    Moreover, for names, lots of people are already using their names officially
    following the old romanization rule(ex. for passports).

    Especially, the first name '이(which you wrote as Li)' is the most tricky one.
    According to the Korean grammar,
    the consonant 'ㅇ' is actually 'NOT' pronounciated when it comes as the initial consonant.
    It's pronunciation just follows the pronunciation of the next vowel letter.
    But we actually write it, because Korean language does not allow a word written without a consonant.

    So if the word '이' is used in a word, it does not have any problem,
    because just writing it 'i' can be read by foreigners.
    Ex- ITAEWON (a place in Korea)
    But for 'the first name', the 'I' is seperated,
    so it has high possibility to be read [ai], not by foreigners.
    It is why no Korean use 'I' for writing the first name,
    and they usually add 'Y' in front of 'i' (so 'Yi') or just use 'Lee' like they used before.

    For name..
    In Korea, for convenience, many kinds of romanization are accepted.
    (Some Koreans just write a name in Roman character as it sounded,
    without knowing the official rule. It's not correct, but it's accepted even officially.)
    It's tricky, but it's from the difference of langauges.

    It is differently written even in newspapers.
    Alhough Korean official rule says 'Lee' should be 'Yi (or I),'
    if foreign countries still use 'Lee,' it's hard to decide.
    Actually the romanization rule is for the foreigners, not for ourselves.

    Now almost all English newspapers which publicated in Korea by or through Korean newspaper companies
    just follow how foreign newspapers actually write the name, not our own rule.

    It.. is so long.
    Hoping it helps you. :)
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    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Tourmaline, welcome and thank you for comments.

    A lot of things you said can draw a parallel with what I see in Japanese. Very enlightening.


    Canada English
    I think I misunderstood the questions...

    1. Ban Gi Moon is the closest pronunciation. (closer than Pan) But it's not quite the same as English "b".
    2. There's ongoing discussion as to change "Lee" to the way it is (and should be!) pronounced, which is "Yi". Especially among linguists. But it's quite customary up to this day to romanize the surname as "Lee".

    It's possible some people with the surname "李" choose to use "Yi" in their passports.

    I see that many learners are concerned with the aspirated and tense consonants. Actually, knowing the 억양 of words that have these consonants is really the key in getting koreans to understand you. English words tend to have only one major stress in any one word (although there are exceptions like floccinaucinihilipilification), Korean words often can be more than one stress in any given word. Where the stress is located, and how often the syllables are stressed depend on how the words are spelled, and where it is located in a sentence. In English, more often or not, stress is dictated by how a word is constructed (not necessarily how it is spelled) and where the word comes from.

    Take the word "scientist" for example. Many koreans will associate the "sci" with a ㅆ. Once you have a stress at the beginning of word, the entire word will be spoken with a high pitch, all the will until the last letter of the word. So, while in English, it is pronounced, hi-low-low, the korean pronunciation will be hi-hi-low. Using the same rule, you will see that 커다 is pronounced hi-low, but 커다랗다 is hi-hi-hi-low

    This is just a simple introduction to 억양 to 표준어. There are certainly other rules and exceptions to the above.


    Canada English
    Going back to the origional question:

    When a word starts with any of the tense or aspirated consonants or ㅎ or ㅅ, the word will be stressed (high pitched) all the way until the very last syllable. However, when letters such as ㅂ,ㅈ,ㄷ,ㄱ,ㅁ,ㄴ,ㅇ,ㄹ start any word, the whole word will NOT be stressed.

    for example, 이튿날 will not be lo-hi-lo, but more or less like lo-lo-lo.

    Notice that in English, words with no stress, or words with multiple stress are extremely uncommon. Actually, in English, the only unstressed words are non-important single syllabic words such as "the, a".

    In English, Ban is a word with a single stress. Ki-moon has 2 vowels, with an obvious long vowel on the "moon". Often, stress is placed on the longer vowel. So, in English, we will have:

    Ban Ki-Moon hi-lo-hi

    In korean, however, it would be lo-lo-lo (ㅂ,ㄱ,ㅁ)

    Koreans often say that their language does not have tones like the ones in Chinese. Yes, that's true, but make sure you don't confuse that with "intonation" or 억양.


    Senior Member
    Wow, thank you all for your detailed insights-- mostly I am fascinated by how other languages are represented in the sound/writing systems of other languages.
    What I find most fascinating is names.
    When I worked in sales I remember reading somewhere "One's own name is the sweetest sound anyone will ever hear" And there is nothing worse than mispronouncing a name, especially a VIP...I guess its refreshing that we can all make accommodations for speakers of other languages
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