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Korean honorifics beyond politeness markers

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Abstract

The purpose of this study is to show that Korean honorifics are not mere politeness markers or linguistic forms that speakers use passively, following social conventions. Rather, they are social indexes that can be used to construct one’s identity or change footing (Goffman 1981) in a given social context. The traditional understanding of honorifics has regarded them as linguistic forms reflecting relative social-positional differences and has assumed that social structure and language use have a one-to-one relationship. However, recent studies on honorifics argue that speakers of languages with an honorific system do not always choose honorifics passively based on social norms but sometimes actively and strategically choose honorific forms to meet the demands of a given context. From the perspective of social constructivism, this study examines conversations in Korean TV shows and demonstrates that Korean speakers often switch speech style from honorific to non-honorific without being rude. The present study argues that Korean speakers on TV constantly change footing and create shifting identities in order to make conversation dynamic and fun.

References

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