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Prof. Seongha Rhee: Apprehensionsals in Korean: Conceptual Motivations


Prof. Seongha Rhee, Mahidol University, Thailand and Hankuk Univ. of Foreign Studies, Korea:

Fear seems to be a semantic primitive in human language (cf. Wierzbicka 1992, 1999). It is felt by all humans at varying degrees of intensity and has a number of linguistic manifestations. Korean has a number of grammatical forms that encode the speaker’s apprehension, i.e., apprehensionals (or ‘preventive’; Ramstedt 1997[1939], Kim 1960, Ko 1989, Son 1994, Yae et al. 2023). Their primary function is to warn the addressee of potentially harmful consequences of an action, or to present reasons of the speaker’s action or mental state (cf. lest, for fear of, etc. in English).  

Apprehensionals have been grammaticalized to varying extents from diverse constructions, forming multiple layers in contemporary Korean. They developed mostly from uncertainty of the future, i.e., their source constructions involve a future-marker, a question marker, a cognitive verb, or a mode- or purpose-adverbializer, or a combination of two or more of them.

In most cases the notion of apprehension is fully semanticized, thus cannot be canceled, but in some apprehensives the notion of apprehension for undesirable events or states is only pragmatically inferred. The role of pragmatic inference is also evident with some cases that mark not only undesirability (i.e., ‘for fear of’) but also precaution (i.e., ‘lest’), through pragmatic strengthening of attributing conation to the potential agent. Certain cases suggest the role of collocates in semantic change. For instance, the futuristic question marker denoting ‘will it…?’ formerly occurred frequently with a range of psych-verbs, e.g. ‘think’, ‘doubt’, ‘consider’, ‘worry’, ‘feel ashamed’, ‘be wary’, etc. and it absorbed the negative meaning from these collocates and could signal apprehensive even when it did not occur with them, thus now functioning as a full-fledged apprehensive (cf. Lichtenberk 1995). This is a good exemplar of ‘absorption’ as proposed by Bybee et al. (1994), a phenomenon often observed in other grammaticalization scenarios involving insubordination in Korean. Further, through insubordination, some apprehensive connectives have extended their functions to sentence-final particles marking tentative intention, doubt, indeterminateness, possibility, etc., a state of affairs bringing forth theoretical issues about the developmental directionality (cf. Dobrushina 2006, Pakendorf and Schalley 2007). Subjectification is prominent in the development of certain apprehensionals from the verb denoting ‘not know’ along the line of semantic change: ‘have no knowledge’ > ‘be uncertain’ > ‘be worrisome’ > ‘be apprehensive’, suggesting a general direction from epistemic possibility to apprehensionals.

Drawing upon historical data, this talk traces the developmental paths of apprehensionals and analyzes the morphosyntactic and semantic mechanisms that enabled the processes, with reference to the principles proposed by Kuteva et al. (2019). It further addresses how these multiple forms in multiple layers coexist with different specializations.


01.06.2023, 10:30 Uhr - 12:00 Uhr
Institut für Amerikanistik und Anglistik, English Language and Linguistics