(Inter) Subjectification and Korean honorifics

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The traditional diachronic treatment of the Korean honorific marker -sup- is that -sup- was originally used as a referent honorific marker from the subject's point of view. It then underwent changes to become a speaker-addressee-oriented (S-A) marker. Diverging from this traditional approach, I claim, based on a large-scale corpus-based study, that -sup- was used as a speaker-oriented marker as early as the fifteenth century. To account for -sup-'s function change, I posit three stages for the evolution of the modern usage of -sup-. In Stage I (fifteenth century), -sup- was used to establish an honorific relation between a speaker and a referent. In a later transition stage (Stage II, sixteenth century), -sup- began to be used with the contextual restriction that the referent be the same as the addressee. Due to its high frequency, this use of speaker-addressee honorification was coded as a new standard (Stage III). This paper shows that the pragmatic function change of the Korean honorific marker is adequately accounted for by Traugott's (2003, 2007) (inter)subjectification theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-147
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Historical Pragmatics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 16 2010


  • (inter)subjectification
  • Korean
  • Speaker-addressee honorifics
  • Speaker-referent honorifics
  • Subject-referent honorifics


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