Negotiating identities through pronouns of address in an immigrant community

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


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.

Quick links
A browser-friendly version of this article is not yet available. View PDF
Barron, Anne
(2006) Learning to say "you" in German: The acquisition of sociolinguistic competence in a study abroad context. In M.A. DuFon, & E. Churchill (eds.), Language Learners in Study Abroad Contexts. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 59-88. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Bayer, Klaus
(1979) Addressing pronouns "du" and "Sie": Thesen zu einem semantischen Konflikt im Hochschulbereich. Deutsche Sprache 3: 212-219.Google Scholar
Belz, Julie A., and Celeste Kinginger
(2002) The cross-linguistic development of address form use in telecollaborative language learning: Two case studies. In Canadian Modern Language Review 59/2: 189-214. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Besch, Werner
(1998) Duzen, Siezen, Titulieren: Zur Anrede im Deutschen heute und gestern (second edition). Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.Google Scholar
Blommaert, Jan
(2005) Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Bowers, Christopher
(1992) Comparison of forms of address between England and Germany. Beiträge Zur Fremdsprachenvermittlung Aus Dem Konstanzer SLA 23: 57-62.Google Scholar
Brown, Penelope, and Stephen Levinson
(1987) Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Brown, Roger, and Albert Gilman
(1960) The pronouns of power and solidarity. In T. Sebeok (ed.), Style in Language. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Technology Press of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pp. 253-276.Google Scholar
(1989) Politeness theory and Shakespeare's four major tragedies. Language in Society 18: 159-212. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Carbaugh, Donal
(1996) Situating Selves: The Communication of Social Identities in American Scenes. New York: State University of New York Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Clyne, Michael, Heinz L. Kretzenbacher, Catrin Norrby, and Doris Schüpbach
(2006) Perceptions of variation and change in German and Swedish address. Journal of Sociolinguistics 10.3: 287-319. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Clyne, Michael, Catrin Norrby, and Jane Warren
(2009) Language and Human Relations. Styles of Address in Contemporary Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Coveney, Aidan
(2003) 'Anything you can do, tu can do better': Tu and vous as substitutes for indefinite on in French. Journal of Sociolinguistics 7.2: 164-191. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Dailey-O'Cain, Jennifer, and Grit Liebscher
(2006) Language learners' use of discourse markers as evidence for a mixed code. International Journal of Bilingualism 10.1: March: 89-109. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2009) Dialect use and discursive identities of migrants from the west in eastern Germany. In Patrick Stevenson and Jenny Carl (eds),Language, Discourse, and Identity in Central Europe. The German Language in a Multilingual Space. London, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 185-202. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Delisle, Helga H
(1986) Intimacy, solidarity and distance: The pronouns of address in German. Die Unterrichtspraxis 19.1: 4-15. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Goodwin, Charles, and John Heritage
(1990) Conversation analysis. Annual Review of Anthropology 19: 283-307. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Gumperz, John J
(1982) Discourse Strategies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.  BoP CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Harré, Rom, and Luk van Langenhove
(1991) Varieties of positioning. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 21: 393-407. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hickey, Raymond
(2003) The German address system: Binary and scalar at once. In Irma Taavitsainen, and Andreas H. Jucker (eds.), Diachronic Perspectives on Address Term Systems. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 401-425. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Howell, Richard, and Jack Klassen
(1971) Contrasting "Du/Sie" patterns in a Mennonite community. Anthropological Linguistics 13.2: 68-74.Google Scholar
Kremer, Ludger
(2000) Duzen und siezen: Zur Verwendung der Anredepronomina im Deutschen und Niederländischen. Germanistische Mitteilungen 52: 13-31.Google Scholar
Kretzenbacher, Heinz, Michael Clyne, and Doris Schüpbach
(2006) Pronominal address in German. Rules, anarchy and embarrassment potential. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 29/2: 17.1-17.18. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Liebscher, Grit, and Jennifer Dailey-O’Cain
(2009) Language attitudes in interaction. Journal of Sociolinguistics 13.2: 195-222. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Milroy, Lesley
(1980) Language and Social Networks. Oxford: Blackwell.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Morford, Janet
(1997) Social indexicality in French prenominal address. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 7.1: 3-37. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Mühlhäusler, Peter, and Ron Harré
(1990) Pronouns and People: The Linguistic Construction of Social and Personal Identity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
Schiffrin, Deborah
(1987) Discourse markers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Schüpbach, Doris, John Hajek, Jane Warren, Michael Clyne, Heinz L. Kretzenbacher, and Catrin Norrby
(2006) A cross-linguistic comparison of address pronoun use in four European languages: Intralingual and interlingual dimensions. Annual Meeting of the Australian Linguistic Society 2-12.Google Scholar
Silverstein, Michael
(2003) Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language and Communication 23: 293-229. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Soukup, Barbara
(2009) Dialect Use As Interaction Strategy: A Sociolinguistic Study of Contextualization, Speech Perception, and Language Attitudes in Austria. Wien: Braumüller.Google Scholar
Stoffel, Gertraut
(1983) Veränderungen und semantische Konflikte im Anredeverhalten deutschsprachiger in Neuseeland. Muttersprache 94: 185-193.Google Scholar
Svennevig, Jan
(1999) Getting Acquainted In Conversation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
van Langenhove, Luk, and Rom Harré
(1993) Positioning and autobiography: Telling your life. In Nikolas Coupland, John. F. Nussbaum, and Alan Grossman (eds.), Discourse and Lifespan Identity. London, UK: Sage, pp. 81-99.Google Scholar
Watts, Richard J
(2003) Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Winchatz, Michaela R
(2001) Social meanings in German interactions: An ethnographic analysis of the second-person pronoun Sie. Research on Language and Social Interaction 34.3: 337-69. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
(2006) Fieldworker or foreigner? Ethnographic interviewing in nonnative languages. Field Methods Vol. 18.1: 83-97. CrossrefGoogle Scholar