LINGUISTIC POLITENESS IN KOREAN: Speech levels and terms of address

Young Mee Yu Cho, Jaehyun Jo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Highly systematic variations of honorific language are an integral part of Korean grammar, and, as such, have been the subject of intense research for the past four decades. Honorifics in the two languages are marked by a repertoire of linguistic elements, such as specialized honorific/humble vocabulary, suffixal alternation, and terms of address. This chapter focuses on two areas of Korean linguistic politeness: (1) the honorifics encoded by productive verbal endings, often known as the “Speech Levels” or “Addressee Honorifics, ” and (2) “Terms of Address” practiced in both South and North Korea. Earlier studies assume that an appropriate honorific or non-honorific form is chosen depending on the relationship between the interlocutors that is dictated by social factors such as age, status, and gender. The recent shift in politeness research, however, has been based on functional studies where the data warrant more complex analyses than relying on the fixed social relationship determined by the static notion of Power and Solidarity. Continual shifts in “Speech Levels” between honorific endings (Deferential and Polite) as well as between honorific and non-honorific endings (Intimate and Plain) are often observed in a single speech situation. Attempts have been made to understand the alternations in terms of indexical meanings of pragmatic islands in the discourse, psychological involvement, relationship resets, or footing shifts. Furthermore, there have been studies focusing on the use of honorifics in the negotiation of identity and listenership in interaction. Similarly, dynamic variations in “Terms of Address” call for a diachronic cultural study that examines divergences and convergences of the North Korea socialist practices and the South Korean capitalistic “euphemism treadmill.” Lastly, we briefly mention relevant aspects of the honorific language in Chinese and Japanese.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Asian Linguistics
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781000574463
ISBN (Print)9780367546991
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'LINGUISTIC POLITENESS IN KOREAN: Speech levels and terms of address'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this