Something behind the Terms of Address
The way that people address others has rich meaning and they vary significantly among different countries and regions. There are multiple factors contributing to the phenomenon, including the influence of history, politics and geography. The close relationship between language and culture is revealed explicitly and implicitly from the terms of address.
Firstly, the addressing ways reflect different values and conventions people hold in distinguished forms of societies (e.g. capitalism and socialism). It is recognized that eastern societies are structured based on kinship, which is mainly presented through a hierarchy and collectivistic ...view middle of the document...
The former is used when speaking to people who have a higher position in the hierarchy or the ones that are not close to the addressers; however, to familiar people, the latter one will be adopted. People must obey the rule systematically according to the assumptions for particular identities. For example, 씨 “ssi” in Korean, さん “san” in Japanese have a similar function and use, which is added after a person’s full name in formal occasions to indicate politeness. However, in Chinese, there is no particular social deixis working similarly as 씨 or さん; except您 “you” which is a pronoun that shows more politeness (Kramsch, 2000).
By contrast, English speaking people are more aware of the value of equality and individuality, which can be spotted from the fact that they are used to addressing others by their first names regardless of the gap between age or social status. Normally, it is not very unusual or impolite for a student to address his professor by his name or a child to call his parents by their name. Instead, westerners especially the ones from the US take it as an effective means to lessen the distance among people and show their friendliness. Only in some formal and special occasions, the title of “Mayor”, “Doctor”, “Mr.”, “Miss” will be used before a person’s surname. Besides, there is no such rules for addressing someone as the one in eastern countries (Han, 2011).
Another important manifestation of the high degree of solidarity in the Asian society is the wide use of kinship terms when addressing people. This can be illustrated well from the complex system in Korean languages, which have explicit differences among each term. Even for the same term, the words may be different according to the gender of the addressers, e.g. both언니 and 누나 refer to “sister”, but males should use the former and females use the latter (Xu, 2010). Foreigners who know little about Korean culture are likely to be surprised about the huge number of siblings each Korean person has—it seems that everyone comes across their relatives in the street. Furthermore, when those foreigners find out that there are no biological relationships among the Koreans, they will get even more confused—“why do they address others like that?”
Due to the appreciation of equality and autonomy, westerners neither emphasize guanxi nor attach importance to family bonds as much as the Asians do; therefore, kinship terms appear much less and are only referred to people’s closest relatives. Koreans believe that to address people as their families will shorten the psychological distance among them. When I lived in Korea as an exchanged student, my roommate, a Korean girl who was elder than me, used to be upset because of the way I addressed her: 지혜씨（her name is 김지혜). Simply, she thought I didn’t like her or didn’t want to get close to her—지혜언니would be more appropriate as we had already known each other well. Not until that moment, did I realize that even a subtle difference in...