3

I notice that many honorifics have similar consonant sounds when spoken. For example, the ~ㅂ/습니다 conjugation and the ~님 noun ending (e.g., in 선생님, 사장님, 아버님) have the ㄴ and ㅁ sounds when spoken.

Are some sounds more pleasing to the ear? Indeed to me the ㄴ and ㅁ consonants sound like honey, but could that be why the Korean language evolved this way - people spoke to their elders and rulers with sweeter tones and more agreeable melodies?

The ~ㅂ/습니다 conjugation could have been the ~ㄹ/즐보다 conjugation or something else, but perhaps that sounds less exalted or melodic.

I’m looking for psychological/neurological/linguistic research about these topics - please don’t speculate as an answer. Thanks!

3
  • 2
    While I believe the answer to this particular question is no, you may be interested in the broader linguistic concept (well, more of a hypothesis) of sound symbolism: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_symbolism
    – Max
    Apr 29 '19 at 8:00
  • 1
    Exactly what I was looking for! Thank you, Max Apr 29 '19 at 8:05
  • 1
    There are only four voiced consonants in Korean: ㄴ, ㄹ, ㅁ, and ㅇ. The frequent use of these four sounds for the lyrics of children's songs indicates that such consonants can uplift children. Nonetheless, I am unsure whether they relate to honorifics, since even plenty of curse words have them.
    – Klmo
    Jun 7 '19 at 5:59
4

One thing to keep in mind is that (1) ㄴ and ㅁ are common consonants and (2) polite expressions are usually longer. So, there's a good chance that a polite expression will contain either ㄴ or ㅁ.

But I highly doubt that polite expressions contain more ㄴ/ㅁ than average. Let's just look at some regular-polite pairs:

나이 - 연세

말 - 말씀

주다 - 드리다

죽다 - 돌아가시다

아프다 - 편찮다

먹다 - 들다/드시다

있다 - 계시다

집 - 댁

The left side contains 15 characters, 1 ㄴ, and 2 ㅁ's. The right side has 24 characters, 3 ㄴ's, and 2 ㅁ's. Not much difference.

In conclusion, I don't think your theory is supported by data.

0

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.