Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Linguistics (Interdepartmental Program)

Document Type



The aim of this study is to analyze and interpretate the refusal speech acts of two generations of Korean women: mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. To be specific, it examines if daughters-in-law’s use of strategies were dependent on the age difference/ hierarchies and to see if there was any difference in the type of strategies used by daughters-in-law depending on whether mothers-in-law have social power or not. The data were collected from three soap operas. Compared with previous data collection methods, such as discourse completion tests or role-plays, this data collection method has advantages for a pragmatics study. The results indicated that age is a critical factor in choosing polite refusals in Korean language, but social distances far outweigh age differences among family members. Korean daughters-in-law usually followed indirect or implicit strategies to turn down their mothers-in-law’s request or suggestion. The mostly common strategy used by Korean women, both mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, was circumlocution with excuses, explanations, or reasons. Findings indicated that yo-form and honorific suffix are typically used when daughters-in-law are refusing to their mothers-in-law. To see whether the daughter-in-law varies her refusals as a function of the partner being the mother-in-law, this study also compared interactions between the daughter and her mother-in-law and the daughter with her mother in the dramas. Daughters tend to shift downwards, from polite speech level to intimate or plain speech level, but rarely upwards in their interaction with their mothers. Finally, in daughter-in-law’s refusals, whether or not mothers-in-law have social power does not seem to have a strong effect on the daughters-in-law’s polite linguistic behavior, and vice versa. Findings revealed that various contextual factors play a role in the selection of the polite form chosen and actual utterance is not always consistent with gender stereotypes.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Brody, Mary



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Linguistics Commons