About a year ago I read an article about Seoul in a magazine. I already forgot what the article was about, but I can still vividly remember my annoyance when I noticed that the author spelled Seoul as ‘Seoel’. As first I thought this was just an error on the author’s part which had somehow escaped the editor’s attention. When I decided to Google it however, I realized that Seoel has in fact become a valid spelling in Dutch. Apparently Seoul is also still valid as well, but it seems that most Dutch language sites, including the Dutch version of Wikipedia and the KLM website, use Seoel as its spelling. I find this to be rather baffling, because I believe that this change in spelling is actually the result of the erroneous pronunciation of Seoul in Dutch instead of there being a well thought out reason behind it. Let me try to explain.
The official English spelling of Seoul is based on the Revised Romanization of Korean (RR), and it is broken up into these two parts: Seo(서) and Ul(울). The way you pronounce Seo is like the first part of sock (or sok in Dutch), so eo is pronounced as a short o, which may be a bit counter-intuitive at first. The way you pronounce Ul is like ool as in pool (or oel as in poel in Dutch). So Seoul would sound somewhat alike to soul (hence the ‘Korea’s got Seoul’ pun you might have come across), albeit with a short o instead of a long o. Continue reading