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Sunday, January 23, 2005

(Korean language) perils of panmal

In an article about the development of the concept of "peasant" in Korea, professor Clark Sorensen of the U of Washington had a nice example from around the turn of the 20th century how the brothers of one carrier (chigekkun) working in Seoul beat up another carrier for having replied in panmal to his colleague, who had addressed him similarly in panmal. The carrier who had first used panmal had originally been a yangban in his village before moving to Seoul, and used to address non-yangban people with panmal and expect be spoken to in a more respectful (or elevating) level of speech. These kind of incidents, quarrels and fights due to use of speech levels, were frequently reported in the newspapers at that time.

Lest someone might be worried that Korea has been changing too fast, there is perhaps something comforting in the fact that disagreements over the speech levels continue to create violence in the 21st century as well. Here's just another case (Yonhap via Media Daum) of the arrest of Mr (most likely) Cha, who had done violence and caused injuries to a one year younger colleague Mr Cho. The housing equipment (sôlbi) company men had been doing some drinking in the company office, and according to Mr Cha's statement, he had gotten enraged over the continuous use of panmal by Mr Cho, who was younger than him.

I could also add the nasty incident among the officials of the Democratic Labor Party last year, which also involved both alcohol and speech level use: two men in party position got violent towards a woman whose language use was not elevating (respectful) enough for the drunk ears and minds of the men.

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