Beyond politeness markers: Multiple morphological and lexical differences index deferential meanings in Korean

Hyunji Kim, Bodo Winter, Lucien Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This paper investigates how politeness-related social meanings are indexed verbally and nonverbally. We focus on the contrast between “doing deference” and “performing intimacy” in Korean. We asked Korean students to perform a sequence of tasks, once to a professor (deferential condition) and once to a close friend (intimate condition) and analysed the production of a wide range of morphological and lexical forms, as well as nonverbal sound objects. Our analysis shows that the participants not only increased their use of address and referent honorifics when addressing the professor, but also increased their use of backchannels and ‘hissing’ sound objects, and decreased their use of um-/uh-type sound objects, case particle ellipsis, and ideophones. There were also weaker tendencies for participants to use more formal case markers and Sino-Korean lexical items when addressing the professor. Taken together, these results demonstrate that deference and intimacy are indexed via multiple channels, not just through the honorific markers that have been the focus of previous studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-220
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Honorifics
  • Ideophones
  • Indexicality
  • Korean
  • Politeness

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