Edited by John Whitman and Lucien Brown
[Korean Linguistics 17:2] 2015
► pp. 242–266
Expressive, social and gendered meanings of Korean honorifics
Traditional research on Korean honorifics has tended to assume that these forms have fixed meanings such as deference and respect. In this paper, I argue that such meanings only represent the most prototypical and normative expressive meanings of honorific forms. By surveying recent pragmatics and sociolinguistic research, I show how honorifics can communicate a variety of context-specific affective meanings. Some of these meanings, such as sarcasm and factuality, are very distant from the presumption that honorifics are markers of deference. In addition to affective meanings, I also argue that honorifics have social meanings. In other words, when speakers use honorifics, these forms communicate something about the speaker’s own identity. Someone who uses honorifics well may be perceived as educated, well-bred and even as a “good” Korean. Finally, I discuss how honorifics are tied up with gendered meanings in Korean speech and how phonetics may be playing a role.
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