Most people who care are probably already aware that Korean has a whole c of different honorific language that applies in different situations. There are the generic bits of language that lend respect to the subject of the sentence (like ~께서, ~시), as well as more specific bits (like saying 잡수시다 instead of 먹다, or 말씀 instead of 말. 치아
has to be one of the most bizarre of these. Why do we need a special honored term for teeth when there's not one for other body parts? What's so special about teeth. I mean, there is a whole host of body part names that show disrespect, like 대가리
, but no other honored ones. It's not like teeth are even a common body part in conversation. That one's just a mystery. But I digress...) and then there are those generic and specific bits of speech that demean the position of the speaker to make the listener more revered (~드리다, 올리다, 여쭙다, 모시다...).
Of course there would be no fun in having such an overtly complex system if there weren't social pressures operating on people to use them correctly. It shows you have poor breeding when you use them wrong. I don't by any stretch mean to imply that native speakers always use them all according to the rules. I mean the little 고졸
ladies in my office seem to have learned that "여쭙다" means to ask and it's used to show respect to someone
but they don't quite get
that it specificially means "ask to
someone who belongs to a higher social station," so we get wierd stuff like "the vice president asked (여쭈신다) the 부장 if he has a lunch appointment."
A good portion of the fun of this complex system comes when first meeting people. That's when you have to walk on eggshells to make a good impression. And if you start using 반말 too quickly, you'll get called on it: "이 자식이 초면부터 반말하네!" First you have to slowly circle, sniffing each other, to determine the pecking order in order to decided who is older (and hence has the right to drop to 반말 and, should he/she so deign, to allow the other party to do the same), first.
The Sanchon Hunjang was trained by strict teachers to studiously avoid anything that would give off even the hint of an approaching 반말. This may have been a good thing, but watching interaction by true native speakers, it occurs to me that this whole 반말 thing is much more complex than it appears at first blush.
Most learners have somewhere along the way picked up the notion that it means '해요' without the '요.' You can see this reflected in the language pages of the new and promising 갈비찜 wiki
. But you can see Korean people say things that are clearly missing the final '요,' but they are not called for using 반말. This is especially true if it includes a ~시~ infix. One common example: '아, 그러시구나!' Indeed, you can see younger folk speak to elders in 요-less speech with impunity for hours. Clearly it is not just the lack of a final '요' that goes into this 반말 that everyone objects to hearing from young whipper-snappers.
There must be something more to what the word '반말' means. Maybe the dictionary will help? Naver
says that it is a type of speech that falls between '해라' and '하게' or '하오' and '하게' and then goes on to add that it is a type of speech that neither lifts the listener up nor speaks down to her. I don't know about you, but what this says to me is that the whole picture of speech levels suddenly has suddenly become very
complicated. The #2 definition in Naver says that 반말 means to indiscriminently speak down to someone. Ah-hah this
is the 반말 thing that people of low breeding are getting called on. It doesn't have anything specifically to do with 요's or lacks of same.
So what goes into this talking down to someone, which is clearly something more than just leaving off the '요'? The Sanchon Hunjang has observed that people can speak without '요' for a long time with no reaction, but the minute they use the word '너 (or it's dialect cousin 니),' or interject a '야,' suddenly what they said has just crossed a line and the listener may comment on the forwardness of this individual, or at least wince. Other things that push people over the line are '~니' or '~냐' question endings, '한다' type statements, '해라' commands, or using '응' for yes instead of '예.' There are many
others. This all comes back to the fact that there is a social register in Korean speech, just as there is in English (or at least in the brand of English that I was taught to speak). And in spite of what I was led to believe by all of those confused comments about 'just make sure you say 요 at the end,' it would seem that what determines social register in Korean is at least as complex as English.
Unfortunately, this all brings us back to the difficult situation of knowing that there is a socially unacceptable danger lurking if I make a blunder, but no clear way to avoid the danger. Perhaps it's just best to stick to ~습니다, anyhow. God knows it's easier to conjugate. ^^