Vocatives: A double-edged strategy in intercultural discourse among graduate students

Elizabeth Axelson


This paper takes a critical interactional sociolinguistic approach to examine the construction of interculturality (e.g., Nishizaka 1995; Mori 2003) through the use of vocatives in the discourse of a multi-cultural graduate student project group at a large American university. Interviews and descriptive information contextualize the analysis to demonstrate that the use of vocatives achieves a tight linking of inclusion but also inequality in the group talk that involves the Japanese member. The group’s vocatives show a shared interest in bringing the Japanese member into the interaction, but they also construct unequal rights to the floor. They contribute to an interculturality of subordination and an artificial sense of intimacy, characteristics consistent with the institutional setting of the group and attitudes members held about each other. In this environment, the status quo of power identities and a deficit view of the Japanese member goes largely uncontested and limits the ability of American members to learn from their Japanese partner.

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