Sunday, July 12, 2009

Minding My Manners

Encoded in the Korean language is a hierarchy of respect. Even the simple matter of saying "Hello" requires you to be cognizant of your social status vis-a-vis the person that you are greeting. Addressing someone with the "wrong" level of formality is deeply offensive. I have inadvertently committed this offense on several occasions and can personally attest to the strong disapproval with which it is met. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that culturally specific ways of representing the world that are embedded in languages affect the way in which their speakers understand their world, both in its natural and social aspects. This hypothesis has been tested several times with very mixed results however I am inclined to give it some basic credence even if it needs heavy qualification. In Korea, at the very least, I am inclined to believe that the hierarchic view of the world that the Korean language demands of speakers does contribute to the perpetuation of a normatively hierarchic conceptualization of society.


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