Honorifics and peer conflict in Korean children's language socialization

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This paper examines Korean preschool children's socialization into uses of honorifics, focusing on the role that teachers’ honorific speech practices and children's peer conflict play in this process. Unlike previous studies, which typically assumed a one-to-one relationship between honorifics and politeness or deference, the analysis of teachers’ and children's discourse in classroom settings illustrates that honorifics are indexes of a wide variety of sociocultural meanings such as presentation of social personas, on-stage contexts, or authoritative and affective stances. Based on 15 months of ethnographic and linguistic study and audiovisual recordings of naturally occurring interaction in a preschool in Seoul, South Korea, the paper demonstrates that children, rather than passively adopting indexical knowledge of honorifics as modeled by teachers, creatively and strategically utilize honorifics in negotiating and achieving sociopolitical goals in their conflicts and disputes with peers. The paper speaks to recent language socialization research that emphasizes the agentive role that children's peer talk plays in cultural reproduction as well as to studies on honorifics that emphasize the wide range of indexical potentials honorifics have in constructing social reality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100736
JournalLinguistics and Education
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Conflict talk
  • Honorifics
  • Korean
  • Language socialization
  • Peer culture


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