Expressive, Social and Gendered Meanings of Korean Honorifics

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-266
Number of pages25
JournalKorean Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • honorifics
  • idexicality
  • expressive meaning
  • social meaning
  • gender

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