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I'm writing an undergraduate thesis in linguistics. My topic is about comparing politeness in English to the honorific system in Korean. No one in my school speaks Korean, neither my supervisor, but I wanted to include the language in my thesis to make the writing more fun for me. I think it was a mistake.

I am stuck with my analysis. I've chosen a book in English and the translation of that book in Korean. I chose 4 politeness techniques in English and found around 74 sentences. I wanted to compare them to Korean. However, my analysis has to contain around 100 elements that should be analysed and put into a graph for visual representation. I have no idea how to make this happen so that it makes sense and my supervisor is not helping me. I feel like I've been improvising all the way till now and now I'm stuck

I feel like I'm writing empty work that doesn't make any sense. It's making me very stressed and anxious because I have not even 2 months left, I feel like I'll fail and won't finish my undergrad because I chose a dumb topic. I have a lot of stuff written but everything seems pointless to me, as if my analysis made no sense. I wish someone would give me any advice as to how to progress, how to make this thesis better so that it makes sense. How can I incorporate those graphs, what data should I put in there? I feel so lost. What can I even do with this topic anymore, should I just give up?

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    Try to find a native Korean speaker at your university and ask if they can provide 25-30 more examples. Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 19:27
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    Do you speak Korean? Why does your analysis "have" to contain 100 elements that "should" be graphed? It seems strange that there would be such set requirements for a thesis.
    – cag51
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 23:07
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    What does your advisor say ? Most of them prefer their undergraduates not to fail on the home stretch. Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 9:32
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    If you've not yet tried, I would second the advice of getting help from your advisor: have you tried telling your advisor everything in this post, including your distress?
    – Kevin Wang
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 16:23
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    I know about italki and preply (although the latter does take a huge chunk of the teacher's payment, so wouldnt exactly recommend it). Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 9:23

5 Answers 5

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There is possibly a way out that is actually interesting. You have undertaken a difficult task that may not be solvable, especially in the time available.

But the reasons that it is difficult or impossible is something that is worth exploring in any case. Perhaps you can write up the various things you have tried and can also write up the reason(s) why each approach fails. As long as it isn't trivial, this adds something to knowledge that may be sufficient for an undergraduate thesis.

You have learned something even if your original target was out of reach. Make that the basis.

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    I'm only guessing, since I'm not the person who gave this a thumb-down, and that person didn't leave a comment. But I'm guessing it's because the OP basically said "rescue this thesis" and Buffy said how to write a different thesis that might be worthwhile. A reasonable person will keep in mind the possibility that the current thesis may not be possible to rescue.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 20:44
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    @BobaFit I think it was Einstein who once said "If we knew what we were doing it wouldn't be called research."
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 21:32
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In your last paragraph you ask two questions:

... how to make this thesis better so that it makes sense?

and

How can I incorporate those graphs, what data should I put in there?

I think the answer to the first is to write - in English - about the questions you hoped to answer, the relevant things you found out in your comparative readings of the English and the Korean translation, and the conclusions you can draw. You may have discovered that the questions were not properly phrased, or there are no easy conclusions. If so, say so and say why. That's what research is about.

The fact that you have to ask the second question suggests that you have been given a structure you must follow, even if that structure in entirely unsuited to the nature of your research. If that's the case, and your adviser is inflexible, I think you are stuck. Do the best you can to fill in the blanks in the required form. Choose a better advisor for your next project.

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  • Thank you for your answer. I guess the main problem is the second issue, the fact that I have a structure to follow which doesn't make a lot of sense to apply in my analysis. I'll try to work something out because you're right, I have no other choice and I should do better next time.
    – blueyyh
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 8:33
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... I chose 4 politeness techniques in English and found around 74 sentences. I wanted to compare them to Korean. However, my analysis has to contain around 100 elements that should be analysed and put into a graph for visual representation. ...

[EDIT: changed the flow. otherwise, it's essentially the same content]

Give consideration to the natural language processing levels: phonology, morphology, more importantly, those of syntax, semantics and pragmatics.

Give the following a reading and apply the principles.

and this one from a romance language comparison. Romance Languages Comparison Charts

Your theoretical framework might go a long way in shaping 'what' and the 'level' of your comparison and 'graphing'. This book might come in handy for theory and practice.

  • Watts, R. J., Ide, S., & Ehlich, K. (Eds.). (2008). Politeness in language: Studies in its history, theory and practice. Walter de Gruyter.

NB: Ensure you get native Korean speakers to work with. At least, one native speaker and one with linguistic knowledge/background.

[addition]
When one get 'stuck' at #analysis stage, an approach is to take a moment, step back and reflect on the #design.
PS: I understand you indicated mini-thesis. The principles and approach of research cuts across all levels. The rigour increases as one advance from one level to the other.

In the absence of indicating what constitutes or what is the rationale for the #100 elements, I can only guide along the line of research approaches.
In Hill et al., (1986), they had 22 sentences with 19 categorisation translated into Swedish. They administered to #300 across American and Japanese schools, followed by a 'ranking of politeness' plot and a correlation graph.

What is important is to approach the 'dead end' from a reflective approach.
Reconsider your elements from linguistic levels indicated earlier: those of phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics.


Hill, B., Ide, S., Ikuta, S., Kawasaki, A., & Ogino, T. (1986). Universals of linguistic politeness: Quantitative evidence from Japanese and American English. Journal of pragmatics, 10(3), 347-371.
Ide, S. (1989). Formal forms and discernment: Two neglected aspects of universals of linguistic politeness. Walter de Gruyter.
Drellishak, S. Comparative Linguistics via Language Modeling.
Kasanga, L. A., & Lwanga-Lumu, J. C. (2007). Cross-cultural linguistic realization of politeness: A study of apologies in English and Setswana

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    I remember the days in my PhD thesis when every plea for help would be met with "just read this article" or "just read this book." That trauma has kept me from voting either way on this answer.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 20:47
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    I don't really see how this answers the question. If someone on MathSE asks how to solve an exercise, one typically does not answer "just read this book about analysis". Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 9:15
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    @BobaFit I hear you, but the OP doesn't indicate that they have read anything beyond the source material, so "read a book/paper" might well be the answer. Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 10:09
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    This is not a technical help site, and it's not appropriate to present a technical help answer. This answer provides nothing useful to a future reader on the site unless they have exactly OP's research interests, and it's also not clear this is the type or level of help that OP needs. It's not rude for commenters to point these things out.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 14:37
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    I removed some more back-and-forth here. If you have a concern about the comment moderation, please post on meta. We're happy to have that discussion, but this space is reserved for suggestions about how to improve or clarify the answer. I will also add that adding three back-to-back comments is almost never the right thing to do: the comment character limit is there for a reason; if you need to go way over this limit, the content probably belongs in chat, on meta, or as a revision to the answer.
    – cag51
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 16:00
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My answer here is one applicable to many questions about difficulties during a thesis: Talk to your thesis supervisor! Writing a thesis is supposed to be somewhat challenging and unpredictable — it’s a first introduction to research — and it’s the job of your thesis supervisor (or advisor, or whatever your institution calls them) to help you navigate those challenges.

Issues like what you describe — the original thesis plan meets unforeseen difficulties — are very common, and there are many possible approaches to “damage control” for them. These approaches can be fairly subtle, or very drastic — you can remove some material that wasn’t working, or you can add in some extra material to plug a gap, or you can switch to an analysis of the problems the original plan encountered, or you can switch to a completely different project but drawing on the same background reading, so that you don’t have to re-prepare from scratch… Other answers describe some of these “damage control” measures in more detail, but the person who can best advise you on which strategy is more appropriate is your thesis supervisor — so talk to them!

In the unusual scenario that your thesis advisor is unsympathetic or unhelpful, ask advice from some other mentor-figure or authority figure in your department. You can’t necessarily expect as much time and attention from someone else as you can ask from a thesis advisor, but most academics should be willing to help out a student in that situation.

In the most unfortunate case, if your advisor is unhelpful and you can’t find anyone better to ask, then come back here and ask a different question: “I’m stuck on my thesis, and no-one at my instution is willing to help me… what should I do?” But that’s a last resort: the first port of call is always talk to your supervisor, and listen to their advice!

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    +1. I was going to write an answer along the same lines. One addition/ tip to the OP: To make sure you have an effective discussion with you advisor, plan ahead what you say. Focus on the one or two things that are most important to you. make sure they know how you currently feel. It can go something like: "I want to make sure my thesis is at a reasonable academic level and fulfills the requirements. I have many doubts right now if what I did actually works. Please help me pave the best path forward. Let's forge a week-by-week plan to finish this project".
    – KishKash
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 7:32
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    I will do so. Thank you for your answer. I emailed the professor to have a consultation so I hope we'll work something out. I think I the biggest mistake I made was choosing a language which no advisor can help me with. Although I can speak Korean I have no mentor who would help me tackle certain problems.
    – blueyyh
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 8:40
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You need only 24 more Korean sentences. This is not a difficult task at all.

Get on social media, such as Facebook, Tiktok, Instagram, etc. to find Korean speakers and then ask for help by using those polite sentences in Korean that you already know. If they help you, it means you can use Korean language to some extent. This would be convincible to your advisor and the exam committee that your thesis is practical and makes sense.

My point is that we are in year 2023 now. Use the modern tools that are available to you to conduct research.

BTW, we do have Korean Language SE. You can also ask users there about how to say polite sentences in Korean and the corresponding sentences in English.

Lastly, don't forget to cite the help that you get from others.

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