Andrew Sangpil Byon
August 16, 2006
Many cross-linguistic studies have argued for a positive correlation between politeness and linguistic indirectness. While Anglo-American studies have asserted that this correlation is universal, many non-Anglo-American cross-linguistic studies have argued otherwise. Although indirectness is one of the main stereotypical characteristics attributed to Koreans, and indirectness is used strategically in order to indicate politeness, Korean is unique in having its own language-specific means of indicating politeness (honorifics). This paper investigates the link between politeness and the indirectness of speech acts by analyzing Korean request head act forms produced in the “Discourse Completion Tasks” (DCT) of 50 Korean native speakers. The findings of this empirical study highlight three important aspects of Korean language use in relation to directness and politeness. Firstly, it reveals how Koreans manipulate honorific elements along with the directness level of their speech acts to indicate the social meaning of politeness. Secondly, the paper proposes that the manipulation of honorifics along with the selection of a certain directness level is triggered by socio-cultural constraints unique to Korean society. Thirdly, the findings of the study, that the direct link between politeness and linguistic indirectness is not endorsed in the case of Korean, support the view that the relationship between indirectness and politeness has to be understood from a language- and culture-specific perspective.