Negative Politeness in Korean Questions: Interaction between Epistemic Uncertainty and Conventional Indirectness

Arum Kang 1 ,
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1Korea University
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ⓒ Copyright 2018 Language Education Institute, Seoul National University. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Mar 01, 2018 ; Accepted: Jul 19, 2018

Published Online: Aug 31, 2018


In this paper, I investigate the negative politeness phenomena in Korean question. The current study focuses on the examination of the mitigating effects raised from the epistemic modal marker nka. Thus far, nka has been treated as a sub-type of question marker used in familiar speech style. Contrary to the previous view, however, I claim that nka should NOT be treated as a factual question marker; rather, it is an attenuative modal marker used as a pragmatic device for conventional indirectness. Since Korean speakers tend to consider speech act of question as an illocutionary act of requesting with a big favor, they use nka in order to minimize the threat and avoid the risk of losing face. In this vein, nka is employed for the pragmatic treatment of mitigated illocutionary force to smooth the conversational interaction. An important contribution of the current work is to add the discussion by considering novel empirical issues in Korean in which epistemic modal device can be another element that exhibits the mitigation in the illocutionary act of asking a question.

Keywords: (negative) politeness; question; epistemic modal; mitigator; conventional indirectness