Multimodal indexicality in Korean: “doing deference” and “performing intimacy” through nonverbal behaviour

Lucien Brown, Bodo Winter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This study investigates the nonverbal behaviors used in two interconnected relational practices in Korean: “doing deference” towards status superiors and “performing intimacy” towards status equals. We extracted 154 interactions from Korean televised dramas that represented these two relational practices, and annotated the data for various nonverbal behaviors, including body position and orientation, facial expressions, manual gestures, and touching. Our analyses showed that the protagonists in the dramas altered their nonverbal behavior between the two relational practices according to all of the categories that we annotated. Doing deference featured erect but constrained body positions, direct bodily orientation towards the status superior, and suppression of gestures and touching. These behaviors display decreased animatedness and freedom, as well as increased effort, and increased submissiveness. In contrast, performing intimacy displayed more relaxed and reciprocal body positioning, as well as frequent gestures and touching behaviors. The results call into question analyses of politeness phenomena that solely focus on verbal elements in previous descriptions of Korean deference. Ultimately, our results demonstrate the need for more multimodal studies in politeness research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-54
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Politeness Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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