Korean language and culture series: The “Eun Jo-yah” syndrome, part 1

When Ki Hoon (played by Chun Jung Myung) called out “Eun Jo-yah” to Moon Geun Young’s character in Cinderella’s Sister (MBC, 2010), Eun Jo kept repeating to herself, “He called me Eun Jo-yah. He called me Eun Jo-yah.” And like that, female viewers squealed with delighted as they too repeated, “OMG, he called her Eun Jo-yah! He called her Eun Jo-yah!”

In fact, the Korean practice of adding “yah” or “ah” at the end of a name is the single most misunderstood and misused concept among international K-drama fans. Specifically, I often see two separate conceptual misunderstandings surrounding the use. The first will be discussed here. The second will be discussed in Part 2.

Confusion #1: What’s the difference in meaning between adding “yah” and “ah” at the end of a name? Is one or the other used to indicate gender, age, or something else?

Answer: There is no difference! Both “yah” (야) and “ah” (아) serve the same grammatical function (which will be discussed in a separate post). The only difference is that “yah” is added to names that end with a vowel sound, and “ah” to names that end with a consonant sound.

Note that I specified “sound,” and not “letter”. That’s due to the difference in the way Korean words get romanized into English. If you’re familiar with the Korean alphabet, however, the rule is simply that “yah” is used for names ending with a mo-eum (모음) and “ah” for names ending with a ja-eum (자음).

The use of “yah”

Example 1. Eun Jo’s name ends with the long “o” vowel sound (pronounced “oh”), and thus, Ki Hoon was correct in calling her “Eun Jo-yah.”

Example 2. Actor Park Yong Woo’s name ends with the short “u” vowel sound, pronounced like the “u” in the word “dude”.  Thus, “ya” would be used in Park Yong Woo’s name as well. (Yong Woo-yah)

Example 3. Actress Park Shin Hye’s name ends with the short “e” vowel sound (pronounced “eh”), and thus, “ya” should be used. (Shin Hye-yah)

Example 4. Although Shin Min Ah’s name ends with a consonant “h” as commonly spelled/romanized in English, the final sound is in fact a short “a” vowel sound (pronounced “ah”), and thus, “ya” would be the correct choice. (Min Ah-yah)

The use of “ah”

Example 1. In contrast, Ki Hoon’s name ends with the “n” consonant sound, and thus, “ah” would be used at the end of his name. (Ki Hoon-ah)

Example 2. Fans of My Girlfriend is a Gumiho are already  familiar with Miho’s favorite word to shout out. No, not “meat”, but “Dae Woong-ah”, of course! Dae Woong’s name ends with the “ng” consonant sound, so Miho was correct in calling him “Dae Woong-ah.” Miho was indeed a smart gumiho!

Example 3. Veteran actress Go Doo Shim’s name ends with the “m” consonant sound, and thus, “ah” would be the appropriate choice for her name. (Doo Shim-ah)

Pretty straightforward, right? Part 2 will discuss what exactly are “yah” and “ah,” why they are used, and whether they hold any significance like many fans believe them to be.

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7 Responses to Korean language and culture series: The “Eun Jo-yah” syndrome, part 1

  1. supah says:

    That was a really sweet scene.
    But I’ll be honest, the Eun-jo character p***ed me off no end and negated all of Ki-hoon’s sweetness. I couldn’t get past episode 6. But then we all know that drama wasn’t exactly a work of genius anyways.
    Another interesting point was how Seo-woo’s character Hyo-sun would refer to Eun-jo as ‘Unni-ya’.

  2. kcomments says:

    Oh dear , all I get from this post is ‘Yong Woo- yah’ *gigling like an idiot* ^^

  3. Rose says:

    Eun Jo kept repeating to herself, “He called me Eun Jo-yah. He called me Eun Jo-yah.” And like that, female viewers squealed with delighted as they too repeated, “OMG, he called her Eun Jo-yah! He called her Eun Jo-yah!” ROFL I felt exactly like this 😄 You’re Daebak !

    • mair says:

      but what is really the meaning of “ah” when it’s added at the name of a person in Korea?? because like what you said when Eun jo-yah was called you were all delighted ?

      • blue says:

        I’m currently working on writing this post. And just as a preview, the practice of adding “ah” or “yah” after the name of a person really does not have as much significance as some people believe.

  4. thangliani says:

    This was one of the many scenes that got me hooked to Cinderella’s Sister. Eun Jo was so pitiful, though I found the Hyo Seon character quite annoying, always following her sis around . C’mon giv Eun Jo a moment to breathe, she got enough to worry about. Nevertheless, both Moon Geun Young and Seo Woo did great job. I would not mind watching the series again and again, and spill tears once Eun Jo does so.

  5. nytah says:

    Ah! thanks so much, i was really confused on this.

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