Forms of address and language ideologies: The case of a southwestern Nigerian university

Forms of address and language ideologies: The case of a southwestern Nigerian university*

Foluke O. Unuabonah (Ede)


1 Introduction

Nigeria, a former British colony, is a multilingual society where English serves as a second language, co-existing with about five hundred and twenty indigenous languages (Lewis/Gary/Charles 2015) and a few foreign languages such as French, Arabic and German. In Nigeria, English is used for official purposes, such as the language of education, governance and law. In southwestern Nigeria, in addition to English, Yoruba is widely used in both informal and formal interactions while other indigenous languages such as Igbo, Hausa, Ishan, Itsekiri, and Efik amongst others are used by people who belong to other ethnic groups but who live in the region.

Nigeria is divided into six geopolitical zones: North-central, North-east, North west, South-south, South-east, and South-west. In Nigeria, there are three types of universities: federal, state and privately-funded universities. A number of these universities are residential to both staff and students. In southwestern Nigeria, there are forty-three universities, which make a total of 31.2 % of the number of universities in Nigeria (NUC 2015). By nature, universities are tertiary institutions which involve formal and informal interactions among highly educated persons in the society, with English as the language of instruction and administration. Thus, most persons in southwestern Nigerian universities are bilingual while a few others are multilingual. As a result, English and Yoruba are the major languages spoken in southwestern Nigerian universities. Sometimes, Nigerian Pidgin, Igbo and other indigenous languages are used in informal interactions in the universities. These languages determine the kind of address forms used among staff members. 

Forms of address are linguistic items that are used to refer to or call the attention of addressees in a face-to-face interaction. They are used by speakers to appeal to or designate addressees while talk is in progress (Oyetade 1995; Jucker/Taavitsainen 2003). Language ideologies are sets of beliefs and ideas that users have about the language(s) they use. They provide links between linguistic forms and various social categories such as ethnicity, gender and social roles. Thus, language ideologies determine the kind of address terms employed by language users. As relevant as address forms and language ideologies are to the understanding of postcolonial contexts, little attention has been paid to the forms and functions of address terms and the ideologies that influence their use, especially in non-western and postcolonial speech communities such as Nigerian universities. Rather, scholars have focused on address terms in political television debates (Jarworski/Galasinski 2000), Shakespearian English (Honegger 2003; Mazzon 2003), Swedish parliamentary debates (Ilie 2005), Australian political interviews (Rendle Short 2007, 2011), literary legal discourse (Cecconi 2008), broadcast news interviews (Clayman 2010), Australian informal interactions (Rendle-Short 2010) and the use of vocatives to indicate rationalised politeness in call centre service encounters (Hultgren 2017). For example, Jaworski and Galasinski (2000) suggest that interlocutors in Polish political television debates use address forms to define their interpersonal space, and regulate, establish and legitimise their political ideologies. In the study of address terms in postcolonial communities, scholars such as Afful (2007), Anchimbe (2011a) and Mühleisen (2011) have focused on forms of address in Ghanaian, Cameroonian and Caribbean societies respectively. Studies on forms of address in Nigerian societies have paid attention to address terms in the Yoruba society (Oyetade 1995), Yoruba names given to twins (Odebode 2010) and Yoruba names given to Abiku children (Odebode 2011). Others have focused on kinship terms in Nigerian English interactions (Ofulue 2011), the phonological and sociolinguistic implications of the wrong forms of some Yoruba personal names (Ikotun 2014) and semantic and pragmatic analyses of Igbo names (Onumajuru 2016) without addressing the language ideologies that influence their use. Scholars working on address terms in university speech communities have focused on address forms used among Ghanaian university students (Afful 2007), nicknames used among Nigerian undergraduates (Filani/Malefa 2014) and examined the use of the Sie/du pronouns by Danish students in a German class of a Danish university (Ørsnes 2016). While these studies explore the use of address terms in the university setting, their focus is on student-student interactions or lecturer-student interactions, without addressing the use of address terms used among university staff members. Thus, there is limited understanding of how address terms are used among university staff members. This paper, therefore, attempts to bridge this gap by examining forms and functions of address terms used among staff members and the language ideologies that influence their use in a southwestern Nigerian university. This will help in providing a richer understanding of how the contact between different languages and cultures influence the kinds of address terms used in a professional/academic context. This becomes relevant in a postcolonial multilingual setting where address terms encode the kinds of social relations that exist in the university workplace. 

In this introduction, I present the background from which this study is based and discuss forms of address and language ideologies. Then, I give a brief background to the case study, and present my methodology. In the succeeding sections, I present the analysis, discussion and conclusion.

1.1 Forms of Address

Forms of address are important linguistic items that encode the social status of interactants and the relationship that exists between the addresser and the addressee. They appear as pronouns, nouns and verbs (Jucker/Taavitsainen 2003; Anchimbe 2011a; Mühleisen 2011). Pronominal address forms may include pronouns that indicate familiarity or distance such as the tu/vous distinction in French while nominal address terms include names, kinship terms, titles and occupational terms. Jucker and Taavitsainen (2003) opine that forms of address may differ based on the formality of the situation, social relationship between the speaker and addressee, level of politeness to be extended to the addressee as well as the influence of other languages. Forms of address fall under Spencer-Oatey’s (2008) stylistic domain which should be properly managed to create and maintain rapport and interpersonal relations. Address terms are significant as they perform different pragmatic roles (Jucker/Taavitsainen 2003) and indicate the complex balance between academic culture/professional context, and ethnic norms and values. The study of address terms have been linked to concepts such as power and solidarity (Brown/Gilman 1960), politeness and face negotiation (Brown/Levinson 1987; Wood/Kroger 1991; Yokotani 2015). For example, Wood and Kroger (1991) explain that address forms express positive and negative politeness while Yokotani (2015) suggests that impolite address terms are linked with impolite behaviours in intimate relationships. In this work, attention is given to how ethnic norms, academic/professional culture and language contact influence the choice of address terms especially in a postcolonial context. Anchimbe (2011a) posits that in postcolonial societies, forms of address can be used to indicate interpersonal relations that exist between the interlocutors, create and establish a personal or official relationship, create a balance between age and social status, and group communion. Anchimbe (2011a) suggests that in postcolonial settings such as Cameroon, certain address terms are used in place of personal names which include kinship terms, professional titles, duty or hereditary and social titles. Some of these terms are also found in Nigerian postcolonial contexts. 

Forms of address in postcolonial communities such as Nigeria encode the cultural system of the users. This sometimes leads to codeswitching from English to indigenous languages when English address forms do not capture the kind of interpersonal relations that exist between the interlocutors. Thus, interactants may speak in English but use address forms in other languages or use address forms in (Nigerian) English that capture the kind of interpersonal relation and social status they want to project i. e. grandma to refer to a colleague that is older. Thus, there is, not only, a code-switch from one language to the other, but also, a switch from one culture to another. This kind of cultural code-switch has been identified in foreign language contexts (see also Molinsky 2007; Ørsnes 2016). In the current study, one finds cross-cultural codeswitching in a second language context where interactants switch from one verbal cultural behaviour (Ørsnes 2016) to another in relation to address terms.

1.2 Language Ideologies

Language ideologies are sets of beliefs and ideas that users have about language(s), which in turn determine their language choice and use. They provide links between linguistic forms and various social categories such as group and personal identity, ethnicity, culture, gender and social roles (Woolard/Schieffelin 1994). The study of language ideologies have been both neutral and critical. The neutral studies address cultural systems of representations while the critical angle examines the role of language ideologies in maintaining social power and domination. Thus, Seargent (2009: 349) posits that the field of language ideology covers “issues ranging from micro-level detail analysis of communicative interactions, to broad issues related to the place of language within culture and civilization”. As such, language ideologies have been studied from the angle of ethnography of speaking, language contact, language policy, standardisation, literacy and history (Woolard/Schieffelin 1994). Different language ideologies that have been examined include standard language ideology, national language, written language ideology and ideologies on language use (Milroy 2001; Nair-Venugopal 2013; Sharma 2014). The present work benefits from and extends the research on language ideologies from the angle of language contact and language use, as it focuses on the use of address forms in contexts where there is contact between indigenous languages and a second language. As Jucker and Taavitsainen (2003) posit, language contact is a significant factor in the formation of address terms. Thus, it is important that focus should be placed on how language contact influences the use of address terms in different types of postcolonial speech communities such as Nigerian universities.

2 The Case Study: Redeemer’s University

Redeemer’s University, which was founded in 2005, is located in the southwestern region of Nigeria where Yoruba is the dominant indigenous language. It is a privately-funded university where about 50 % of her staff members reside in the university campus. The university has a staff strength of about four hundred persons made up of both teaching and non-teaching staff. The university is a faith-based and a fairly close-knit community as staff members attend almost the same set of churches and social gatherings such as weddings, naming ceremonies and parent-teacher meetings. Thus, staff members have social relations that shape interactions especially in the official sector of the university. Apart from lectures that involve staff and student relations, meetings and other kinds of formal interactions are held in English in Redeemer’s University. Informal interactions are held in both English and Yoruba, and sometimes in other indigenous languages, if the interlocutors belong to the same ethnic group. Thus, sociolinguistic situations such as codeswitching and the use of Nigerian Pidgin is prevalent in the university setting. These languages and the social relations that exist among staff members determine the forms of address used by participants in the university, both at formal and informal interactions. 

The university is chosen as the case study because it is located in the Southwest, which has the highest number of universities in Nigeria and the author has been a participant-observer of the interactions that have taken place for over seven years. It is also a faith-based university where a large population of her staff reside in the University and these have implications for the choice and use of address terms. 

3 Methodology

Different types of address forms were collected from both teaching and non-teaching staff of Redeemer’s University, Nigeria. These were collected through participant-observation and from twenty oral and fifty written interviews1 conducted with the staff members. The staff members were selected based on simple random sampling. The data were analysed qualitatively using an adapted form of Anchimbe’s (2011a) categorisation of address forms in postcolonial contexts, and complemented with theories of language ideologies on language contact and language use. The forms of address collected are those used in the workplace setting of the university, during formal and informal interactions. Formalinteractions take place during meetings, seminars and other official dutieswhile informalinteractionsoccur during the exchange of pleasantries, the discussion of various personal and academic matters, university policies and actions during personal gatherings.






















Table 1: Distribution of written interviews based on interviewees’ ethnic groups

4 Analysis and Discussion

Forms of address used in the university include academic titles, official titles, kinship terms, social titles, nicknames, personal names, surnames, academic titles + personal names, academic titles + surnames, academic titles + nicknames, kinship terms + nicknames, nickname + department of employee and pronoun + social term. These address terms are derived from English (DoctorGrandma), Yoruba (BabaIya), Nigerian Pidgin (OgaBrodo), and Igbo (Dede, Nwanem). Samples of the address terms are presented in Table 2 and analysed in the following sub-sections: 

Address type


Academic titles

Doc3, Prof, 

Official and occupational Titles

HOD, Dean, Architect, Nurse, etc

Kinship terms

Baba, Mummy, in-law, etc

Social and religious titles/terms

Iyabeji, Oga, Pastor, etc

First names4

Sade, Femi, Victoria, etc


Olanipekun, Adebusuyi, Alexander, etc

Nick names

Otus Baba, Obama, etc

Academic /general titles + first names

Dr Sade, Dr Victoria, etc

Academic/general titles + surnames 

Dr Olanipekun, Prof Alexander, etc

Academic/general titles + nickname

Dr Walexy, Dr Martino

Nickname + kinship term

Otus Baba, Baba Fagba

Kinship term + department of employee

Iya Store, Iya GSP

Pronoun + social title/term

Oga mi, My Oga

Table 2: Types of addresses used by staff members

4.1 Academic Titles

Teaching staff members in the university are addressed by their academic titles, which may be expected in a Nigerian university setting. Typically, teaching staff members who are either professors or doctors are addressed as such, both at formal and informal interactions. Such people may sometimes be addressed by the clipped form of these words: prof and doc. When the clipped forms are used, they occur without the addressees’ personal names. The use of academic titles are quite important as they are used to indicate respect and politeness. Sometimes, people may be offended when they are not addressed by their correct academic titles. As Chiluwa (2010) observes, Nigerians have a title-conscious tradition, which transcends the academic setting. Moreover, the clipped terms, prof and doc are used to indicate familiarity between the addresser and addressee (see also Chiluwa [2010] for the use of prof as salutations in Nigerian informal email messages). These clipped items are also usually used when the interactants are close as they occur in banter amongst friends. Sometimes, the full and clipped forms, are used in informal situations when the addressee is about to complete his/her doctoral training or if the person has done so much work in his/her career that s/he is addressed as a professor, even though s/he is not a full professor. Sometimes, such forms of address serve as prophecies and prayers that the addressee will obtain the position of a doctor or professor soon. 

4.2 Official and Occupational titles

Official titles are quite common in the university setting where they serve as the forms of address for persons who occupy such positions. Whether in formal or informal settings in the university, titles such Dean, Sub-deanHOD (Head of Department) and CO (College Officer) occur without the personal names of the addressees. The position of the Dean is occupied by an experienced Professor and s/he is only addressed as Dean in a direct address by other professors. In a direct address, s/he is rarely addressed as Dean by younger colleagues. When a younger colleague addresses him or her as Dean, the title co-occurs with another address, sir or ma, in order to indicate great respect and reverence. This also applies to the HOD when he is an elderly professor. In some cases, these official titles may be combined with first person pronouns such as My HOD. Such examples have been noted in Chiluwa (2010) where he cites examples such as My Prof in email messages. On some occasions, a term like HOD may be used in order to get a request done as an interviewee notes:

  I use HOD for some younger junior staff member that I work closely together and that I need their input to complete my job [sic]

The positions of the CO and Sub-Dean are occupied by persons who may be young in age and status. Usually, such persons are referred to as CO or Sub-Dean in a direct address. This is also the case when the HOD is a young person (i. e. someone below 45). Interviewees indicate that titles such as Sub-Dean and CO are meant to indicate both respect and familiar relationship. Occupational titles such as engineer, architectdoctor (medical) and nurse are used to address non-teaching staff with or without their personal names in the university. Thus, the situation one finds in this postcolonial speech community differs from communities where English is a native language. For example, Jucker and Taavitsainen (2003) suggest that institutional or occupational titles are rarely used as terms of address in present-day English. The frequent use of official titles as terms of address in the university may also be linked to Nigerians excessive love for titles (see Chiluwa 2010). 

4.3 Kinship Terms

Kinship terms are also used within the university among university staff members, especially within informal settings. These address forms are usually employed to indicate respect, politeness, and familiarity. Age plays a great role in the usage of these terms (see Ofulue 2011). For instance, old professors are addressed as baba (Yoruba word for father), mamaiya (Yoruba term for mother),  daddy and mummy. Some elderly female staff are sometimes referred to as grandma in the workplace when close associates know that she is already a grandmother and the addressee accepts such an address. It is a term that shows respect and may or may not occur with the surnames of the addressees. An interviewee writes:

 I use Mummy when the staff member is older than me and I feel I do not want to relate in an official way.

A popular type of address term that is used among staff members during informal situations within the academic area is the term mummy or daddy with the name of the addressee’s first children i. e.  Mummy Hannah or Daddy David. The use is meant to signal familiarity and respect, and it is a norm outside the university setting where people are addressed by the names of their (first) children. This culture has penetrated the university workplace as members of staff live and work within the same location. The use of kinship terms for non-kinship relationships have already been echoed by previous scholars; such items have undergone semantic extension (Akindele/Adegbite 1999; Ofulue 2010).

Other terms such as nwanem (Igbo term for brother), brothersisteruncleaunty and their variants such as, brobrodo and sisto are used among younger colleagues. These are used to indicate Christian affiliation, familiarity, group identity and communion. As Anchimbe (2011b) notes, kinship terms help to reduce the social distance between interlocutors. Others include my/our wifeoko iyawo (‘bridegroom’) and iyawo (‘bride’) to indicate endearment and solidarity. The case of my/our wife stems from the Nigerian socio-cultural belief and context that a woman is not only married to her husband but to the extended family and community (see Ofulue 2011). However, this concept has nothing to do with sexual intimacy but acceptance and responsibility. Thus, a woman may be addressed as my/our wife by both female and male relatives and the husband’s community members to indicate solidarity and endearment. Hence, in the workplace, a female staff member is sometimes addressed by colleagues as my/our wife, iyawooviaha (Ishan term for wife) to indicate endearment and familiarity. Iyawo is also used to address a female staff member who is about to get married or who has just gotten married. This equally applies to a male staff member who is addressed as oko iyawo (‘husband of the wife’). (My) in-law is another kinship term used by university staff members to address persons from their spouses’ ethnic group or spouses of people who come from the speaker’s own ethnic group. It may or may not be used within designations such as sister-in-law or brother-in-law (see also Kperogi 2015). Thus, the use of kinship terms in this postcolonial setting where English is used as a second language differs from what obtains in other varieties of English. For example, Jucker and Taavitsainen (2003) opine that kinship terms as forms of address in present-day English are restricted to just a few items such as mom and dad.

4.4 Social titles

Social titles also serve as address forms among university staff members. A very common example is iyabeji (‘mother of two/twins’), which is used to refer to pregnant women. Originally, as the term denotes, iyabeji refers to a mother of twins. Achimbe (2011) also reports this in the case of Cameroonian address forms where fathers and mothers who have twin children are addressed as banyi and tanyi respectively. However, in the Yoruba context, a pregnant woman is also addressed as iyabeji because of the sociocultural belief that it is good luck to say that a pregnant woman will give birth to at least a twin rather than one child. Thus, the pregnant woman may also be referred to as iyabeta (‘mother of three/triplets’) and iyaberin (‘mother of four/quadruplets’). Such terms are used in informal interactions within the university and it signals familiarity and care for the pregnant staff member. Bababeji as the term denotes refers to a father who has twins. 

Another important address term is oga which is the Nigerian Pidgin term for a senior person or a boss (Igboanusi 2010). This is a term that is informal but indicates high regard for the addressee and can be used by friends to address colleagues that are held in high esteem (see also Oyetade 1995). Although it was initially used in addressing males alone, in recent times, it has become a term to address females as well. It is also used by junior colleagues to address senior colleagues i. e. in the case of a secretary addressing the Head of Department:

 Oga s’eti mbo?
 ‘Boss, are you coming?’

In the example above, the speaker code switches between Yoruba and Nigerian Pidgin. This code switch may also occur between English and Nigerian Pidgin i. e. oga, are you coming? This sentence may also be uttered in Nigerian Pidgin alone as oga, you dey come? which might occur among colleagues that belong to the same age group. In Nigerian communities, it was originally used by a servant or a person in addressing someone who occupies a place of authority. Nowadays, it is used among friends especially when one of them is in a place of authority. In this sense, it is used informally to indicate a level of close relationship. In the university, it can be used by a driver, a secretary or a lecturer to address his/her head of department or dean. The term oga may sometimes be combined with personal pronouns such as my oga and oga mi (mi is the Yoruba term for my). An interviewee explains:

 I use Oga mi when the staff member is a senior colleague and I see him/her as an elder brother/sister.

Social terms also used include words such as chairman, and ore (the Yoruba word for friend). One of the interviewees explains that he uses chairman when there is no real relationship between him and the addressee. However, like oga it is employed to show respect. The term ore is used to indicate close relationships. Other social/religious titles include bishoppastorchief and prince. These terms have also been reported in Cameroonian address terms (see Anchimbe 2011a). A staff member may address another staff member as bishop or pastor in a situation where the person is seen as someone who is very religious or has leadership roles in the church. Such terms are used to mark the religious identity of the addressee (Chiluwa 2010). A person may be addressed as a chief or prince if he comes from a royal family (s/he may not hold any title). 

4.5 Surnames, first names, and combinations with academic and general titles

Since the university is an official setting, the use of academic and general titles with surnames is the norm especially in formal situations, and when interactants do not share a close relationship. As Oyetade (1995) observes, the use of titles with surnames is a culture acquired from the English which has been embraced by Nigerians. On some occasions, surnames are treated as first names: interactants that are familiar with one another may address one another by their surnames only while older colleagues may address younger colleagues by their surnames only (see also Oyetade 1995).

The use of academic titles with first names occur when the interactants are close. Such use indicates that even when interactants are close, respect has to be explicitly marked by adding academic and general titles to first names. Sometimes, as noted by one of the interviewees, first names with academic or general titles are used when it is difficult for the speaker to pronounce the surname of the addressee which can be the case as people belong to different ethnic groups. It is quite common to find English first names which reflect the religious identity of the addressee (e. g. JohnPeter and Ruth) and the influence of colonisation on naming patterns in Nigeria (see Oyetade 1995). First names alone may be used by older professors in addressing younger staff members (see also Chiluwa 2010) or when the interactants are close. This reflects the asymmetrical relationship which occurs not only between superiors and subordinates, but also, between older and younger persons in the workplace. The reflection of this asymmetrical relationship in the use of address terms has also been found in Australian political interviews (Morand 1996; Rendle-Short 2011). This is in contrast to what obtains in other western speech communities where interlocutors address one another by first names both in the workplace and in informal interactions (Rendle-Short 2011). First names may also be used in referring to staff members who are old students of the university.

4.6 General Titles and Combinations with Academic titles

General titles such as sir and madam (with its shortened form ma) are also very common vocatives. Sir is used in addressing older men, ma is used in addressing older women while madam is used in addressing married women who may be younger or older than the addressee. As one of the interviewees explains, she uses general titles for others since she does not want any other person to address her without a general title. This indicates that she will be offended if anyone does not address her with the expected title. Sometimes, these general titles appear after academic titles. Thus, it is common to hear combinations such as Prof sirDoc ma, etc. Chiluwa (2010) also observes the frequent use of sir in greetings found in Nigerian informal email messages and notes that it is mandatory for a younger sender whether through speech, text messages or other means to add sir while addressing an elder. This shows the recognition of the addressee’s age, roles and social status. One of the interviewees has this to say in relation to the use of general titles such as sir/ma:

 I use sir/ma when the staff member has no personal relationship and is a highly respected individual.

4.7 Nicknames and combinations with kinship terms and academic/general titles

Nicknames and combinations of nicknames and academic/general titles occur only when the addressers and addressees are close. As one of the interviewee writes:

  In the event of very familiar colleague or friend I do always address them by their first name or pet names like My Oga, Walexy, Otus Baba, etc [sic].

Some nicknames used among staff members follow patterns identified in other Nigerian speech communities (see Filani/Melefa 2014) as well as those peculiar to a university work place setting. These include initials (FO), anglicised forms (Walexy), role-modelled nicknames (Obama), association nicknames (Next level), nickname + kinship term (Otus BabaBaba Fagba), kinship term + department of employee (Iya GSP5, Iya Maths). The use of kinship terms with the departments of the employee is an extension of what obtains in the larger society where relatives are identified and addressed by where they reside.6

5 Address forms and language ideologies

In interactions among staff members in the university, first names, surnames other types of address forms are derived from English (doctor, grandma), Yoruba (iyababa), Nigerian Pidgin (ogabrodosisto) and Nigerian indigenous languages (iyawooviaha). This is the situation as the postcolonial community in question is a multilingual society. Thus, members of this speech community share a postmodernist ideology where the use of more than one language is encouraged (Moriarty 2014). As such, codeswitching is accepted both in informal and sometimes in formal interactions within the university. While an address form may be in one language, the remaining part of the utterance may be in a different language. As Ofulue (2011) opines, codeswitching is a linguistic strategy deployed by speakers in order to select an appropriate address term in Nigerian English. 

Findings from the oral and written interviews indicate that staff members view English as a language that is meant for formal interactions and indigenous languages as codes meant for informal interactions. Thus, participants use English in formal contexts and use Nigerian Pidgin, Yoruba and other indigenous languages in informal interactions within the university, and switch between English and other indigenous languages in formal contexts where certain utterances such as proverbs and idioms (uttered in Nigerian indigenous languages) are needed, in order to underscore certain messages. Postmodernist language ideology is influenced by cultural norms and ideologies where age and social status play important roles. People are often not addressed by their personal names, which are usually restricted to close family members and friends. Thus, these different address terms are strategies for name-avoidance (see Anchimbe 2011a). 

Members of this community also share a functionalist language ideology which focuses on language use. This again is influenced by cultural norms and values as language use is geared towards achieving certain pragmatic functions e. g. prophesying/praying, praising and requesting (Mey 2001). Functional language ideology is influenced by Nigerian cultural ideologies which indicate that words are powerful and the belief that what one says may come to pass. Examples of this can be seen in the use of address forms such as professor and doctor for PhD students as well as iyabeji for pregnant women, which are used to prophecy or pray that the PhD candidate will finish his/her programme successfully and that the pregnant woman will give birth and be called a mother (of twins). Also, interviewees indicate that some address forms are used in order to ensure that the addressee will be obliged to perform a request. As Bascom (1942) notes in the Yoruba society, a person who is asking for a favour, may use a more respectable form in order to get a favourable reply. Thus, address terms are used as strategies of positive and negative politeness (Brown/Levinson 1987). They are strategies of positive politeness as they can be used to praise the recipient and negative politeness as they are used to indicate deference and respect. The idea that address terms can be used to perform several functions has been echoed by previous scholars. For example, past scholars have indicated that address terms are not only meant for addressing interlocutors and ensuring recipiency (Rendle-Short 2007) but are also used to manage interactional aspects of talk such as foregrounding upcoming talk, and disaligning upcoming talk from prior talk (Clayman 2010), introducing new topics and interrupting others (Rendle-Short 2007), providing information about the social relationship that exists between the interlocutors and ensuring the relevance of an ongoing relationship (Rendle-Short 2010). In this study, it has been found that address terms in Redeemer’s University, as a representative of a Nigerian southwestern university, has been used to prophesy or pray for an addressee, praise an addressee and obtain favourable responses from an addressee.

6 Conclusion

In this paper, I have examined forms of address and the language ideologies that influence their use in a Southwestern Nigerian university. These address forms are made up of academic titles, kinship terms, official and occupational titles, general titles, surnames, first names, nicknames and their combinations. The address forms are used to foreground the kind of interpersonal relations that exist between the interlocutors, create and establish a personal or official relationship, create a balance between age and social status, indicate politeness and group communion. They are implicitly metapragmatic as they reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the users and point to the pragmatic roles of participants and the context of interaction (Verschueren 2000). Thus, the choice of the address forms depends on the age and social status of the interactants, duration of acquaintance, the relationship between the interactants, the speaker’s purpose as well as the context of the interaction. Some of these factors are factors that determine address terms in Yoruba, the native language spoken in southwestern Nigeria (see Oyetade 1995). Hence, there is a fusion of cultural behaviours taken from English and Nigerian indigenous languages in the determination of address terms in the Nigerian postcolonial university speech community.

The frequent use of titles in the Nigerian university setting may be linked to Nigerians’ sociocultural heritage where titles are important aspects of culture (see Opata/Asogwa 2017). These address terms which are derived from English, Nigerian Pidgin, Yoruba and other indigenous languages reflect postmodern and functional language ideologies which are also influenced by cultural ideologies where age and social status play significant roles. Due to the reinvigoration of the significance of indigenous languages as well as the increase of cosmopolitan societies where there is a mix of different ethnic groups in urban cities, the postmodernist language ideology thrives. This is evident in Nigerian music (Babalola/Taiwo 2009), informal email messages (Chiluwa 2010) and stand-up comedy (Adetunji 2013) in order to accommodate different ethnic nationalities. This has further encouraged the use of codeswitching and borrowing in Nigerian English. However, it should be noted that this is a preliminary work as it has been limited to just one university in southwestern Nigeria. Future work can be carried out on other universities in other postcolonial societies which are secular and non-residential.


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* The author appreciates the comments of two anonymous reviewers on an initial draft of this paper. This paper was presented at a conference on Ideology in Postcolonial Texts and Contexts, University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany from 14–16th May, 2015. back

1 The interview questions are in the appendix. back

2 This comprises eight persons from other ethnic groups: Bekwatta, Ibibio, Ighala, Okun, Isoko, Ora, Tiv, and Urhobo. back

3 In this paper, Doc represents the clipped form of the title doctor while Dr is used to indicate its full form. back

4 Samples of first names and surnames in this paper are pseudonyms. back

5 The acronym for General Studies Programme. back

6 Here, I give a personal experience. My siblings, cousins and some other relatives address two of my aunts as Mummy Akure (the capital of Ondo state in Nigeria), and Aunty Festac (a town in Lagos, Nigeria). To my cousins and some relatives, my mother was known as Mummy Eko (another name for Lagos State) or Mummy Ogba (a town in Lagos). back


Interview Questions

1.Please list the languages that you communicate with and describe the situations/contexts in which you use them? 
2.Do you code switch? i. e. do you speak using two languages (English and Yoruba) at the same time? 
3.If yes, give reasons why you code switch?
4.Which languages do you use within the University? 
5.How do you feel when a university staff member meets you and speaks to you in English, Yoruba and any other language within or outside the university? 
6.What is your position towards the use of English or any other indigenous language in the university?
7.Please, list the forms of address (Doc, Bro, HOD, etc.) that you use when addressing other members of staff in your university. 
8.For each form of address, please describe the situations in which you use these forms of address (please indicate how age, familiarity, location/setting, social/academic status, etc., affect the use of the address term). For example, I use Bro when the staff member I am talking to is a close friend who belongs to my church. We may not be of the same age group. He may not be a senior colleague, etc.
9.Please give some reasons why you use some of these address terms? i. e. to indicate politeness, respect, get a request done or create a distance between you and the person. Please list the address terms before the reasons