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ISSN : 1226-4822(Print)
ISSN : (Online)
The Sociolinguistic Journal of Korea Vol.27 No.1 pp.199-226

Is Silence Meaningless?: Exploratory Study on the Social Functions of Silence

Lee Chaerin,Kim Seheon,Hur Taekyun


The majority of silence research has been limited in a negative perspective in which silence was stigmatized as passive non-behavior or counterproductive behavior in the organization. The present study proposed a broader and balanced approach of silence as a way of active communication in daily communication and investigated its social functions. The Eighty college students completed an open-ended questionnaire asking context cues, the reasons, and the consequence of intentional silence in daily life. The reasons and consequence were categorized to extract their structural factors. Eleven factors of silence reasons were abstracted: “partner caring”, “conflict avoidance”, “thinking arrangement”, “dissatisfaction”, “discomfort”, “embarrassed”, “annoyingness”, “misunderstanding”, “no-idea”, “uninterestedness”, and “ignorance”. The silence consequence data revealed 11 factors such as “turning topic”, “understanding and accepting silence”, “apologizing”, “partner's efforts of resuming communication”, “escaping discord”, “continuation of partner's unilateral speaking”, “misunderstanding”, “partner–embarrassed”, “awkwardness”, “stop communicating”, and “nothing happened”. Furthermore, the analyses on frequencies of silence reasons by partner's gender or relational attribute(vertical vs. horizontal) showed the patterns that have been consistently found in verbal communication literature. The findings suggest that silence is not meaningless inaction but active and goal-driven communication. Its functional implications in cultural contexts were discussed.

무언(無言)은 무념(無念)일까? : 침묵의 사회적 기능에 대한 탐색적 연구

고려대학교 석사・고려대학교 박사과정・고려대학교 교수