All Korean learners should be well aware of the many different levels of formality in the Korean language. There’s a big difference in how you say things depending on who you speak to or who you speak about. In fact, I have previously written a whole blog post about this particular Korean concept called 앞존법.
In simple terms there are two over-all levels called 반말 (intimate language) and 존댓말 (polite language). These two levels are furthermore subdivided into a number of more blurry levels of politeness. Nonetheless, a concept not really talked about in any textbooks is 혼잣말 (self-language). This is simply the language you speak to yourself – in your head or out loud – depending on your level of sanity. You will often see Korean dramas where the main persons speak to themselves as a way of conveying their thoughts to their audience. I personally find this super-awkward but it’s a perfect example of 혼잣말.
So, where’s the problem? Whenever I speak Korean and want to tell the other person in direct quotes what I have thought or said to myself, I accidentally always end up quoting myself using the respectful polite form of 존댓말. An example could be: “아, 이거 딱 먹고 싶어요”라고 생각했어요. While the correct term for directly quoting myself would be “아, 이거 딱 먹고 싶어”라고 생각했어요. This is naturally hilarious to Koreans, as no one would speak to themselves in formal language. After all, you should be fairly close with yourself and speaking in this way is pretty much along the lines of me thinking to myself in English “ah, Ms. Sofie what do you want to eat today?”
An obvious solution could be indirect quotes like 아, 이거 딱 먹고 싶다고 생각했어요, but I’d love to be able to do both indirect and direct quotes without constantly making Koreans around me laugh at my apparently far too elevated level of “self-respect”! Anyone else having this problem? Please share!