Wednesday, January 05, 2011


After laying off my Korean books for more than a year, I think it's time I reopen them. Fortunately, my Korean language skills weren't wasted away during the 'dormant' period. On the contrary, I think my listening and reading skills are much better now than before. It helps that I watch Korean programmes and read Korean news quite often. To start off, it's back to basics. There's something new which I learn about the word '당신' and '말씀'.

As a beginner, I thought the second-person pronoun 'you' can be translated to either '당신' in honorific speech or '너' in casual speech. Now I know I was misled. I have narrowed down the cause of my misunderstanding to some poorly-published Korean language self-help books which I bought when I first started to have interest in the language. Those books use '당신' so freely as if Koreans use it all the time. Actually, the correct use of '당신' is restricted to only two kinds of situation. Outside of these two situations, the use of it is simply inappropriate.

Situation 1 - Between husband and wife
e.g. 여보, 당신은 어제 뭘 했어요?
(Darling, what did you do yesterday?)

Situation 2 - Between two persons who are in heated argument or are quarrelling
e.g. 당신이 남의 일에 끼어들지마
(Hello, you better don't interfere in other's business)

For '말씀', all this while, I understood it as the honorific form (높임말) of the word '말'. However, what I didn't know is, it can also be the humble form (낮춤말) of '말'. In Korean language, there are two ways one can show respect to other - one is to 'elevate' other by using '높임말', the other is to 'degrade' oneself using '낮춤말'.

Situation 1. '말씀' as a '높임말' to 'elevate' other
e.g. 부모님의 말씀대로 저는 열심히 공부하겠습니다
(I will study hard according to what my parents said)

Situation 2. '말씀' as a '낮춤말' to 'downgrade' oneself
e.g. 제가 말씀을 드릴게요
(I shall give my speech)

Apparently, my foundation in honorific is still in need of more hard work. I used to lament that Korean language is so 'troublesome' because of the need to use honorific. I didn't mean to be disrespectful by saying that but learning to use the right honorific for the right situation is indeed a lot of hard work for foreigners. It's quite laughable now to know that I once thought honorific is just adding ~세요 to the end of each statements plus changing a few words here and there. That just shows how much I skimmed through the foundation part. But sometimes, certain fundamentals are not easily understood at the beginning. You may have to go one big round and back to really appreciate them. So, that's why I'm back to basics.


  1. Other than the usage of 당신 between husband and wife or even just lovers, when used in a argument/quarrel/stand off, it seems to be a very passive aggressive way of addressing the other party. It sounds polite but both party is aware that it's not. I interpret it to be almost sarcasm.

  2. Equinox씨 새해 복 많이 받으세요~
    잘 지내죠?
    11월인가 12월에 코멘트를 남겼던 것 같은데
    찾아보니 없네요 ^^;
    지금 한국에 있는거에요?

  3. 솔암 씨 안녕하세요?
    새해 복 많이 받으세요.
    전 잘 있었요. 솔암 씨는요?
    어디 일하시는 거예요? 호텔에서요?

    11월 중순 몰래몰래 한국에 갔다왔어요.
    단풍들이 직접 보니까 얼마나 예쁜지 모르겠어요. 지금 아쉽게도 싱가풀에 있어요ㅠㅠ

    추운 겨울 날씨 속에 건강을 잘 챙기기를 바라면서
    싱가폴 놀러 오는 생각이 든다면 꼭 알려주세요.
    수시 가이드할게요.
    (안 오시면도 돼요. 별 재밌는 게 없을걸요ㅋㅋ)

  4. @Anonymous, thanks for your elaboration.

  5. @Anonymous Yep, I think that was how it was explained to me as well...