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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

The Effects of Informal Address in the College Classroom

S K Wright
California State University, Chico, United States

As discussed by Brown & Ford (1961), address forms are a complicated yet critical component of language. One’s selection of address forms helps to establish the tone of a communicative exchange and index social status. Many languages (e.g., Japanese) encode these linguistic forms directly into their grammar; however, in English these politeness distinctions are expressed lexically through word choice as speakers must select amongst various forms of a name (e.g., first/last name) and/or title (e.g., Mr., Mrs., Dr.) when addressing a communicative partner.

We are currently seeing changes in speakers’ selections of address forms. This is particularly true in academic settings where most students—and many professors—are now addressed by their first names. My research looks closely at the effects of such changes. Most significantly, my research reveals that students’ attitudes toward their instructors and the quality of their instruction is strongly influenced by the way they choose to address—and are asked to address—their instructors. Specifically, students rated classes where they addressed their instructors by first name as more enjoyable than those where they addressed their instructors by title; however, these courses were also rated as less rigorous and the instructors as less competent.

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