How to address? Variation and change in address practices

Project: University of Helsinki Three-Year Research Project

Project Details

Description (abstract)

This project focuses on address practices in Finnish and several other languages (e.g. English, Estonian, French, Hungarian, Russian, Swedish). The approach is contrastive: by comparing different languages, our aim is to identify both language and culture specific features and cross-cultural similarities in address practices. Our aim is to answer the following research questions:
1. What kinds of address forms (pronouns, nominal forms) are used in Finnish and other languages nowadays? How have address practices changed and what types of changes are still underway? How are these changes related to social and cultural changes in different societies?
2. What kinds of attitudes are there toward different kinds of address forms?
3. How do differences in address practices affect intercultural contacts?

The research questions are tackled in three interlinked sub-projects.
1) Changes in address practices in traditional and new media
a. Real-time changes in television programs.
b. Address practices in social media – new medium, new practices?

2) Challenges of choosing the appropriate way of address in health care and service encounters
a. Focuses on Finnish address practices in authentic situations (hospitals and retirement homes; service encounters in public and private sector)
b. The practices of teaching how to address – How are nurses, public servants, sales clerks etc. taught to address their patients and clients?
c. Attitudes toward address practices, especially among students of health care and service professions.

3) Address behavior and intercultural contacts in educational settings and workplaces
a. Focuses on intercultural contacts in different kinds of settings: service encounters, health care, educational settings.
b. How are Finnish address practices perceived by, for example, immigrants.
c. Contrasting Finnish to other languages (e.g. Estonian, French)

Sociolinguistics in its different forms provides the common framework for all project participants. Combining different types of data (e.g. interviews and questionnaires) and different types of methods (e.g. variation studies, conversation analysis and discourse studies) is a common denominator for most of the projects. Majority of the data is collected from authentic interactional situations.

The project produces new information about current address practices in Finnish. Although address practices are a part of everyday language use, a part that is often considered somewhat problematic, there isn’t much research on the topic. The aim of this project is to develop new theoretical and methodological approaches for studying address practices. Most of the previous research on the topic has focused on attitudes towards address practices instead of actual address behavior. The current project broadens the scope by using data from authentic interactional situations.

The current project provides new linguistic information on address practices but it also has strong links with everyday life. The outcomes of the project can be utilized for example in educating health care professionals, journalists and in teaching intercultural communication in primary, secondary and higher education.
Effective start/end date01/01/201431/12/2018


  • Unknown funder

Fields of Science

  • 6121 Languages