Many fans who are not familiar with the Korean language recognize the use of the word “yo” (at the end of a sentence) when speaking formally in k-drama land. As Blue illustrated here, linguistic formality is ingrained in the Korean language. However, as most things when being translated from one language to another, the subtlety of it is also lost as well. Below are some examples of how to determine your place in the hierarchy relative to age in the form of a question. Hopefully, you can appreciate how subtle and also complex the Korean language can be at times and also add one more word to your ever expanding knowledge of Korean terms. (This post was partly inspired by a rather grimacing faux pax exchanged at the pharmacy.)
Age=나이 (na yi)
When addressing an elder, the term “age” changes to a more respectable form of the noun to “연세” (pronounced “yun seh”). The use of this term will also determine if you had a good upbringing and learned proper manners as deemed by your elders. You should ask: “연세가 어떻게 되세요?” (yun seh ga uh tuh kkeh deh seh yo?)
The term “연세” is applicable to an individual who is 60 years of age or older. [Blue: I’d argue for using 연세 (yun seh) for anyone who is 50 years of age or older. But as you can see by how Bella and I disagree, there is no clear-cut rule.] But generally, you should use “연세” when referring to the age of someone who is much older than you (i.e. Old enough to be your parent.) Note that you will see this term commonly used in many family dramas that host several generations. For example, when you ask your boyfriend (or girlfriend) the age of your future mother-in-law, you’d ask, “What is her yun seh?”
An adult that you meet for the first time who you know to be older than you but not past 60 yrs of age, you would ask: “나이가 어떻게 되세요?” (na yi ga uh tuh kkeh deh seh yo?)
Someone you meet for the first time but who you know to be around the same age as you or even younger, you would ask: “몇 살이세요?” (myut sal yi seh yo?) or “몇 살이에요?” (myut sal yi eh yo?) or “나이가 몇이에요?” (na yi ga myut yi eh yo?). [Blue: In a more formal/polite setting, you should still go for “나이가 어떻게 되세요?” (na yi ga uh tuh kkeh deh seh yo?) or “나이가 어떻게 되죠?” (na yi ga uh tuh kkeh deh jo?) ]
Next time, part 2 will further explore the pecking order with individuals born in the same year.