Karavinka wrote:In fact, seven. One is obsolete except in historical dramas (the speech used to address royalty), and the other is almost obsolete (formal but impolite: used by seniors to address each other, each showing respect but familiarity.) So, for most learners, five is right. To make it easier, a foreigner (who looks foreign - e.g. not Chinese or Japanese) can get by using only one "informal polite" throughout at the beginning stages. Since Korean conjugates verbs according to the politesse and not according to number and person, this can actually make it somewhat easier to get started. (Though textbooks will try to show you some more politesse levels, which are still important to understand at least.)
The proper pragmatics of the language will pose more problems, though. Korean society is extremely hierarchical, and it is very common to identify the interlocutor whether he or she is one's social superior or inferior - and the "superiority" can be determined by age, seniority in school, positions at work, job titles, etc. Even one year difference in age/school grade makes the hierarchy.
For example, let's say I talk with Meera in Korean. At first, assuming we don't know each other or we aren't on a very familiar term, we'll use informal polite forms while addressing each other with the title -nim. (especially so since we know each other from online) After a while, we decide to drop the politesse a bit and use familiar language (like switching from vous to tu in French, or Sie to du in German)... and then, since Meera is a few years younger than me (according to her Unilang profile), she will continue using the informal polite while I can go straight informal impolite. I can call her by first name only, but she must throw in a title which literally means "elder brother" after my name (because Korean is postpositional).
That's damn fair, eh?
Being a native speaker that I am, I'm not very fond of this langauge and I actually try my best in my life to distance myself from the language. (I've read very few books in Korean in my past two years in this country, and I don't bother with any Korean media) I'm sorry for not sounding very supportive, but...well, that's how I feel about this abomination of language. It's often too restrictive. Even Japanese gives me more freedom.
Chekhov wrote:But the rules can't be followed that strictly all the time, can they? What about in the younger general?
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