Samsung, Chilsung, Subaru

Samsung is a South Korean company best known for mobile phones and other consumer electronics. Its name in Korean 삼성 (sam-seong), means “three stars”, but doesn’t refer to any three stars in particular. The Korean pronunciation is closer to /samsɒŋ/ (psalm song), but almost everyone in English-speaking countries pronounces it /sæmsʌŋ/ (Sam sung). In fact, I was prompted to write this by a video on photography in which the presenter pronounced it /sæmsʊŋ/ (closest to Sam should). Korean doesn’t have a close equivalent to English /ʊ/.

Chilsung is a very popular brand of lemonade (cider) made by the Lotte Corporation. Its name in Korean 칠성 (chil-seong) means “seven stars”, and refers to the Big Dipper. I haven’t heard enough foreigners pronounce to know how they pronounce it. Spelling both words with a u messes up foreigners’ conception of the vowel. Revised Romanisation transliterates it eo and McCune–Reischauer ŏ. u transliterates ㅜ (/u/) in both systems.

Subaru is Japanese company best known for motor vehicles. Its name also means “seven stars”, but refers to the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. Why are there only six stars on the Subaru logo, then? According to Wikipedia, “tradition” (?Japanese) says that one of them (?stars) is invisible. (The Pleiades actually contains nine prominent stars.) I assume this information (from English Wikipedia) is correct, because the Japanese Wikipedia page for the company is titled スバル and that for the star cluster プレアデス星団, but Google Translate gives the pronunciation for the latter as Pureadesu, which is obviously a transliteration of the English/Greek. I can’t see the word スバル on the page for the star cluster, orプレアデス on the page for the car company, but my ability to read Japanese letters is close to non-existent.

The Japanese pronunciation differs from the English in one or two ways. Definitely, the Japanese vowel in the first and third syllables is different – /ɯ/ (high back unrounded) and not /u/ (high back rounded). Possibly, Japanese is more evenly stressed, so su-ba-ru, rather than su-b-ru.

(As lower-intermediate as my Korean is, it’s way better than my Japanese, so take everything in the second half of this post with a high degree of caution. If anyone actually knows Japanese, please comment (politely).)

(Sometimes foreign companies choose a pronunciation in English which is different from that in the original language. In Korean, 현대 (hyeon-dae) is two syllables, but all the advertising in Australia pronounces it as three. And apparently at first, Australian pronounced it he-un-die, because there was a series of ads with the slogan All day, every day, he-un-day. LG took the easy way out.)

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7 thoughts on “Samsung, Chilsung, Subaru

  1. In American English, rarely (these days) the best source of correctness of pronunciation or grammar for almost anything, I have only heard Hyundai pronounced in two syllables, hun day (Sunday with an H).

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  2. I have never heard that American pronunciation. If that’s the pronunciation they’ve adopted themselves, it’s strange that they’ve adopted two different pronunciations in two different markets.

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  3. Browse the internet for long enough and you’ll stumble across something relevant. From the TV Tropes page on ‘No pronunciation guide’:
    “The correct Korean pronounciation of “Hyundai” is something like Hyun Die; most American pronounce it “Hun Day” because the company’s U.S. division always has, the automotive divison going as far as putting “rhymes with Sunday” in its early print ads. British/Irish advertisements (and, consequently, motorists) use the more accurate (but still wrong) “hie-UN-die”. And Australians pronounce it “hee-UN-day”, a weird mixture of the American and British versions. Go figure. (“Hun-Die” (very no “y”) has been spotted in the southern US, but this is probably just a complete misreading of the name. )
    The real (i.e. Korean) pronunciation of Hyundai (in the transliteration system currently favored by the Korean government it is spelled “hyeondae”) is actually closer to the common way of pronouncing it in the US than “Hyun Die”. While “hyun” (being a single syllable) is a somewhat accurate representation of the Korean pronunciation using English orthography, “die” is blatantly wrong. Since most Anglophones seem utterly incapable of pronouncing a long “e” sound (not the English “e” but roughly like a longer version of the “e” in “bend”) without corrupting it into a diphthong (the “ay” in “day”) if a syllable ends with the vowel “e” in many foreign languages, “hyunday” is really the closest the vast majority of monoglot Anglophones are going to get to the original pronunciation. In summary, if you want to be as faithful as possible to the Korean pronunciation, “hyunday” (two syllables) really is your best shot.”

    I disagree with their first sentence. The second syllable of the Korean pronunciation is definitely closed to ‘day’.

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      • As a foreigner, I find the pronunciation of ㅐ very hard to pin down. It sounds slightly different (longer, more like a diphthong) at the end of 현대 (though that might be the effect of foreign pronunciations) than in the middle of 대구 and 대전, and very different in 태권도 (more like tie-, but again that might be the effect of foreign pronunciations). The other day I heard a word on my wife’s Korean television which struck me as a very strong ‘ay’, but I can’t remember what it was.

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  4. i read somewhere that the seventh star is invisible to us now but 100,000 years ago when the star story originated it would have been more visible at the time. i’ve wonder why and how the korean seven came to refer to the dipper… and if it has anything to do with “ursa major” the big bear and the bear woman creation story.

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  5. Thank you for your interesting comment. I don’t know enough to say yes or no to that. In Korea, are those northern stars associated with bears? Wikipedia says that in China and Japan, they are called “the north dipper”, but in Korea simply “the seven stars of the north”, and are associated with a folk story about a widow with seven sons. Do you know any sources about Korean astronomy or folk stories about stars?

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