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Most students of Korean have heard of 반말 and 존댓말 and understand roughly what they mean. But how far can we go to defining exactly what they mean?

  • Can each of the Korean speech levels be categorised as 반말 or 존댓말?
  • Do 반말 and 존댓말 classification relate more to formality(격식), or politeness(높임)?
  • Do they relate to the usage honorifics such as the honorific particle, or honorific nouns and verbs?
  • there are other Korean sentence endings beyond those typically seen in the speech level charts, e.g. "이 곳에는 들어갈 수 없음". Can each of these be definitively described as 반말 or 존댓말?
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  • I don't think you can or should make the distinction between formality and politeness because the former heavily implies the latter. Feb 14, 2017 at 2:20
  • @Posh_Pumpkin I said something similar to that in a reply to this reddit post, but people didn't really agree with me... Feb 14, 2017 at 9:13

2 Answers 2

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Can each of the Korean speech levels be categorised as 반말 or 존댓말?

Of course.

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하십시오체(합쇼체), 하오체, 해요체 are 존댓말, 하게체, 해라체, 해체 are 반말. It's that simple.

Do 반말 and 존댓말 classification relate more to formality(격식), or politeness(높임)?

Politeness, as you can see from the table.

Do they relate to the usage honorifics such as the honorific particle, or honorific nouns and verbs?

Yes. Using 존댓말 correctly means using special honorific words(높임 특수어) correctly, as well as using the correct sentence ending.

there are other Korean sentence endings beyond those typically seen in the speech level charts, e.g. "이 곳에는 들어갈 수 없음". Can each of these be definitively described as 반말 or 존댓말?

Sentences like "이 곳에는 들어갈 수 없음." is called 개조식 문장. It's strictly only used in writing, so it's hard to consider them as neither 반말 nor 존댓말. But it's more closer to 반말, if used in speech.

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MujjinGun's answer is excellent, but if I may add, you could think like this if you get confused whether a sentence is in 반말 or 존댓말: In modern Korean, anything besides 해요체 and 합쇼체 (하십시오체) is in 반말.

하오체 is 존댓말, strictly speaking, but is not used anymore. (하오체 was popular on the internet about 15 years ago, but that's gone too.)

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