CHAPTER FOUR
                  OF ADDRESS FORMS

4.0 Introduction
       Address forms are generally viewed as the encoding of social
information in human interaction. Such information is manifested in
the use of pronouns and titles of address. Filmore (1975:76) states
that social deixis, that is the use of social coordinates, concerns
“those aspects of sentences which reflect or establish or are
determined by certain realities of the social situation in which the
speech act occurs.” More specifically, Levinson (1983:89) restricts
social deixis to “those aspects of language structure that encode the
social identities of participants, or the social relationship between
them, or between one of them and persons and entities referred to.”
Therefore, speech may effectively reflect the social relation holding
between interactants in a speech event.
       Sociolinguistically, AFs have been mainly viewed in terms of
Power and Solidarity. For instance, the choice between first name
John and the family name with a social honorific Mr. Brown when
addressing the same individual is a matter of power and solidarity.
That is, the more equal    and    intimate the speaker is to the
addressee, the more he would call him John and the less equal and

more distant he is to him, the more he would call him Mr. Brown.
Therefore, the choice between first name and honorificized family
name almost depends on the type of social relationship between the
speaker and the addressee. Thus, Hudson (1980:128) argues that “the
linguistic signalling of power and solidarity can be seen as another
instance of the way in which a speaker locates himself in his social
world when he speaks.”
       The power-solidarity relationships, as described by Brown
and Gilman (1960:105, 107) may vary from one culture to another,
thus making room for language-specific, socially deictic phenomena.
For example, the tu (‘you’ second person singular)/vous (‘you’
second person plural pronoun) distinction in French and the, - َ

(‘you’ second person singular pronoun)/- ‫‘( َكُم‬you’ second person

masculine plural pronoun) distinction in Standard Arabic have direct
indication to the power-solidarity parameter, that is, the use of the
plural vous and – ‫ كُم‬to address one individual conventionally

implicates power of the addressee, while the choice of tu and – َ

mitigates the power of the addressee and, at the same time, promotes
intimacy and solidarity between speaker and addressee; whereas,
English does not exhibit such a distinction in its pronominal system.
English, however, may utilize lexical resources to maintain the
above distinction; for example, the choice between buddy and Sir in
address fulfills, more or less, the same social function. Interestingly,
some languages tilt towards power orientation, while others tilt
towards solidarity orientation. Nevertheless, it should be borne in
mind that the context of situation is the major determinant of the
degree of power or solidarity. The following sections will explore

the above factors in addition to some more others, such as age,
gender, social distance, deference, politeness and register. Special
reference will be made to power and politeness as they cut across all
other factors.
          One last point should be clarified before these factors are
examined, namely, why the term ‘FACTORS’ is used rather than any
other expression? According to Brown and Levinson (1978:79ff),
there are universal factors that determine the selection of politeness
strategies. These factors are ‘power’, ‘social distance’, and ‘rank of
imposition’. Thomas (1995:124ff) also considers these three factors
as universal ones in governing indirectness in all languages and
cultures, and adds to them a fourth one which is the ‘relative rights
and obligations between the speaker and the hearer’. She proceeds
by saying that these factors are universal in the sense that ‘they
capture the types of consideration likely to govern pragmatic choices
in any language, but the way they are applied varies considerably
from culture to culture’ (Ibid.). Busse (1998:46f) as well as Trudgill
(1983:104) also consider power and solidarity as ‘factors’.
          However, Leech (1980) calls the first three factors as
‘parameters’.     To Brown and Gilman (1960:105) ‘power’ and
‘solidarity’ are relationships between two persons in interaction.
          It is preferred here to term them as ‘factors’ following
Brown and Levinson (1978), Thomas (1995) and Busse (1998),
since it is believed that this is a better term and it is also the most
          All of these factors are going to be discussed following the
way they are introduced by the different authors with comments on
how they are related to each other.

4.1 Power
       Power refers to the ability of participants to influence one
another’s circumstances. It has been defined as ‘the possibility of
imposing one’s will upon other persons’ (Holmes, 1995:17) or ‘the
ability to control the behaviour of others’ (Brown and Gilman,
1960:105). Brown and Levinson (1978:77 and 1987) define relative
power in a relationship as the degree to which one person can impose
his/her plans and evaluations at the expense of other people’s.
Similarly, Leech (1983:126) discusses power as ‘AUTHORITY’ of
one participant over another. It is a relationship between at least two
persons, and it is non-reciprocal in the sense that both participants
cannot have power in the same area of behaviour.
       The distribution of power in a particular context may be
derived from a variety of sources: physical strength, wealth, age, sex,
institutionalized role in church, the state, the army or within the
family. The power of an older child over a younger one or of a male
over a female are further culturally constructed sources of power in
many communities. Whatever the source, high power tends to attract
deferential behaviour, including linguistic deference or negative
politeness. We generally avoid offending powerful people, and the
way we talk to them often expresses respect (Holmes, 1995:16f).
Figure (4.1) illustrates power dimension.

                     Superior          High power

                   Subordinate         Low power

                    Figure (4.1) Power dimension
                      (After Holmes, 1995:17)

4.1.1 Power Semantic
          The character of power semantic (by semantic Brown and
Gilman (1960:103) mean the covariation between the pronoun used
and the objective relationship existing between speaker and
addressee) can be made clear with a set of examples from various
languages through history. In his letters, Pope Gregory I (590-604
(as cited in Brown and Gilman, 1960:105)) used T to his subordinates
in his ecclesiastical hierarchy and they invariably said V to him
(Muller, 1914 (as cited in Brown and Gilman, 1960:105)).              In
medieval Europe, generally, the nobility said T to the common people
and received V; the master of a household said T to his slave, his
servant, his squire [in its old sense]1, and received V. Within the
family, of whatever social level, parents gave T to children and were
given V. In Italy in the fifteenth century penitents said V to the priest
and were told T (Grand, 1930).         In the fifteenth-century Italian
literature, Christians say T to Turks and Jews and receive V (Ibid.).
In the plays of Shakespeare (Byrne, 1936 and Busse, 1998 and 1999),
the noble principals say T to their subordinates and are given V in
          The V of reverence entered European speech as an AF to the
principal power in the state and eventually generalized to the powers
within that microcosm of the state—the nuclear family. In the history
of language, then, parents are emperor figures. It is worth mentioning
here that Freud reversed this terminology and spoke of kings, as well
as generals, employers and priests, as father figures. The propriety of
Freud’s designation for his psychological purposes derives from the
fact that an individual learning a European language reverses the
historical order of semantic generalization. The individual’s first
experience of subordination to power and of the reverential V comes

in his relation to his parents. In later years similar asymmetrical
power relations and similar norms of address developed between
employee and employer, soldier and officer, subject and monarch. It
is clear how it might happen, as Freud believed, that the later social
relationships would remind the individual of familial prototype and
would revive emotions and responses from childhood. In a man’s
personal history, recipients of the non-reciprocal V are parent figures
(Brown and Gilman, 1960:106).
       Since the non-reciprocal power semantic only prescribes
usage between superior and inferior, it calls for a social structure in
which there are unique power ranks for every individual. Medieval
European societies were not so finally structured as that, and so the
power semantic was never the only rule for the use of T and V.
There were also norms of address for persons of roughly equivalent
power, that is members of a common class.             Between equals,
pronominal address was reciprocal; an individual gave and received
the same form. During the medieval period, and for varying times
beyond, equals of the upper classes exchanged the mutual V and
equals of the lower classes exchanged T (Ibid.).
       The difference in class practice derives from the fact that the
reverential V was always introduced into a society at the top. In the
Roman Empire only the highest ranking persons had any occasion to
address the emperor, and so at first they made use of V in the
singular. In its later history in other parts of Europe the reverential V
was usually adopted by one court in imitation of another.           The
practice slowly disseminated downward in a society. In this way the
use of V in the singular incidentally came to connote a speaker of
high status. In later centuries Europeans became very conscious of
the extensive use of V as a mark of elegance. In the drama of

seventeenth-century France the nobility and bourgeoisie almost
always address one another as V. This is true even of husband and
wife, of lovers, and of parents and child if the child is an adult.
Madame de Sévigné in her correspondence never uses T, not even to
her daughter the Countesse de Grignan (Schliebitz, 1886 as cited in
Brown and Gilman, 1960:107). Servants and peasantry, however,
regularly used T among themselves.
       For many centuries French, English, Italian, Spanish and
German pronoun usage followed the rule of non-reciprocal T-V
between persons of roughly equivalent power. There was at first no
rule differentiating address among equals but, very gradually, a
distinction developed which is sometimes called the T of intimacy
and the V of formality. Brown and Gilman (Ibid.) name this second
dimension solidarity.

4.1.2 Power and Indirectness
       The general point is that we tend to use a greater degree
of indirectness with people who have some power or            authority
over us than to those who do not. You would probably be more
indirect about conveying to your employer that you are        annoyed
by the fact that he or she always arrives late, than    in   conveying
the same to your brother. This is partly because your employer can
influence your career in a positive way, this is called reward power,
or in a negative way, that is coercive power (Thomas, 1995:124).
These two types of power are most apparent in obviously hierarchical
settings, such as courts, the military and the work place.
       Reward power and coercive power are the most obvious
kinds. However, power is present to a degree in all relationships, at
least most of the time. Thomas (Ibid.:127f) summarizes her account

very briefly. In addition to the two categories already mentioned,
we find:

1. Legitimate power, where one person has the right to prescribe or
     request certain things by virtue of role, age or status.
2.   Referent power,      where one person has power over another
     because the other admires and wants to be like him/her in some
3. Expert power where one person has some special knowledge or
     expertise which the other person needs.

         ‘Legitimate power’, like reward power and coercive power,
remains fairly constant within a relationship; it is the type of power
most subject to cross-cultural variation. For example, teachers in
some cultures can expect, by virtue of their role and status, that
students will routinely perfume certain tasks for them (carry their
books, clean the board, even run errands) while in another culture this
would be unlikable.
         ‘Referent power’ is rather different from the other types of
power, in that it is often not exerted consciously. It is the sort of
power which pop stars and sports idols are alleged to have over the
         ‘Expert power’ is on the whole, more transient than the other
types of power discussed above. For example, if an individual has
great expertise in, say, computing, s/he may have considerable power
over someone who desperately needs to draw on that knowledge. But
the computer expert may, in turn, have to defer to the person s/he was
instructing earlier when it comes to finding out how to prepare a
lemon soufflé (Ibid.).

4.2 Solidarity
         As an AF the original pronoun was T. The use of V in the
singular developed as a form of address to a person of superior power
(Brown and Gilman, 1960:107). There are many personal attributes
that convey power. The recipient of V may differ from the recipient
of T in strength, age, wealth, birth, sex or profession. As two people
move apart on these power-laden dimensions, one of them begins to
say V.    In general terms, the V form is linked with differences
between persons.     Not all differences between persons imply a
difference of power. Men are born in different cities, belong to
different families of the same status, may attend different but equally
prominent schools, may practise different but equally respected
professions. A rule for making distinctive use of T and V among
equals can be formulated by generalizing the power semantic.
Differences of power cause V to emerge in one direction of address;
differences not concerned with power cause V to emerge in both
         The relationships named older than, parent of, employer of,
richer than, stronger than and nobler than are all asymmetrical. If A
is older than B, B is not older than A (cf. 2.2.2 above). The relation
called ‘more powerful than’, which is abstracted from these more
specific relations, is also conceived to be asymmetrical. The pronoun
usage expressing this power relation, as well as forms of address in
general, is also asymmetrical or non-reciprocal, with the greater
receiving V and the lesser T. Now, there is a new set of relations
which are symmetrical; for example, attend the same school or have
the same parents or practise the same profession. If A has the same
parents as B, then B has the same parents as A. Solidarity is the
name given to the general relationship and it is symmetrical. The

corresponding norms of address are symmetrical or reciprocal with V
becoming more probable as solidarity declines. The solidarity T
reaches a peak of probability in address between twin brothers or in a
man’s soliloquizing address to himself.
       It is obvious that not every personal attribute counts in
determining whether two people are solidary enough to use the
mutual T. Eye colour does not ordinarily matter nor does shoe size.
The similarities that matter are those that make for like-mindedness
or similar behaviour dispositions. These will ordinarily be such
things as political membership, family, religion, profession, sex, and
birthplace. Nevertheless, extreme distinctive values on almost any
dimension may become significant.         Height ought to make for
solidarity among giants and midgets. The T of solidarity can be
produced by frequency of contact as well as by objective similarities.
However, frequent contact does not necessarily lead to mutual T. It
depends on whether contact results in the discovery or creation of the
like-mindedness that seems to be the core of the solidarity semantic
(Brown and Gilman, 1960:108).

4.2.1 Solidarity Semantic
       Historically speaking, solidarity comes into the European
pronouns as a means of differentiating address among power equals.
It introduces a second dimension into the semantic system on the
level of power equivalents. So long as solidarity was confined to this
level, the two dimensional system was in equilibrium (See Figure
(3.1) above), and it seems to have remained here for a considerable
time in all languages.     It is from the long reign of the two
dimensional semantic that T derives its common definition as the
pronoun of either condescension or intimacy and V its definition as

the pronoun of reverence or formality. These definitions are still
current, but usage has gone somewhat beyond them.
        The dimension of solidarity is potentially applicable to all
persons addressed. Power superiors may be solidary (parents, elder
siblings) or not solidary (officials whom one seldom sees). Power
inferiors, similarly, may be as solidary as the old family retainer and
as remote as the waiter in a strange restaurant. Extension of the
solidarity dimension along the dotted lines of Figure (3.2) above
creates six categories of persons defined by their relations to a
speaker. Rules of address are in conflict for persons in the upper left
and lower right categories. For the upper left, power indicates T and
solidarity V (Ibid.:108).
        The abstract conflict described in Figure (3.2) above is
particularized in Figure 4.2(a) below with a sample of the      social
dyads in which the conflict would be felt. In each case usage       in
one direction is unequivocal but, in the other direction, the two
semantic forces are opposed. The first three dyads in Figure 4.2(a)
involve conflict in address to inferiors who are not solidary (the
lower right category of Figure (3.2)), and the second three dyads
involve conflict in address to inferiors who are not solidary (the
lower right category of Figure (3.2)), and the second three dyads
involve conflict in address to superiors who are solidary (the upper
left category in Figure (3.2)).
        Through the nineteenth century the power semantic
prevailed and waiters, common soldiers and employees were called
T while parents, masters, and elder brothers were called V.
However, in the twentieth century, all the evidence consistently
indicates that the solidarity semantic has gained supremacy
(Ibid.:109).   Dyads of the type shown in Figure 4.2 (a) now

reciprocate the pronoun of solidarity or the pronoun of non-solidarity.
The conflicted address has been resolved so as to match the
unequivocal address. The abstract result is a simple one-dimensional
system with the reciprocal T for the solidarity and the reciprocal V
for the non-solidary.

             customer                officer          employer
            T V          V       T V        V        T V          V
                waiter               soldier          employee

                parent               master         elder brother
            T       T V          T         T V        T       T V
                 son            faithful servant   younger brother

             customer             officer             employer
                     V                 V                      V
                waiter            soldier             employee

                parent            master            elder brother
                T                  T                      T
                son           faithful servant     younger brother
                    Figure (4.2) Social dyads involving
             (a) semantic conflict and (b) their resolution
                    (After Brown and Gilman, 1960:110)

       It is the present practice to reinterpret power-laden attributes
so as to turn them into symmetrical solidarity attributes.
Relationships like older than, father of, nobler than and             richer

than are now reinterpreted for purposes of T and V as relations of
the same age as, the same family as, the same kind of ancestry as
and the same income as. In the degree that these         relationships
hold, the probability of a mutual T increases and, in the       degree
that they do not hold, the probability of a mutual V increases
       There is an interesting residual of the power relation in the
contemporary notion that the right to initiate the reciprocal T belongs
to the member of the dyad having the better power-based claim to say
T without reciprocation. The suggestion that solidarity be recognized
comes more gracefully from the elder than the younger, from the
richer than from the poorer, from the employer than the employee,
from the noble than from the commoner, from the female than from
the male.
       In most Western societies today, what Brown and Gilman
(1960:110f) call the solidarity semantic has increasingly displaced the
power semantic in many contexts; ‘solidarity has largely won out
over power.’ In other words, solidarity is generally given more
weight than power in determining appropriate linguistic behaviour.
Despite power differences, people who know each other will use first
names reciprocally for instance.

4.3 Social Distance
       The term ‘social distance’ (Leech, 1983:126) is the opposite
of Brown and Gilman’s (1960) ‘solidarity factor’. Social distance
can be seen as a composite of sociolinguistically real factors (status,
age, sex, degree of intimacy, etc.) which together determine the
overall degree of respectfulness within a given speech situation
(Thomas, 1995:128). This means that if you feel close to someone,

because that person is related to you, or you know him or her well or
are similar in terms of age, social class, occupation, sex, ethnicity,
etc., you feel less need to employ honorifics.
       Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish between Power and
Social Distance and even some studies conflate the two (cf. Blum-
Kulka, House and Kasper, 1989). The reason they are so often
confused is that power and social distance very frequently         co-
occur. We tend to be socially distant from those in      power    over
us, for instance in the work place. But this is by        no     means
always the case; Aeginitou (1995) clearly shows how in the
language classroom students are often close to their teachers, even
though there is a marked inequality of power. In the following
example, the interactants are in an unequal power relationship,
however, they are quite close to one another, as revealed by the
address forms used:

- This is an extract from an authentic interview between a detective
  superintendent and a detective constable of the Thames Valley

       DS: … that’s the way. Come back bloody fighting.
            Let’s have, let’s have some grit about it.
       DC: I know governor, now I’ve done that …

       The detective constable is being disciplined and transferred
from the plain clothes to the uniformed division of the          police
(which he regards as a demotion). For the first ten minutes of the
interaction the detective constable has used only very formal
language, although the detective superintendent addresses him by
his first name throughout; up to this point, the detective constable

has addressed his superior officer as ‘Sir’ no fewer than eleven
times. Just before this extract begins, the detective constable has
started to cry, and the detective superintendent changes his tone
somewhat, speaking to him ‘man to man’, swearing ‘bloody’ and
using informal terms ‘grit’. The detective constable responded by
addressing him as ‘governor’ which marks a close, but still
subordinate relationship.
       Obviously, social distance and power interact.         Negative
politeness strategies tend both to express distance and emphasize
power distinctions. Western societies, at least, tend to treat strangers
and superiors very similarly. Positive politeness strategies express
solidarity and also emphasize equality between participants. Where
people tend to emphasize social distance, the norms may require
reciprocal negative politeness—both sides will use formal titles, for
instance. Where people want to reduce social distance, despite a
power or status difference, reciprocal positive politeness tends to
prevail, for example both sides will use reciprocal first names. While
between equals, politeness strategies will be determined by factors
other than power (e.g., social distance, and the formality of the
context). So the way you talk to your closest friend will depend on
where you are talking.

4.4 Formality
       Context is a fundamental influence on the choice of AFs.
Brown and Gilman (1960) do not mention this factor in their study.
Holmes (1995:19) considers it fundamental. If we consider a formal
setting, such as a law court or ceremonial occasion, speakers tend to
focus on transactional role rather than personal relationships and
negative politeness is the prevalent pattern (cf. 4.7 below). Brothers

who are barristers will refer to each other in court as my learned
colleague. A Minister’s secretary will generally address him/her as
Minister in a formal meeting, but reciprocal first names are more
likely between them in private. School pupils may use a teacher’s
first name in out of school activities, but back in the classroom the
asymmetrical pattern of title plus last name for the teacher and first
name for the pupil will reassert itself. Similarly, in languages with a
T/V distinction, the V form may be considered the appropriately
polite form for very formal contexts, regardless of the personal
relationships involved.
       The formality dimension is not explicitly treated as a separate
factor in the politeness models of Leech (1983) and Brown and
Levinson (1978, 1987). They assume that in the analysis of any
particular interaction, situational factors are satisfactorily accounted
for as components of other dimensions such as power and social
distance (Brown and Levinson, 1978:79). This emphasizes the fact
that assessments of relative power and social distance are always
context-dependent. The relative power, for example, between you
and your boss will be assessed differently at a meeting in the
workplace compared to a meeting at the swimming pool.
Nevertheless, it has proved more useful to take account explicitly of
the relative formality of the context, especially in the analysis of
certain features of interaction such as amount of talk and verbal
       In the following two examples, the context of the first
situation is very formal, the addressee is referred to in the third
person and the language is formal and distant by using typical
negative politeness devices such as the word please.            In the
functionally equivalent utterance 2, the address form love is a

positive politeness device, and the form of the request is a very direct
question, reflecting the intimacy of the relationship, and the
informality of the context.

       (1) Judge to witness in law court.
             - The witness will please repeat his response to the last
                question for the benefit of the jury.
       (2) Husband to wife at home.
             - mm? What was that love?

       Note that in different circumstances, such as a question from a
prosecutor in court to an accused person, i.e., the question what was
that? might be experienced as very threatening. Clearly, linguistic
behaviour is powerfully affected by context, and by people’s
perceptions of the appropriate usage of a particular context.

4.5 Gender
       Different groups use different linguistic strategies for the
same purpose.     Women and men are no exceptions.           The same
utterance may be used and interpreted differently by different social
groups including women and men. Just as a gift expresses solidarity
and appreciation in some cultures, but is a form of one-upping a rival
in others, so at least some compliments may be accepted as tokens of
solidarity by women but experienced as an embarrassment by men
(Tannen, 1991:295f; cf. also Tannen, 1994). The same is likely to be
true of the choice of address forms. For example, Holmes (1995:153)
cites an interaction among members of a rugby team in the locker
room before a match where the team members insult and abuse each
other using AFs of ‘sexual humiliation’ as a means of creating group
solidarity through the loss of face. Insults function for these men as

expressions of solidarity, whereas women prefer compliments for this
       It also seems that the way men use compliments to women,
in particular, may reflect the subordinate status of women in the
society generally. Like endearments, compliments gain their force
from the context of the relationship in which they are used. When
they are used non-reciprocally by superiors to subordinates, they may
underline patterns of societal power which place women in a clearly
subordinate position to men. Holmes (Ibid.:19) states that women are
regarded as a subordinate or less powerful group than men in many
communities, and this is, not surprisingly, often reflected in different
politeness devices used by and addressed to women.
       The precise weighting to be given to power or status in
relation to gender in any society is a matter for investigation.      If
one accepts the view that women are generally a            subordinate
group relative to men, then the interaction of gender and other
factors which contribute to the assessment of relative power is
clearly a complex matter. When a boss and her female secretary
know each other, and not necessarily close friends, for example,
either may use first names; but the case is different with a boss and
her male secretary.
       It seems possible also that women and men may have
different perceptions of appropriate linguistic behaviour in different
contexts. The interaction patterns of women and men, for instance,
are very different in formal, public contexts and informal private
contexts. To some extent this may reflect the different emphasis that
women and men appear to put on the functions of interaction in
different contexts (Ibid.:21).

4.6 Deference
       Deference is frequently equated with politeness, particularly
in discussions of Japanese. It is really connected with politeness; but
it is a distinct phenomenon. It is the opposite of familiarity. It refers
to the respect we show to other people by virtue of their higher status,
greater age, etc. Politeness is a more general matter of showing, or
rather of giving the appearance of showing consideration to others.
Both deference and politeness can be manifested through general
social behaviour; we can show deference by standing up when a
person of superior status enters a room, or show politeness by holding
a door open to allow someone else to pass through, as well as by
linguistic means (Thomas, 1995:150). In fact, Brown and Levinson
(1978:183ff) consider deference as a negative politeness strategy.
However, both deference and politeness will be treated as factors in
determining the choice of AFs in the present study.
       Deference is built into the grammar of languages such as
Korean and Japanese. It is also found in a much reduced form in the
grammar of those languages which have a ‘T/V system’, languages
such as French, German and Russian in which there is a choice of
second person pronoun: tu/vous, du/Sie, TbI/BbI. In French, for
example, you have to make a choice between the pronoun tu and vous
in addressing someone; although it is theoretically possible to avoid
the problem by using the pronoun on, it would be extremely difficult
to keep this up for long. This means that speakers of languages
which make the T/V distinction are obliged, because of the linguistic
choices they must make, to signal either respect or familiarity
towards their interlocutor. In the grammar of present-day English,
which, in its standardized form, ceased to make the T/V distinction
(thou/you) between three and four hundred years ago, virtually no

deference forms remain.      Exceptions are address forms (Doctor,
Professor, etc.) and the use of ‘honorifcs’ such as Sir or Madam
which may be used to indicate the relative status of                the
interactants.    Conversely, first names (Richard, Catherine) or
diminutives of those first names (Dick, Kate) are used to show a
friendly, non-deferential relationship. (cf. above). Outside the
address system, it is really very difficult to find markers of deference
in present-day English. Thomas (1995:151) cites an exceedingly rare

        - A British Member of Parliament, Tim Devlin, was referring
          to the Queen’s ceremonial speech at the State Opening of
        ‘This year there were substantial references to Europe in the
          Gracious Speech.’

        As indicated above, it is very unusual in English to find
deference explicitly grammatically signalled by anything other than
address forms. In languages such as Japanese and Korean, however,
many parts of speech, nouns and adjectives as well as verbs and
pronouns, can be ‘unmarked’ or marked for deference. Matsumoto
(1989:209) demonstrates that it is impossible in Japanese to avoid
marking the relationship between speaker and hearer. She gives the
example of a simple declarative: Today is Saturday. In English, the
same grammatical form could be used regardless of the hearer’s
social status.    In Japanese the copula would be plain (da),
‘deferential’ (desu), or ‘super deferential’ (degozaimasu) according to
the status of the addressee.        As Ide (1989:229f) discussing
Matsumoto notes, the choice of the honorific or plain form of the
copula is not a matter of individual choice, it is ‘an obligatory choice

among variants’, reflecting the speaker’s sense of place or role in a
given situation according to social conventions.
       The reason why deference is said to have little to do with
pragmatics is that generally, unless the speaker deliberately wishes to
flout the behavioural norms of a given society, the speaker has no
choice as to whether to use the deferent form or not, usage is dictated
by sociolinguistic norms. Thus a soldier has no real choice about
addressing a superior officer as Sir or Ma’am, military discipline
dictates the forms used: it is a sociolinguistic norm, with penalties
attached to a non-observance of the norm, and does not necessarily
indicate any real respect or regard for the individual so addressed.
The following incident occurred at the Royal Military Academy,
Sandhurst (Thomas, 1995:152):

       - The speaker was the Academy Sergeant Major (one of the
          few ranks of non-commissioned officer normally addressed
          as ‘Sir’).   He was talking to a newly-arrived group of
          officer cadets:
                  “You will address me as ‘Sir’ at all times and I will
                  also address you as ‘Sir’. The difference is that you
                  will mean it!”

       If the use of a particular form is obligatory in a particular
situation, as in the above example, it is of no significance
pragmatically; it is only when there is choice, or when a speaker
attempts to bring about change by challenging the current norms, that
the use of deferent or non-deferent forms becomes of interest to the
pragmaticist. Address forms, the use of T or V forms (tu versus
vous), etc., are pragmatically interesting only when a strategic choice
is made; for example, when, one suddenly starts to address someone

by his or her first name or using a T form with the deliberate aim of
changing the social relationship.
       It is also worth noting that the use of a deferent form does
not in and of itself convey respect. The following exchange         is
cited by Thomas (Ibid.). She overheard it as she was staying with a
French family in the late 1960s, when it was exceedingly unusual for
children to address their parents using vous-form but       for some
reason in that family they did. The speaker manages to express
extreme disrespect, while using conventional forms of address:

       - The speaker was a boy of about sixteen.

         ‘Mère, vous me faites chier!’

       Outside the appropriate sociolinguistic situation, the use of a
deference marker can convey the very reverse of respect. In the
following extract, the speaker exploits the address system, using an
inappropriately elaborate and deferential form of address to       his
wife, in order to imply that she is behaving in an unnecessarily
pretentious way:

       - The speaker and his wife have driven a long way and are
          both very hungry. However, the wife keeps refusing to
          stop at the diners they pass, because she thinks they look
          too down-marked:

          ‘What was the matter with the ‘Elite Diner’, milady?’

       Finally, one can demonstrate that politeness and deference are
distinct, though related systems, by noting that it is possible to be
deferential without being polite, as in the following:

       - Brian Wilson, Labour M.P. for Cunninghame North, was
          addressing Nicholas Soames, Conservative M.P. for
          Crawley, during the ‘poll tax’ debate in1988:

       BW: Does the honourable member for Crawley wish to
       NS : No.
       BW: The last time I saw a mouth like that it had a hook in it.

       The speaker uses an elaborate deference form, while at the
same time impolitely implying that Mr. Soames looked like a trout.
In the following example, the use of the colloquial form Gaffer
(meaning the boss) as a form of reference or of address indicates that
the speaker is in a subordinate position, but conveys no politeness
whatever. Its use in this context conveys contempt.

       - An agricultural student, Ruth Archer, is referring to the
          estate foreman, whom she dislikes and mistrusts.
       - What does old Gaffer Knowles want?

4.7 Politeness
       The terms politeness and polite have been used again and
again in the preceding sections, as is common when AFs are
discussed. Therefore, special attention will be paid to discussing it as
a factor influencing the choice of AFs as well as a phenomenon.
       The question of politeness often arises when there is
interlingual contact, for example, in foreign language      instruction.
A question like How are you? for example, can be irritating in
interlingual contact, since it is a post-greeting routine in some
languages and need not be answered (at least not honestly), while

being an expression of a truly personal concern in others (cf.    Al-
Taii, 1998:21).    Politeness phenomena of this kind are often
compared and questions like ‘Which language        is   most polite?’
are always raised, and lead to the conclusions like:    “The    Polish
(or Japanese) people are very polite, they always use titles,     and
they kiss a lady’s hand when saying hello.” or “In America, everyone
uses first names, salespersons address customers as honey or buddy,
and people are generally very informal.” (Braun and Schubert,
        Apart from the fact that conclusions like these are much too
generalizing, and that monolingual native speakers do not normally
feel impolite or overpolite in adhering to the rules valid in their
community, the question arises, what politeness actually consists of.
AFs are good examples of politeness expressions, for the system of
address appears to be elaborated in all languages taking into
consideration that there is no language which does not possess
several address variants, at least nominal ones.
        The following sections will deal with (1) Negative and
positive face manifested in Address forms, (2) Politeness in dyadic
address exchange, (3) The ambiguity of politeness, and (4) Politeness
in contrast.

4.7.1 Negative and Positive Face Manifested
        in Address Forms
        The concepts of negative and positive face and of negative
and positive politeness are central to the Brown and Levinson theory
(1978, 1987). In general, negative face concerns the preservation of
the sacredness of the individual by means of the negative rites of

avoidance.    Positive face also concerns the scaredness of the
individual, but it is preserved by means of the positive rites of
approach, exaltation and affirmation.
       The maintenance of negative face requires the achievement of
distance. Vertical distance is created by deference (See 4.6 above),
the acknowledgement of the lack of common status. The use of Your
Majesty or Mr. President identifies the hearer as the occupant of an
exalted, sacred and remote position. These are extreme examples;
more attenuated notions of deference are preserved in more mundane
everyday AFs, such as ‘Mr.’. Horizontal distance, that is, distance
between equals, is created by mutual deference, as when two
strangers address each other by ‘Mr. Smith’ and ‘Mr. Jones’.
Distance can be created in other ways, for example through
impersonalisation. Impersonalisation in this sense is the denial of
individuality. For example, the use of ‘Sir’ identifies the hearer
only as a member of a category (all adult males) rather than as a
unique individual (Mr. B. Mapheus Smith) (Wood and Kroger,
       The maintenance of positive face requires the achievement of
closeness and common identity.          These can be created by
personalisation and by the use of so-called identity markers. The
mutual use of first names signifies that speaker and hearer ‘belong’ as
does the use of ‘sister’ in feminist discourse and the use of ‘brother’
among unrelated blacks. Forms of endearment, as darling, are the
ultimate indices of closeness and intimacy (Ibid.).

4.7.2 Politeness in Dyadic Address Exchange
       Wood and Kroger (1991:148f) focus their study on six
particular exchanges of AFs: TLN/FN (speaker sends title and last

name and receives first name); KT + / FN (speaker sends ascending
kin title and receives first name), FN/TLN, TLN/TLN, FN/FN, and
FN/KT+. These include the basic forms identified by Brown and
Ford (1961); however, those exchanges involving kin titles are added
because of the implications of the latter for considering solidarity in
unequal relationship. Title + Last Name (TLN)
       The use by a speaker of TLN is potentially an instance of two
negative politeness strategies, ‘Impersonalise’, and ‘show deference’.
Although Brown and Levinson (1978, 1987) do not mention the use
of TLN specifically under Impersonalisation, they do include the
plural pronoun ‘you’, and as they discuss under ‘deference’, (see also
Brown and Gilman, 1960), plural ‘you’ and TLN can serve similar
functions. As impersonalisation strategies, both plural ‘you’ and
TLN produce distance. TLN serves to show deference only if it is
used non-reciprocally. More specifically TLN is deferential only if
the speaker is in turn addressed by a more intimate, personal form,
such as FN. Kinship Terms (KT)
       The use of KTs is an instance of positive politeness strategy,
‘use in-group identity markers’.        When they are used non-
reciprocally, as is the case in Western cultures, kin titles serve to
show deference, that is negative politeness. First Name (FN)
       The use of FN is potentially also an instance of the positive

politeness strategy. ‘Use in-group identity markers’, in which case it
indicates intimacy. However, when it is used non-reciprocally, it can
also serve to indicate the opposite of deference, namely
condescension (Brown, 1965). Brown and Levinson do not discuss
condescension, because their attention is focused largely on
politeness strategies. Condescension is not a politeness strategy.
Rather, it is a face-threatening acts; it threatens the positive face of
the hearer by suggesting that the hearer’s worth is less than that of
the speaker (Wood and Kroger, 1991:148). The question arises as
to whether the non-reciprocal use of FN can             simultaneously
indicate both intimacy and condescension. In exchanges involving
kin titles (FN/KT + , e.g. John/Dad), this is clearly the case; the
speaker might be described as simultaneously threatening face and
redressing the face-threat.      The exchange FN/TLN is more
problematic. In the sequences of address exchange described by
Brown and Ford (1961), the use of FN by one member of a dyad
who previously exchanged mutual TLN is identified as a move
towards intimacy, and this interpretation is reasonable. However, if
the exchange in a particular dyad has always been non-reciprocal
FN/TLN, the use of FN is not an indication that the speaker feels
close to the hearer. Rather, non-reciprocal FN serves to indicate the
relative power or status of the speaker and it functions as
unredressed face-threat. This does not mean necessarily that the
speaker does not feel close to the hearer, but it suggests that any
such feelings will be signalled in some other way. Further, because
closeness is likely to be a reciprocal feeling, it would be expected
that these other signals would be reciprocated, that is, the hearer
would also be ‘personal’ in some way, whereas the hearer’s use of
TLN clearly does not signal intimacy. The speaker’s use of FN in

FN/TLN exchanges thus remains potentially ambiguous (cf. 4.7.3
          The use of professional titles or multiple names (MN) is
excluded as they can be considered as variations on the basic forms.
They essentially represent degrees in the elements of politeness; for
example, both FN and MN represent positive politeness, but MN is a
stronger form.

4.7.3 The Ambiguity of Politeness
          Most languages have two pronouns of address, or even more,
one of which is usually called ‘intimate’ and the other one ‘polite’
(Brown and Gilman (1960) and Brown and Ford (1961)). This is the
case with German du and Sie, French tu and vous, English thou and
you, Arabic َ ‫ أنم َ , أنم‬and ُُ‫ . أنم‬Such labelling is vague, of course, as

the respective culture determines where and when linguistic
politeness is expected. But even within one culture, a characterization
as ‘polite’ pronoun is not exact, because the use of a form such
classified need not always be polite while the other pronoun implying
the feature ‘-polite’, may be the really polite only in certain contexts
(Braun, 1988:46). The following sections will elaborate this point. Impolite Use of Polite Address Forms
          When there is an opposition of a second person singular
pronoun and a second person plural pronoun in address, the singular
form mostly is the original and intimate form, whereas the plural was
invented for expressing politeness.
          For example, the German polite pronoun of address Sie would
lose its connotation of politeness when a student uses it in

addressing his/her fellow-students with Sie. This would be regarded
as queer, not as exceptionally polite. Within the family, a mother
addressed with Sie would consider this a joke and not a polite
         Another example for the impolite use of polite forms is the
use of polite nominal forms such as Sir when addressing someone
who is inferior or equal to the addresser, for instance when a mother
addresses her son as Sir. Polite Use of ‘Non-Polite’ Address Forms
         Just as a polite form of address can take negative
connotations, a ‘non-polite’ form can, vice versa, express respect and
solemnity. Forms like ‘Mr. + last name’ are considered as polite
because they are used to superiors.       However, a form used to
inferiors, for instance a kinship form as uncle, as used in Turkish,
when used for example to an old taxi driver, can also be considered
as polite (Braun, 1988:49) since one is treating him as one’s own
         The switch to the T pronoun in addressing the King of
Denmark reported in Jacobsen (1949:86 as cited in Braun, 1988:49)
is an example of a violation of norms which was not perceived as
impolite, but was considered an excellent style. Again, certain forms
are classified as polite, but the use of the contrasting ‘non-polite’
variant can be claimed to be polite as well. What is New is Polite
         A possibly universal phenomenon is conspicuous in regard to
the introduction of forms of politeness: when a new pronoun of

address or indirect address turns up in addition to an existing pronoun
of address and refers to the same person, that is, the collocutor, but
differs from the older one in the degree of politeness, then the new
form is always more polite. Braun (1988:57f) believes that there is
no language where a new AF was introduced because the old
pronoun of address being too polite, that is, where speakers needed a
way of     approaching     their collocutors more closely than was
possible with the usual pronoun.
         It should be noted that the use of politeness expressions
occasionally undergoes rapid changes. This happens when upper
class speakers use a pronoun of address to members of lower classes;
in a further step the variant is restricted to address among lower class
speakers. The pronoun then becomes a symbol of lower classes,
while its degree of respect decreases. When a polite pronoun has
descended like this, it can be opposed to a newer one as a non-polite
variant.    Sometimes, a descending polite pronoun completely
displaces the old second person singular pronoun. This is the case
with English ‘thou’ and ‘you’.
         The above explanation confirms the observation that a new
form of address supplemented to a pronoun not marked as polite is
always more polite than the older one. Polite Forms of Address Wearing Out
         It has already been mentioned that in many cases it is the
upper classes who introduce polite forms of address into a speech
community. These forms expand, not only in the sense of becoming
known and used by more speakers, but often, and not always, also
by being used in a higher number of communicative            situations,
that is, by gaining a wider field of application. As the example of

English you shows, this may lead to the disappearance of the old
second person singular pronoun from language usage.                 But
subsequent to this development, English you became a universal
pronoun of address appropriate for any situation and hence
corresponding to the universal thou (thee) before the differentiation
of pronominal address.
       This development, as well as many others in different
languages, (cf. Ibid.:58ff) shows that a      polite expression     can
retain its polite meaning only as a part of the system. You is
polite only as long as it is opposed to thou.        When thou loses
frequency, the polite connotation of you is worn out to the same
extent. In this respect there is direct interdependence between the
use of an expression and its degree of politeness (its use being
interdependent with that of other expressions designating the
       The observation made by Altmann and Riška (1966:3) seems
to contradict the above description.      They argue that there are
politeness expressions which have a polite meaning although a non-
polite equivalent is missing. In German, for example, a word like
Herr is an expression of politeness only as long as it participates in a
system together with other variants. In the case of Herr, another
variant is the non-use of Herr. There are male persons, for example,
children, who are not addressed as Herr in German. The fact that
Herr, on the other hand, has a wide range of application leads to a
rather high degree of fading. The case of English you is different.
There is no collocutor who cannot be addressed with you (as a
bound form), so that you has not preserved any trace of its former

       Braun (1988:60f) claims that the more an expression wears
out, the more the probability increases of its acquiring the meaning
which should actually only be alluded to. Typical examples of this
are nouns and adjectives used in indirect address. Indirect address
occurs in many languages, and sometimes these nominal bound forms
are pronominalized in the course of time. Polish pan/pani ‘Mr./Mrs.’
as used in indirect address are already in their way to becoming
       Pronominalization of forms which were introduced in order to
avoid the pronoun of address is a typical case of wearing out.
Silveberg (1940:514) presumes that, in the evolution of human
language, the pronoun came into being as a part of an avoidance
process, replacing the tabooed name as a substitute. If the cause for
avoiding a certain expression continues to exist after the substitute is
worn out, the necessity arises to replace the substitute, now too direct
itself, with a new term of avoidance.
       Such a repetition of the avoidance and substitution process
can indeed be observed, especially with pronouns of address. One
example is found in the evolution from Latin to Spanish: In Latin, vos
is introduced as a polite pronoun for a single addressee; in Spanish,
the polite connotation of vos fades away, so that vos is displaced by
indirect address (later pronominalized as usted) in some varieties,
while it in turn displaces tú in other varieties, which also introduce
usted (voseo).

4.7.4 Politeness in Contrast
       The always raised question as which language is most polite
can be considered in the light of the following reflections.

(1) If politeness is defined in terms of adequacy, then all languages
are equally polite, since they all have forms of address at their
disposal, which, according to their rules of application, are adequate
in different situations. Any speaker of a language has the opportunity
to adhere to the rules and to choose those forms which best suit
his/her relationship to the addressee. Internal rules in any language
determine what is considered adequate. So there is adequate, hence
polite, behaviour in any language.

(2) If politeness is defined as the high position of a form in a
hierarchical arrangement of variants, then comparison of languages
will reveal differences in the number of positions on such a scale.
The different ways of dividing the continuum produce gradation,
which are more or less differentiated. In evaluating these differences
two attitudes can be considered:

(a) The difference is regarded as a difference in the range of the
individual forms only. A language with four polite pronouns, for
example, divides the polite end of the scale into smaller sections,
while a language with only one polite pronoun covers the entire
area with only one form. However, since both languages possess
forms to cover the upper part of the scale, both languages are
equally polite.

(b)   The second attitude proceeds from the number of variants
occupying the upper ranks on the politeness scale of a language.
The tendency to provide extra forms for high-status positions
instead of including them into a domain of general politeness or
even refraining from differentiation, for example English        you,
might then be regarded as polite. The tendency of making status

gradation explicit by using special forms of address for special
statuses, and to treat superiors different from inferiors or       peers
could be called politeness. In this sense, these would indeed be
‘polite’ languages and ‘less polite’ languages.          Yet, it seems
reasonable to look for the cause of politeness or non-politeness in the
social structure of a community rather than assuming a particular
mental trait in the group.

       The impression that certain languages are particularly polite
does not only result from a finer gradation of the scale, but frequently
from literal, hence inadequate translation of polite expressions in a
foreign language. The foreign variant is then evaluated according to
the degree of respect signalled by its translation in the native address
system (Braun, 1988:62).
       Still another conclusion may be derived from interlingual
differences in systems of address—or even in polite forms in general:
One might assume that a language community lacking a certain
variant which is found in another language, also lacks the degree of
respect that goes with it. Not only the division of the respect scales
might differ, but also the scales themselves, so that the respect scale
of a language with four or five polite pronouns would reach higher
than the respect scale of a language with only one pronoun. The
different shapes of address systems would then correspond to
different ways of experiencing interpersonal relationships. There
would not only be differences in linguistic politeness, but differences
in the very feeling of respect.       This assumption, though looks
attractive, lies outside the area of the scientifically verifiable, since
there is no method of determining people’s feelings and attitudes
towards others in an objective way (Ibid.).

4.8 Register
       For the sake of completeness, a brief discussion of register is
included. The term register refers to ‘systematic variation in relation
to social context’ (Lyons, 1977:584) or the way in which ‘the
language we speak or write varies according to the type of situation’
(Halliday, 1978:32).
       Certain situations, for example very formal meetings or types
of language use, for instance report-writing versus writing a note to a
close friend, as well as certain social relationships, require more
formal language use. This ‘formality’ may manifest itself in English
by the choice of formal lexis and forms of address, the avoidance of
interruption, etc., while in languages such as Japanese and Korean the
formality will be marked additionally by forms such as Japanese
degozaimasu discussed earlier.
       Register has little to do with politeness and little connection
with pragmatics, since there is no real choice about whether or not to
use formal language in formal situation, unless we are prepared to
risk sanctions, such as social censure. Like deference, register is
primarily a sociolinguistic phenomenon: a description of the
linguistic forms which generally occur in a particular situation.
Choice of register has little to do with strategic use of language and it
only becomes of interest to the pragmaticist if a speaker deliberately
uses unexpected forms in order to change the situation, in the same
way that we may switch from a V to T form in order to change a
social relationship, or to challenge the status quo. Examples of the
former might be if a prospective postgraduate student dropped into a
university department for a chat and something which began as an
informal, information-seeking event was changed by one of the
participants into a formal admission interview. An example of the

latter would be if you decided to disrupt a stuffy meeting by using
language not normally associated with that particular type of event,
such as cracking jokes or making fun of the person chairing the
meeting (Thomas, 1995:154f).

4.9 Conclusion
        The factors governing the choice of address forms are so
varied and, partly, so culture-specific that it is hard to fit them into a
general theoretical frame. Not all of them can easily be traced back
to   the    more     abstract    notions    of    superiority/inferiority,
distance/intimacy, formality/informality, etc. For example, in Arabic,
the extra linguistic feature “+ beard” can determine whether unknown
male adults receive the term ‫ شيخ‬which characterizes the addressee as
a religious person. Wearing a beard (moustache will not suffice) is
interpreted as a typical feature of a faithful Muslim, just as a certain
way of clothing may be. Appearance certainly is not an uncommon
factor in selecting address variants, especially when strangers are
concerned. Still it remains doubtful how to evaluate the use of ‫ شخ‬in
this situation is employed because the addressee looks like one, and it
is difficult to say what this means in terms of superiority/inferiority,
distance/intimacy or any other similar notions.              A modern,
Westernized Arab person might consider a religious and traditional
role, such as ‫ , شيخ‬inferior or backward, whereas an Arab person with
a traditional background might consider this a dignified position in
society. Especially for an observer who is not a member of the
respective culture, the interpretation of such an AF and the social
role connected with it may present a problem. In the ‫شيخ‬            case,
there is also no formal clue that could facilitate an evaluation, such
as honorific plural might do.      There may be AFs which simply

cannot be grasped with the help of well-known general parameters
such as age, status, sex, etc. The same is true, as far as appearance
is concerned, with a man well-dressed in Western clothes who might
be illiterate, but still, he might be called      ُ‫( أُسمم‬professor) by

       Thus regularities of address can reasonably be suggested only
by referring to a single-address system first. Only one long-time
observation and interlingual comparison will show if any rule can
claim the status of a universal. Because of the diversity of languages
and societies, however, it may well be that few actually can.


         Squire is used here to mean a young man who was an
assistant to a KNIGHT before becoming a KNIGHT himself
(OALD, 2004).

To top