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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Manslaughter for disagreements over term of address

Every now and then there are news from Korea which show the perils of the subtleties of language use; in the best case disagreements over the use of speech levels or terms of address end up in non-physical arguments, in the worst someone dies. According to this Yonhap piece (via Chosun Ilbo), a man got so enraged in a drunken state for being called "older brother" (hyông) by his village junior who normally had been addressing him as "uncle" (ajôssi) that he ended up killing him after a long fight. Mr Kang, aged 65, was having drinks with Mr Pak (49), who lived in the same village in Nonsan, Southern Chungcheon. Mr Pak, who had thus far been addressing Mr Kang as ajôssi, made the mistake of using the term hyông, which enraged Mr Kang. The fight which broke out lasted for forty minutes, and Mr Pak died after being hit with a "blunt weapon" (tun'gi) several times.

Age difference of 16 years; is that too much to warrant the use of hyông between acquaintances close enough? Neither does it make one generation, but that's not needed for the use of ajôssi either. And the differences between villages and cities; I'm not familiar with what's appropriate in villages, but in the cities I'd think that one would not object to being called something else than ajôssi . (But in the cities the variety of terms available is much larger.) Perhaps there was something else as well besides the issue of term of address.

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