Why do Koreans refer to Haiti as 아이티 (A-ee-ti)? My understanding is that the Haitian pronunciation contains an "H" sound. I imagine it would have been easy to replace the '아' with a '하'. Is it simply a matter of a single individual's (perhaps someone in the media) pronunciation mistake carrying over to an entire nation? I believe there are other instances of inexplicable pronunciation modifications, but this one seems particularly timely. Of course, I may be wrong about the native pronunciation. I don't believe there's an H sound in French. Is Aiti the correct pronunciation? Is it the English-speaking world that has it all wrong?
It is indeed the English-speaking world that has it all wrong. Check out this video of an IMF representative pledging support to Haiti in French.
No "H" to be found in Haiti -- the man pronounces like he is saying "IT".
And you are correct that Koreans refer to Haiti as "A-ee-tee". For example, at this link, you can see the news of an NGO called "Good Neighbors" delivering supplies to people of "아이티".
What comes into play here is Rule of Foreign Words Transliteration established by the National Institute of the Korean Language (국립국어원). Just like L'Academie francaise, NIKL governs all things related to Korean language, including how words that did not originate from Korea are supposed to be written. The overarching principle of the rule is to transliterate the words as they are pronounced in their language. Specifically, the Rule of Transliteration provides a chart that matches up the International Phonetic Alphabet to Korean characters, with more detailed rules in different languages such as English, Spanish, Japanese, French, etc.
The Korean likes this rule because it shows respect. Although Korean language sometimes has a separate name for a famous city in a foreign country -- for example, Sang-Hae (상해) for Shanghai (상하이) or Dong-Kyeong (동경) for Tokyo (도쿄) -- under this rule, Koreans are supposed to write them as 상하이 and 도쿄, not as 상해 or 동경. (In contrast, English-speakers have no qualms for calling Munchen as "Munich" or Praha as "Prague".) Calling a different country/culture with the name that they gave to themselves shows a lot more respect than calling with the name that we came up for them.
But it must be noted that, despite the good intentions, this rule is really hit-or-miss in practice. Because of some arbitrary elements in the rules, Korean transliteration of an English-based word is often unrecognizable, even accounting for the fact that certain sounds in English do not exist in Korean. This is particularly worse for American English pronunciation, because NIKL apparently based its rule on British English -- you know, where English came from originally. The result is that even though there may be better ways to transliterate things in Korean, following the rule gives out the worse transliteration.
For example, one such arbitrary rule is that you cannot use ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, ㅉ in transliteration, but use ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅅ, ㅊ if necessary. Another rule is that when p, t, k is followed by a consonant, the Korean vowel ㅡ needs to be attached to p, t, k. So the word "sickness" is transliterated as 시크니스 under the rule, while 씩니스 would be much closer to the actual pronunciation. Another arbitrary rule is that [ou] in the International Phonetic Alphabet should be transliterated with 오 ("o"). Under this rule, the word "boat" is transliterated as 보트, while 보우트 might be closer to the actual pronunciation.
From the Guardian (UK)
At any rate, this is not important. What's important is what is happening in Haiti. Did you donate? It's fast and easy: text HAITI to 90999, and you can donate $10 to the Red Cross in the relief effort.
-EDIT 1/25/2010- To complement the Korean's near-total ignorance of French, David from Ask a Frenchman! came to the rescue. Here is the Frenchman's comment:
Just one detail, the guy is not just "an IMF representative" but he is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the current Director of the IMF, former Minister of Finances (1997-2002) and Minister of Industry (1991-1993) in the French government, and possibly future French President (in the current polls he'd win if the elections were these days).Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Concerning Haiti, the name is originally a Taino name meaning "Mountain in the Sea" or something like that and it didn't have a "H" in its pronunciation, the H appeared when it was first written (by the French) but keep in mind that in French, H is never pronounced (only in "ch" pronounced like "sh" in English). Thus, the original, and subsequent French pronunciation (French still being the official language of Haiti -with Haitian Créole) is something like "A.E.T" in English (that's what Strauss-Kahn says in the video, although it could sound like "IT".