Korean Language and Culture


Cultural practices vividly indicate the way of life of various communities across the world. All nations are differentiated on this basis. For example, cultural practices found in the East, in countries like China and Japan, differ from those in the Western countries, such as the United States. The cultural practices are synonymous with the majority of people who adhere to them and pass them from one generation to the other. The interaction between different communities, referred to as cross-cultural interaction, allows people to understand, learn, and appreciate the cultural practices of other nationalities. Cross-cultural interactions become useful when foreigners work outside of their home nations. Adapting some of the cultural practices allows a foreigner to adjust to the community. In the Korean language, politeness has been identified as the major aspect in the society that governs people’s behavior (Bousfield & Grainger, 2010; Brown, Winter, Idemaru, & Grawunder, 2014). However, politeness is defined and differentiated based on one’s gender. The studies conducted in numerous countries indicate that women are more polite compared to men, irrespective of nationality (Kang, 2007). These studies were piloted in the United States, New Zealand, and other parts of Asia. However, the studies also indicate that the extent of politeness largely depends on the cultural practices of individual communities, especially on how these communities contextualize politeness in their societies and the status of an individual within it.

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Literature Review

The politeness theory combines politeness that is based on the motion of the face, linguistic politeness, characterized by the ability to respect the autonomy of other parties and known as negative politeness, and positive politeness, that emphasizes the appreciation and connectedness among individuals (Brown, 2010; Brunet, Cowie, Donnan, & Douglas-Cowie, 2012). Reciprocity, power, and distance are considered to be three important elements associated with politeness (Kang, 2007). Politeness is also governed by other factors, including age and social status of an individual. Women are largely guided by aspects related to reciprocity when compared to men, who prefer aspects related to power and distance within the society (Kang, 2007). It explains the major differences between the two sexes. Among Korean women, politeness is governed by two factors, such as indirectness and the notion of power (Leech, 2007). Indirectness normally refers to an indirect form of speech which may not directly relate to the use of writing. In one of the studies conducted in order to investigate the levels of gender politeness among Korean graduate students, all participants, both male and female, were required to fill a form that had several politeness markers (Brown et al., 2014; Leech, 2007). The results revealed that the use of writing as an indirect form of politeness had no differences among both male and female students. Therefore, these studies indicate that formal writing does not necessarily show any form of politeness.

When investigating whether the women’s politeness is powerless, it is necessary to identify the specific nature of power that is questioned. In traditional Korean societies, power and class are largely dominated by men, and therefore, it can be stated that the politeness in this society is guided by the status of women and men within it (Byon, 2012; Huang, 2008). In Korean societies, men are given more power as compared to women, and consequently, they are more likely not to show politeness. However, women from the higher classes in the society are more likely to speak a different kind of language unlike the male individuals who come from the lower strata.

Power is perceived differently in various societies and cultures. It is characterized by the cultural practices of people. For example, both American and Japanese women are considered to be powerless in the society, even though they exist within different cultural contexts. American women speak a more powerless language when compared to males, while both Japanese women and men speak a powerless language (Brown et al., 2014). Within the American context, power is given to all people and allowed to be practiced in the society. In Japanese culture, power is defined on the basis of the status and role played by an individual in the society.

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In Korean culture, gender differences are largely gender-preferential instead of being gender-exclusive. Ideally, it means that some form of expressions in the culture is associated with men and women and vice versa. Unlike other languages, such as English, French, and Italian, which have grammatical gender ideologies, the Korean language does not contain this aspect. Grammatical gender is used to distinguish between the language spoken by males and females (Byon, 2012; Hatfield & Hahn, 2011; Huang, 2008).

There are several strategies that can be used to investigate whether the languages are polite. These strategies include the use of tag questions, ambiguous expressions, hedges, and honorifics. Tag questions have been used in various cultures and verified as one of the common language innovations utilized by women. This fact has been revealed by the studies conducted in New Zealand. Tag questions have been utilized for both legitimate and illegitimate use in the society and classified as being both speaker- and hearer-oriented (Brown, 2010; Brunet et al., 2012). It is common for people, especially women, to confirm the provided information. New Zealand women have been noticed to frequently use tag questions as a method of indicating politeness, especially when it comes to receiving the instructions from any party. Therefore, the increased use of the tag questions has been closely associated with politeness in the Korean context, and it may serve as an indicator of politeness in the society among Korean women.

Humility and modesty are considered to be two critical issues that are highly regarded in Korean culture, though this fact has been changing over time. Korean culture is based on the use of a different form of hedges, such as phrasal, lexical, and structural. Hedges are more commonly utilized by women rather than by men, and they are the elaborate examples of the markers of politeness in the language of women. The use of hedges has been applied to soften specific stands and utterances, as opposed to the use of boosters, which strengthen the force of utterances and are preferred by the individuals tending to abuse the power, thus making them a marker of impoliteness in the society (Brown et al., 2014; Murphy & Levy, 2006). Similarly to hedges, the use of ambiguous expressions has been associated with an increase in modesty and politeness, since it reduces the high level of definitiveness that has been indicated in impoliteness. Another strategy that has been utilized in showing or illustrating the high level of politeness is the lesser use of interruptions while other individuals speak (Brunet et al., 2012; Huang, 2008). In most traditional societies, interruptions were viewed as a sign of impoliteness, especially when powerful people were talking to an individual. For example, in the traditional Korean communities, power was largely associated with the status of an individual in the society, especially in regard to that of men. Interrupting men while speaking is still considered as one of the greatest signs of impoliteness in the society (Leech, 2007). Consequently, irrespective of age of the individual, not interrupting someone while they are speaking may be an indicator of politeness in any culture.

Honorifics refer to the use of titles or honorary terms while addressing an individual. The use of honorifics in the society is associated with politeness. The Korean language indicates the importance of observing the relationship between people through the use of the required titles applied when addressing them. Korean grammar has been extensively used to reflect the importance of honorifics in the society (Kang, 2007). In some cases, it is utilized to reflect the relation between the subject and the audience. Previously, it was used to show the differences that existed between the members of the society, and more specifically, in regard to their social status (Kang, 2007). Today, honorifics are applied to differentiate between informal and formal speeches based on the level of familiarity between the listener and the speaker (Brown et al., 2014; Murphy & Levy, 2006). Honorifics have been used in numerous societies to indicate levels of politeness. However, there is an increased use of honorifics by women compared to men. For example, the use of honorifics is more popular among Japanese women, and it is less frequently encountered among men (Kang, 2007). Apart from utilizing general honorifics while addressing others, some people also use what has been termed as beautification honorifics in regard to those provided with some form of beautified titles (Byon, 2012; Huang, 2008). Japanese men rarely utilize these practices in the society. Similarly to women in Japan, Korean women have also been proven to use honorifics more frequently as compared to men (Kang, 2007). Korean culture is defined by the social status of individuals in the society. Women are largely regarded as the weaker sex and therefore, they are expected to speak to the dominant sex in an honorable and respectful way (Byon, 2006; Yu, 2011). One method that is commonly utilized in Korea is the extensive use of honorifics by women while speaking the Korean language, and it has actually been abused in the Korean society. This fact is compounded by the notion that women there tend to be more conscious of the way they speak as compared to men.

There are several other strategies that have been utilized in Korea in order to indicate the levels of politeness. The use of long sentences is considered to be a pragmatic method utilized to show politeness, with women using the in-group identity markers to reinforce it (Kang, 2007). Women also prefer to remain silent and leave their statements incomplete in the cases when they are supposed to confront a major issue. It is viewed as one of the methods through which Korean women fail to raise some of the contentious issues of the society (Hatfield & Hahn, 2011). Nonetheless, there is a need to include other strategies that address politeness levels among Korean women.

The Korean society requires women to show a certain level of politeness in the manner they conduct their daily activities. Furthermore, women are socially encouraged to display high levels of politeness as compared to men. This fact has been instilled in most women in Korean communities from a young age, and they have to adhere to it in all times. It marks the genetic differences in the society where men are placed in classes that differ from those of women (Kang, 2007). It influences the way people communicate, as the specific lines have already been drawn in regard to the behavior of various individuals in the society (Brunet et al., 2012; Huang, 2008). The Korean language also emphasizes the need to use polite words starting with a young age. These values are instilled in all individuals from their birth, thus making them feel the necessity of adhering to such rules as listening attentively during the conversation, especially when dealing with older members of the society. Therefore, it is important to conduct the studies related to Korean cultural practices, especially with the focus placed on the gender differences that are associated with politeness (Kang, 2007). In this case, the differences in the level of politeness between men and women will be examined, with the emphasis made on the aspects that have been mentioned above (Brunet et al., 2012; Huang, 2008). Essentially, this paper will examine the differences as related to the use of honorifics, ambiguity expressions, use of long words, and number of interruptions during a conversation, as well as the forms of speech utilized by an individual.

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Data Collection

The study will involve a survey among male and female postgraduate students in one of the universities in Korea. The consent to conduct the study will be received from the relevant bodies within the university. The test study will involve a questionnaire consisting of questions related to politeness in the Korean language. After the test, face-to-face interviews will be conducted by the participants as a method that aims to validate information collected and to minimize the bias that could have occurred during the collection of information. All the sample participants will be selected randomly and by their own volition. The members of the same families will not be selected in the study, since these individuals have already formed an attitude in regard to how they communicate. The face-to-face interviews will largely be classified into three domains based on the sex of the participants. Ideally, it means that there will be face-to-face male-to-male interviews, female-to-male interviews, and female-to-female interviews. The participants will be given a relevant topic of happenings in the society and they will be required to discuss this topic for about fifteen minutes in closed environments. Small microphones will be used to collect the information from the participants. The subsequent phase of the study will involve the postgraduate students having face-to-face interviews with an individual from the selected population that has some form of honorific title, and more specifically, during their lectures, which will be largely restricted to a session of ten minutes.

Data collected from the first surveys will show the perceptions of both male and female students of politeness in the Korean society. Some questions asked in the study will provide the exclusive answers related to politeness levels among males and females of Korean nationality. Data collection through the interview sessions will be mainly based on the identification of hedges, ambiguous expressions, and use of polite words, as well as the tone utilized in discussing some of the contentious issues affecting Koreans. These words will be passed through the microphone and will be evaluated later, as all of the interviews will be recorded to provide sufficient information about the topic. The third method will involve identifying the use of honorific expression among the students as well as the tone utilized when speaking to individuals who are considered to be higher in the social class. By this approach, it will be possible to report on all levels of politeness that have been discussed in the literature review while simultaneously providing information on all of the above-mentioned aspects. This information is considered relevant in the current setting and will largely focus on identifying politeness levels among women in the Korean society.

Data Analysis and Discussion

Data analysis involves the detection of any related phrases associated with politeness. The phrases will be largely classified based on certain politeness markers. These markers include the use of honorifics will speaking to individuals in the society, the use of hedges, fewer interruptions during the speech, use of ambiguity expressions, and long pragmatic sentences.

From the recent literature resources related to the politeness of Korean language among women, it is evident that women in Korea are more likely to show high levels of politeness in the society as compared to the male participants in the study. In addition, low levels of politeness are expected in the exchange of information between Korean women and their male counterparts, though the levels of politeness of women are still expected to be higher compared to those of males. It may be partly explained by the way the society has been classified, especially as it relates to the role of women within it (Brown, 2010; Leech, 2007). Women will also be expected to show high politeness levels when speaking to older members of the society. Honorifics and the use of long pragmatic sentences, as well as the use of the speech innovations, are the major methods that can be used to show politeness among Korean women in the society.

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Future Studies

Future studies can be conducted on the aforementioned areas, though with a clearer focus on cross-cultural interactions and other cultures that are similar in their politeness levels. For example, future studies can seek to examine the differences between politeness levels of American and Korean cultures. It will provide information on the important issue of cross-cultural interactions that are supposed to be observed when a person travels to one of the foreign countries. In addition, studies comparing the cultural practices between Koreans and Japanese people may help to elucidate the differences between cultures that are located in the same region. The information collected in either of the above-mentioned studies will be essential in understanding cross-cultural interactions as well as cultural undertones among the different nationalities across the world. Other studies can be conducted in order to investigate the associated differences between men and women in Korean culture. The area of the studies can also be extended to other cultures and people of different nationalities. In addition, the effects of some of the cultural practices on different nationalities can be examined, with the effects reported. Other studies can focus on the role of cross-cultural interactions in different societies.


Cultural practices among different nationalities are considered to play a crucial role in any society, especially in entrenching the cultural practices within it. Understanding the cultural practices of different communities may provide information on how different nationalities interact with other communities in the world, and the role of cross-cultural interactions in the society. Considering the aforementioned information, it is obvious that politeness is an integral feature of the culture of Korean people, though it is shown more frequently by women than by men due to the manner in which the society has been classified or developed. The most common method used to express politeness in this culture includes the use of hedges, fewer interruptions during the speech , honorifics, the use of ambiguous expressions, and long pragmatic sentences.

Essays categories: Descriptive Essays.