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!

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    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, 2019 at 8:00
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    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, 2019 at 5:59

1 Answer 1


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.


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