Why do we sometimes address the person we’re talking to by their personal name (such as James or Anna) and at other times by a title (such as Sir or Professor)? Susanne Mühleisen points out that we can use personal names to highlight an addressee’s individuality or we can use a title to their status identity. The way we use these forms can reflect politeness and respect. The way we use these forms can reflect politeness and respect, as can the pronouns we use to address someone. Using a second person plural pronoun (such as vous in French) to address a single individual is usually considered to be polite. However, even though politeness is a universal phenomenon, it manifests differently across cultures so that what may be considered as ‘polite’ in one society may not be in another. Mühleisen explored the use of allyuh, literally ‘all of you’, as a second person plural pronoun in the English-based Creole spoken in Trinidad and found that in Trinidad it is frequently associated with an ‘aggressive tone’.
Mühleisen notes that using allyuh in spoken and written Trinidad English Creole is optional and allyuh can be used when speaking to more than one person as well as when speaking to just one person. However, the use of allyuh is not random. Instead, when a speaker uses it, allyuh performs a specific function in the discourse.
Mühleisen analysed data from responses to 160 questionnaires which were distributed in two main areas of south and central Trinidad. She found that responses relating to allyuh reflected 5 broad categories of use:
1) Emphasising the plurality of the addressees (making sure
everyone present is included)
Talking to friends – “Allyuh come on”
2) Addressing a single person as a representative of a particular
3) As a way of avoiding directness (e.g. in requests or orders,
or when giving advice), in order to be polite
Talking to friends – “Allyuh shouldn’t go there”
4) Signalling aggression
To disrespectful young people – “Allyuh have no manners”
5) Signalling humour
To friends – “Allyuh see what she have on”
However, even though Mühleisen uses these five distinct categories for description, she notes that they are not so clean cut in reality. For example, the difference between aggression and humour depends on factors such as situation, intonation and the reaction of the interlocutors.
Mühleisen goes on to suggest that allyuh functions as an identity marker for Trinidadians. Looking at markers of Trinidadian English used in a particular internet forum, she found that Trinidadian participants use allyuh to signal their identity to other Trinidadians living abroad.
The range of application and ambiguity of meaning surrounding allyuh, Mühleisen says, makes it an ideal strategic politeness marker in Caribbean Creoles. Trinidad can be considered as a post-colonial society which has been shaped by numerous cultural influences. These have left their traces on societal value systems as well as verbal and non-verbal behaviour. In Trinidad politeness patterns are influenced by both African and European traditions. In order to survive between the two cultures it can be useful to leave open alternative interpretations of what you say. In European languages using a second person plural pronoun to address an individual can be a power-enhancing mechanism. Using a second person plural pronoun to show indirectness and ambiguity instead can be seen as part of the creative process which characterises Caribbean Creole pragmatics.
Mühleisen, Susanne. (2011) Forms of address and ambiguity in Caribbean English-lexicon Creoles: Strategic interactions in a postcolonial language setting. Journal of Pragmatics 43:1460-1471
This summary was written by Jenny Amos