Address practices in academic interactions in a pluricentric language: Australian English, American English, and British English

Maicol Formentelli and John Hajek

Abstract

Following the recent development of address research in pluricentric languages (Clyne et al. 2006), the present study describes address practices in English-speaking academic settings and pursues two main objectives: (a) to provide a profile of address patterns in academic interactions in Australian English; and (b) to compare address practices in higher education across the three dominant varieties of English, namely American English, Australian English, and British English. The data on Australian English are drawn from 235 questionnaires completed by students, who reported on the address strategies adopted by students and teaching staff in classroom interactions in an Australian university. Data on American and British academic settings were retrieved from the research literature on the topic. The findings show a high degree of informality and familiarity in student-teacher relations in Australia, where reciprocal first names are the default pattern of address at all levels. By contrast, in American academia the hierarchical organization of roles and the different professional positions are foregrounded and reinforced through an asymmetrical use of titles, honorifics and first names. Finally, the British university setting displays a non-reciprocal usage of first names and titles between lecturer and students, which gradually evolves into a more generalised reciprocal use of first names, usually after extended contact and collaboration. We argue that the distinctive patterns of address observed in the three varieties of English reflect diverse social and cultural values systems at work in different speech communities.

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