• http://www.facebook.com/kennedy.halstead.3 Kennedy Halstead

    Very informative article. I kinda got these ideas about language and formality from reading other articles and being a speaker of a language that has similar linguistic conventions (Thai has a particular vocabulary used only when talking about members of the royal family, for instance), banmal and jondaetmal didn’t really confuse me conceptually.

    What surprises me is the use of terms like”hyung” or “noona”. We have similar terms in Thai (non-gender specific though) but because Korea uses lunar years, I found the issue very confused; add to that the idea of “fast birthdays” and my head started spinning.
     
    For example, MBLAQ’s Lee Joon was born the year after Seungho and G.O, but because he was born early in the year, supposedly, if they’d been at school together, they would’ve been in the same grade. He calls both of them “hyung” however, and even after his fast birthday was discovered, they all continued with him calling them “hyung” even though G.O himself acknowledges he’s only about 100 days older! Confusing to me. If I was in the same grade as someone, I’d NEVER call them by an honorific. That would just be weird to me, but they insist on it, and they even insist on Mir calling Thunder hyung, despite them only being a few months apart. Yes, technically, they’re different years, but to me, the difference is soooo slight…in my own case, in Thailand, speaking Thai, I’ve had friends who are about a year younger or older, but we dropped the honorifics and no one was uncomfortable. It’s only when the difference is five years or more than “unni” or “oppa” (Thai equivalent) becomes mandatory or you’d be rude. Very interesting to me, as a non-Korean speaker, to see how that plays out in the language.

    • Clearlife

      Thailand is a little difficult sometimes. Not to me but it can get confusing for forieners to understand the senior/junior relationship.

      As a fellow Thai, have you ever had this case: Someone born in the same year as you but in one grade above you, and you call them unni or oppa (P’). We both know we’re born the same year but we still call each other P’ and Norng. Kinda funny how I have people a year older (even two years) and 2 years younger than me in my grade and we don’t even use honorifics.

      I also don’t get the whole fast birthdays and lunar years.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kennedy.halstead.3 Kennedy Halstead

         Oh yes, definitely had that problem. I also have this problem: I have a ‘nong’ who is actually 2 years older than me! He was in the grade below me because he entered school later. It still makes me laugh. What makes me laugh more is that he treats me like a P’ (I pay when we go out to eat, for example), and he shows me respect even though by the whole senior/junior thing, he should be the one doing all those things. Ahhh, the complexities of language and culture.

        • Clearlife

          HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! That’s funny. I never had that but that is so… omg complex… so confusing. OY NGONG! I guess Thailand has that whole senior/junior thing with age but it becomes less important when you deal with school. Thailand is an odd country sometimes but I’ve lived here so long it’s normal. I feel Korea has it easier since they have a sunbae/hoobae separating with oppa/onni/noona/hyung thing to make it more clear.

          Curious about one thing. I dunno if you have the answer for this, but in Korea, when you go visit a friend’s house and you meet say like their mother, what do we call the friend’s mother?
          Because in Thailand we just call them ‘Khun Mae’ like she’s our mom. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/kennedy.halstead.3 Kennedy Halstead

             I’ve heard “ahjumma” for someone’s (like a friend’s mom). Think that’s the polite form, but I could be wrong.

      • zazuki_24

        oh so that’s why Nam was calling Shone and Top with a P’ in Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Thanks!

        • Clearlife

          Glad we could help. Also glad to know you like Thai Films hehehe.

          If you have any other questions… don’t mind asking me. I an open for answers. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/krstydlght kirsty delight

    dramabeans also wrote about this. almost the same thing but a bit in drama context:

    http://www.dramabeans.com/2010/07/glossary-jondaemal/ 
    http://www.dramabeans.com/2010/07/glossary-banmal/ 

  • LovelySt4r

    My cousins and I are all first generation Lao-Canadian, but we don’t all use our equivalents of unnie/hyung. For example, I used to call my older cousin (by 8 years) Natalie “unnie” (Lao equivalent), but as time went by, I slowly dropped the honorific and now I just call her Natalie. She’s not offended by this- she actually rather happy that I stopped calling her “unnie”.

    However, I still call her older sister (she’s about 14 years older than me) “unnie”. The thing is that it’s not really out of politeness anymore (at first it was), it’s just out of habit now. I could probably just call her by her first name and she wouldn’t be offended.

    Lao honorifics for uncles and aunts are extremely complicated (in my opinion) and I wouldn’t know what to call my aunts and uncles unless someone told me. In my experience, the Lao honorifics for uncles and aunts tend to be more strict if you aren’t very close to them. In my family, you tend to name your aunts/uncles with honorifics all the time, but there is no “formal speech” you follow.

    I think it has to do with a mixture of our generation though, not just where in the world you are from. As you move down generations, some rules of speech won’t exist anymore, like how the highest form of Korean formal speech isn’t used anymore. Eventually, it will all get blurred together. and not only that, but how comfortable your family is about using honorifcs and such. I’ve found that my dad’s side of the family is much more laid back about honorifics, while I still find my younger cousin (by three years) on my mom’s side calling me “noona.”

  • haiitsvi

    Very interesting article indeed! Languages have always fascinated me. I think most Asian languages have a hierarchical system so I’m not surprised by these levels of formalities but I can’t imagine having to switch back and forth between them when talking to people my age, younger, or older. And especially since in Korean it’s broken down by both age and gender for honorifics.

    But on another note, could Exo’s MAMA be referring to that “jondaetmal on crack” honorific? I still don’t understand what that part of the song means lol.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/YQ53WK5K4DPXQ5DIBKDELB6WPE Camille

      Basically, EXO’s “MAMA” is their song to some royal princess/queen of the earth, asking why people in society right now behave in certain ways. They’re calling out to her because they want answers.

      Baekhyun and Luhan’s first line in the K and M versions, when translated, means “MAMA please tell me why people change?”

      • intheshort

        IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW.

        I thought “MAMA” referred to their mothers…

        Thanks for clarifying this.

      • http://twitter.com/sisiberlyn Sierra Bell

        It doesn’t have to be a female, mama can also refer to a male.

    • Dana_SB

      Could be – I wasn’t sure if it was them calling out to the queen of the earth (as Camille says) or to a mother figure.  So much K-pop has English in it that it wouldn’t surprise me if it was just the English “mama,” either.

  • Ditu3ka

    Thank you. It was very informative and useful article.

  • http://www.michelle-chin.com/ Michelle Chin

    i think this is important for most korean fans!! according to my sis, this is what they teach in the first korean language class.

  • Judith Mopalia

    Nicely presented, very clear.  Thanks!

  • GermaineTelle

    For a really well written and entertaining post on speech levels, with lots of examples from favourite k-dramas, check out

    http://belectricground.com/2011/05/06/korean-language-and-culture-series-honorifics/