Honorific language and linguistic politeness in Korean
  • ISSN 0257-3784
  • E-ISSN: 2212-9731
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The aim of the present paper is to revisit earlier studies on the evolution of Korean honorifics and, following a brief survey of the contemporary system, (a) overview the historical development of Korean honorific patterns from Old Korean to Contemporary Korean and (b) propose to account, on a principled basis, for the evolutional processes in the framework of grammaticalization. I assume that Korean honorifics have evolved due essentially to the three interdependent language/culture-specific forces: structural, socio-cultural, and interactional, as directed by the language-universal principles and processes of grammaticalization. The essence of the structural forces is the agglutinative, predicate-final, and head-final morpho-syntactic nature of Korean. This typological salience is a crucial condition under which honorific affixes and particles may be germinated. Socio-cultural forces include the Korean people’s traditional and contemporary socio-cultural systems, values, and norms of hierarchism and collectivism, as language is regarded as reflecting culture and society. Koreans’ hierarchism and collectivism are sufficiently manifested in the structure and use of the language (e.g. H. Sohn 1986). The interactional forces are Koreans’ society/culture/context-bound interpersonal language use for communicative purposes. These three interlocking forces are assumed to have motivated and sustained a dynamic set of addressee and referent honorific contrasts in Korean, which have evolved as driven by the universal principles and processes of grammaticalization.


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