April 14, 2012

Formal and Informal Korean in Korean Drama

The Korean language has formality levels, which are highly significant in interactions. Drama fans who are unaware of formal and informal Korean will miss a lot. If you only learn one thing about Korean culture, this should be it.

Students of Korean may wonder why “thank-you” is on every word and phrase list, but “please” is nowhere to be found. The reason is that politeness is built into jondaemal (존댓말 – formal Korean). Jondaemal is used to signify respect. The use (or not) of jondaemal will tell you a lot about what’s going on between characters. Ditto for banmal (반말 – casual Korean), which can signify growing closeness, or disrespect if used inappropriately.

You will find a lot of brief explanations about banmal and jondaemal online, but they don’t really capture how important it is. The best explanation by far is a great in-depth article on the Dramabeans blog (by Girl Friday). I just discovered it this morning. Although I was already aware of banmal and jondaemal, I learned something new which I hadn’t noticed – there is no way to directly say “you” in jondaemal. The explanation of suffixes used when addressing people was also helpful – I’ve been wondering about that for awhile now. There’s a companion article which focuses more on jondaemal. Both articles include examples of how formal and informal Korean is used in dramas, which drama fans will find highly illuminating.

Check them out! I guarantee drama watchers an “ohhhh! is THAT what that was about” moment.

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