Negotiating identities through pronouns of address in an immigrant community

Grit Liebscher, Jennifer Dailey-O’Cain, Mareike Müller and Tetyana Reichert

Abstract

This article investigates forms of address, in particular the T/V distinction in German, in conversational interviews with German-speaking immigrants to English-speaking Canada and their descendants. From among 77 interviews conducted in two urban areas in Canada, we discuss instances of both the interactional use of and metalinguistic comments on forms of address. Our analysis is largely guided by conversation analysis and interactional sociolinguistics (e.g. Goodwin & Heritage 1990). Using Clyne, Norrby and Warren’s (2009) model of address as a backdrop, we investigate the construction of group identity and group socialization through the lens of positioning theory (e.g. van Langenhove and Harré 1993; Dailey-O’Cain and Liebscher 2009). This combination of analytical tools can explain shifts in both usage of and attitudes toward the T/V distinction that cannot be explained through language attrition arguments alone.

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