A pragmatic and sociocultural perspective to subject expression in spoken Korean: With focus on first and second person

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Friday 05 October 2018


Basham Room


Narah Lee


Narah Lee

As a well-known pro-drop language, Korean displays 69% and 78% of subject omission rate for first and second person, respectively, according to my analysis in the current research. There is much literature of Korean linguistics that focuses on formal syntactic explanations of subject omission. The focus of this thesis is on first person subject (1PS) and second person subject (2PS) that are overtly expressed in spoken Korean, which have not been spotlighted enough in previous studies.

Adopting three corpora of spoken Korean (approximately 45,000 words in total; 2,772 words of 1PS and 2,822 words of 2PS), this thesis examines pragmatic and sociolinguistic effects of the overt 1PS and 2PS. I look at the distribution of referential choices for overt 1PS/2PS with regard to the diversity of reference forms and the relationships between discourse participants. The result reveals that age and social relationships of speakers affect the referential choice for 1PS/2PS. That is, the expression of 1PS/2PS in Korean requires not only linguistic understanding but also sociocultural interpretation.

I find overt 1PS/2PS plays an important role to make contrast among different referents, to indicate turn/floor-taking, to explicitly index first or second person as the very agent of the predicate and to express politeness or intimacy. When 1PS/2PS conveys contrastiveness, which is discussed at the discourse level as well as at the sentence level in this study, it needs to be overt to maintain the semantic meaning of the utterance and adds the pragmatic intention of the speaker to highlight the contrastiveness. On the other hand, if an overt 1PS/2PS is used to signal a turn/floor shift in discourse or to express an interpersonal message like politeness or intimacy, an unexpressed 1PS/2PS can replace it without losing the semantic meaning of the utterance. Namely, speakers make use of overt 1PS/2PS for discursive and pragmatic reasons even if it is redundant in conveying the semantic meaning of utterances.

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