어머님 vs. 어머니

Discussion in '한국어 (Korean)' started by 조금만, Aug 10, 2012.

  1. 조금만 Senior Member

    English - England
    Moderator note: This thread is split from here, because this is a different topic.

    I'd be inclined to say 어머님 was more respectful/deferential than 어머니, rather than more polite. That distinction matters for learners rather a lot.

    One of the things that most perplexes foreigners about the Korean honorific system, and one that many Koreans find hard to explain because they've never really needed to think about it in the abstract, is that there are two distinct axes involved: an axis of deference; and an axis of courtesy. These axes are related, but nevertheless distinct. When speaking or writing Korean you can(and indeed should) be courteous to everyone you speak to or about (except very close friends, very small children and animals) no matter what their status relative to yourself. But you can and always must be deferential to your elders and betters and "humble" in reference to yourself, no matter what your age or standing in life is.

    These two axes co-exist and interact. You can't be correctly deferential without also being courteous; and showing the correct degree of deference and "humility" (I use scare quotes because I'm talking here about codified linguistic choices rather than inner attitudes) is in turn a pre-requisite of true courtesy.

    Most learners are aware that they risk offending Koreans by "talking down" to them inappropriately; they tend to be less aware that it can also be discourteous to "talk up" to people in circumstances where a more relaxed form of address would sound less stand-offish and avoid creating the impression that you felt the person you were "talking up" to was excessively self-important. One of the methods Koreans use to deflate people they think are being pompous is by addressing them in an over-the-top (mock) deferential way.

    So I wouldn't like the original poster to go away with the idea that referring to a friend's mother in more or less casual conversation with no-one else present simply as 네 어머니 is in any sense discourteous (though you would never ever address the lady in question as 어머니 to her face or refer to her than way when talking about her to any third party other than your friend in private.) But yes, adding the honorific affix ~님 (a particle which is on the axis of deference rather than that of courtesy) is indeed more respectful, and respect for any elder whatsoever is always a good thing to show in Korean culture.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 28, 2012
  2. 경상남도로 오이소 Member

    저는 제 어머니든 남의 어머니든 "어머님"이라고는 거의 안해요. 개인적으로 "어머님"이라는 말은 너무 엄마가 가지고 있는 따뜻함, 친근함과는 매우 거리가 있는, 말하자면 너무 거리를 두고 멀리 보는듯한, 너무 깍듯이 대하는, 그런 느낌이 들어서요.

    아마 저라면 "니네 엄마 되게 멋있다"라고 할 것같네요. 친한 친구라면. 참고로 저는 20대입니다.

    가끔 길거리에서 휴대폰 장사하는 분들이 나이 든 분들께 "어머님" "아버님" 하는 걸 들을 수 있는데, 그건 말하자면 과잉친절(?)이라고 생각해요. haha.
  3. 조금만 Senior Member

    English - England
    Thanks to my (admittedly somewhat eccentric) habit of watching Korean daily soaps in my work breaks with a coffee cup in one hand and a notebook in the other, I can come up with an instance of 어머니 rather than 어머님 from today's episode of the SBS daily 그래도 당신.

    One character asks another why she's still so defensive about her ex-husband even though he's what P.G Woodhouse would have called "an utter cad". She replies 어머니가 사람을 죽였다고 모르는 척 하실 수 있어요? ("If your mother told you she'd killed someone, you'd be capable of turning a blind eye, wouldn't you?". She explains that despite her ex-husband's heinous deeds, he's the closest thing to a family she ever had, so though she'll never forgive what he's done, she can't wholly despise him.

    Now, as she well knows, the man she's speaking to does indeed have a mother as his only family, and that Mama is a big cheese, requiring the speaker to show both courtesy and deference towards her when talking to her son about her. But if she'd said [the man's name plus] 어머 사람을 죽였다고... that would have been highly offensive despite its ostensible respectfulness, because it would have sounded as though his real respect-commanding mother, rather than a hypothetical mother invoked just for the sake of example, was actually a possible murderer. Hence the -is here a no-no.

    [Actually, familiar as I am with the ways of Korean soap writers, I'd bet a nice crisp picture of King Sejong, fresh from the ATM, that the mother in question will indeed turn out to have killed someone by about episode 110, but the character whose line I'm quoting is far too nice a lady to harbour such a suspicion of her elders and betters]
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2012
  4. ddungbo Member

    Yes, correct, the generic reference to 'mothers' is 어머니 rather than 어머님, as seen in the line you quoted.
    One thing I differ from you is your translation of it. Based on what you wrote as a background, I would translate it to "Suppose your mother committed a murder, would you be able to forsake her for that?" which means, even if somebody has done something terribly wrong you wouldn't turn your back on him/her because you love him/her, or he/she is your significant other.

    만약 당신 어머니가 사람을 죽였다고 한다면, 모르는 척 눈감아 줄 수 있겠죠? is probably what you wrote in English. (you would turn blind eye if your mother killed someone but you wouldn't if some other person did.)

    Also, for what it's worth, my first reading was, in fact, "even if it's your mother who killed someone, are you capable of turning a blind eye (on the fact)?" As indicated by words in blanket, in this case, the object you let off the hook is the fact; the fact that your mother killed someone.

    "어머니가 사람을 죽였다고 (그 사실을) 모르는 척 하실 수 있어요? or 모르는 척 눈감아 줄 수 있어요?" (in the sense that even if it's your mother she should be brought to justice)

    In the translation I gave above as a 'differing' opinion, the subject of 모르는 척 is the 'you' and the object of the verb is the mother.
    "어머니가 사람을 죽였다고 (해서) (당신은) (어머니를) 모르는 척 하실 수 있어요?". This is sort of the idea.

    도움이 되셨으면 좋겠네요 :)
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2012

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