Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Amanda Dalola


The term aegyo is often defined as a form of performative cuteness comprising a range of linguistic and non-linguistic behaviors (K. Moon, 2013; Puzar & Hong, 2018). Previous anthropological, discursive, and linguistic investigations (K. Moon, 2013; Puzar & Hong, 2018; H. Jang, 2021) identify it as a gendered practice associated with “modern and trendy young women in Korean mainstream culture” (K. Moon, 2017, p. 42), often used for requesting favors, maintaining social harmony, and gaining economic advancement (Manietta 2015; Puzar & Hong 2018). K. Moon (2013) asserts that the features that most prominently index aegyo are: rising-falling intonation (LHL%), the lexical item oppa ‘older male friend of a woman’, nasality, and obstruent fortition (OF). Nasality, in particular, has yet to be systematically investigated as a component of aegyo, despite its frequent association with the speech style. This dissertation closes this gap via an examination of the roles of age and gender on the nasality produced during aegyo.

The goals of this dissertation are to: (1) examine what features participants associate with aegyo, (2) examine how participants define, use, and think of aegyo and its users, (3) examine the linguistic, social, and discursive predictors of IP-final nasality in aegyo, (4) more broadly connect aegyo to prior work on style and accordingly use aegyo to further sociolinguistics understanding of style, specifically to use it and nasality to probe the cline of interiority, and (5) investigate the applicability of Stewart & Kohlberger’s (2017) earbud methodology to sociophonetics. To do this, I utilize multiple methods derived from phonetics, lab-phonology, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and language-documentation.

Data comes from interview data of fifty-five romantic couples living in the Seoul metropolitan area. Couples were asked to fill out a brief survey about aegyo, then to perform three dialogues (date, complaints about work, vacation-planning) and three communicative tasks (requesting, comforting, expressing love) in non-aegyo and aegyo modes, to suggest and then read the ten expressions they most associate with aegyo and to read aloud ten aegyo-ful text messages to their partner.

Results reveal that nasality and LHL% tone are the most widely associated features of aegyo, but rates of association are dependent on age with younger speakers more likely to associate phonetic/phonological variants with aegyo. The data also suggest that interactions between nasality, gender and performance of aegyo begin for participants born in the 1970s, suggesting that it was for these and younger speakers that aegyo is enregistered as a performative style (Agha, 2003). Through written survey data and a discursive analysis of the appearance of nasality, I argue that aegyo broadly and nasality specifically are forms of positive politeness (Brown & Levinson, 1987) that also index a whining and caring stance. Finally, I argue that visual cues in language contribute to the cline of interiority (Eckert, 2019) with more visually prominent linguistic features being more exterior on the cline.


© 2023, Drew Michael Crosby

Included in

Linguistics Commons