This study investigates two kinds of semantic change in terms for women in Korean, along with parallel developments in Chinese and Japanese, and examines the underlying mechanisms that cause these linguistic changes. In Korean and Chinese, polite terms for young women (akassi and xiăo jiĕ, respectively) have been taking on strong sexual connotations, due to the terms’ association with professions in the sex trade. In Korean and Japanese, terms for older sister (enni and oneesan/oneechan, respectively) have been adopted by more senior speakers to address young women, especially those in service interactions, including those in sex entertainment. This study demonstrates that besides sexist attitudes, other quite different motivations can be responsible for the semantic derogation of terms for women. In an effort to be polite, speakers have adopted positive female terms to address women of lower occupational status. Subsequently, the burden of the lower-status referents has caused the positive terms to undergo semantic derogation.


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pp. 148-176
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