Self-Representation and Korean Honorific Shifts

  • Received : 2014.04.19
  • Accepted : 2014.06.15
  • Published : 2014.06.30


This study discovers the dynamic nature of an interactional hierarchy as well as an institutional hierarchy in the use of Korean honorifics. Data was collected from the conversations of two Korean female interlocutors. The interlocutors met for the first time in the U.S. and often changed their use of honorifics. The paper examines the method in which the two interlocutors negotiate hierarchies during interaction and how the negotiation is reflected in their use of honorific shifts. The paper also investigates honorific shifts in terms of self-representation to suggest that there is another hierarchy at work other than the institutional hierarchy. An examination of the data shows that the shifts occurred not randomly but strategically. The findings suggest that 1) interlocutors may negotiate interactional hierarchy during their conversation, often in the same sentence, 2) interactional hierarchy often cross the boundary of the institutional hierarchy to obtain interactional goals, in this case, intimacy, and 3) the utterance contents may play a significant role in the interlocutors' honorific shifts.