“Do not call me ‘jy’ and ‘jou’”. The use of u as an Afrikaans form of address in the 21st century. Results of a pilot study

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In this article, the current usage of Afrikaans forms of address is discussed by focusing on the results of a quantitative study regarding the use of the formal pronoun u.

Due to the fact that a large-scale empirical investigation about the so-called “second form of address”, i.e. about the pronouns u, u-hulle and jy, julle, the R form (where the first form of address is repeated) or the zero form (casus oblique), has to date not been undertaken in Afrikaans, we embarked on a pilot project which forms part of a larger extensive study about Afrikaans forms of address. The data for this article was obtained by using an electronic questionnaire. Since most questions were closed questions, our report is quantitative in nature.

The term aanspreekvorm (“form of address”) is used in most Afrikaans literature for both the vocative (or first form of address) and the second form of address. We propose a taxonomy to be used in future.

In our taxonomy, we distinguish the following forms of address: the direct form or vocative and various indirect forms including the repetition of the first form (the R form), the second person pronouns u, u-hulle, jy and julle and the complete avoidance of any form (the so-called casus oblique).

The article provides a comprehensive overview of research on Afrikaans forms of address by Brown and Gilman (1960), Scholtz (1963), Odendal (1976), Combrink (1982), Wybenga (1981, 1987), Kotzé (1983, 1987) and Swanepoel (1989).

The focus of this first report is on the use, or not, of u. Afrikaans speakers have to make a choice regarding the second form of address, because it is normally not easy to avoid the use of a pronoun in face-to-face address. Our research questions were, therefore:

  • What are the current norms, use and perceptions regarding the use of u?
  • Has there been any change regarding these norms, use and perceptions since the previous research was done in the early 1980s?

Some of our results are listed below.

There were 75% female respondents and 25% males: 94% were white, 2% coloured, 1% black, and 3% preferred their own description of their race. Most respondents (66%) are employed, while 21% are students and 13% pensioners. 89% of the respondents do occasionally use u. We see this as a really significant finding, but one must keep in mind that actual language use was not investigated. However, this finding does correspond with our own experience as speakers of Afrikaans.

Three generations were identified for purposes of cross-tabulation:

60–80 years: 19%
30–59 years: 53%
19–29 years: 27%

Respondents older than 60 years do not use u more than those younger than 30 years.
There is no significant difference in the use or not of u between these three generations.

According to the research group as a whole, a small majority (46%) are never or almost never addressed as u, but almost as many (42%) are sometimes addressed with this pronoun.

When the age of the respondents was taken into consideration, the following results were obtained:

60–80 years: 49% are rarely addressed as u and 27% never or almost never.
30–59 years: 41% are rarely addressed as u and 48% never or almost never.
19–29 years: 35% are rarely addressed as u and a clear majority of 63% never or almost never.

There are no significant differences between the use of u by students, working people and retirees. All three groups use u on occasion, albeit very seldom.

The two age groups that clearly prefer not to be addressed as u are those between 30 and 59 years and those between 19 and 29 years. In both groups, 66% of the respondents chose this option.

U is regarded as very formal, old-fashioned and polite, with the predominant feeling that u is very polite.

Has there been any change regarding these norms, use and perceptions since the early 1980s?

Keeping in mind that we did not investigate real language use, our preliminary results indicate that it seems as if there has not been a significant change in the use of u. Because we had very few non-white respondents, we can only speculate that issues regarding class, status, solidarity and equality still dominate the use of interethnic forms.

Our main conclusion is that jy is the preferred second form of address, but that u is still well known and used when the situation requires it. Unfamiliarity is a very important selector for the use of u, taken together with other variables such as status and age. The pragmatic function of expressing respect plays an important role in the choice of u.

The main limitation of our study, besides the fact that a questionnaire was used, is that the sample of the Afrikaans-speaking population does not represent all speakers in South Africa and Namibia. Coloured, black and Indian speakers are not represented at all and not all age groups are equally represented.

In this first report undertaken in the 21st century, 20 years after the first democratic election in South Africa, we wanted to note broad trends. This to us is the main value of an exploratory investigation. The quantitative research indicates the need for further nuanced investigation to explore the rich and tightly woven social fabric that underlies the use of forms of address in our society. The nagging question of the status and usage of the indirect form of address in contemporary Afrikaans, in all its rich diversity, is still not answered satisfactorily.

Our recommendation is that other methodologies, such as interviews, focus groups and systematic direct observation, be used and that thorough text-based studies, which includes dramas and television soaps, for example, be undertaken.

Keywords: Afrikaans; avoidance of form of address; direct form of address; electronic questionnaire; forms of address; indirect forms of address; repetition of the vocative; (casus oblique); you (V-form / "u"); you (T-form / “jy”)

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: “Moenie my ‘jy’ en ‘jou’ nie” – die gebruik van u in die 21ste eeu. Resultate van ’n loodsondersoek

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    Giel Bezuidenhout

    Ja, ek wil nou nie in debat gaan oor jy, jou of u nie, ek dink dit hang van persoon tot persoon af.
    MAAR so bietjie familie-humor ...
    Ons het 2 kleinseuns (van 8 ander kleinkinders) wat nou al volwasse is (27+) wat na my/oupa of ouma verwys of aanspreek as "oupa of ouma of "JULLE".
    Eendag lank terug in die motor vra een se maat: "Hoekom verwys jy na jou oupa of ouma as "julle?"
    Antwoord . "Jig ek kan mos nie ‘jy’ sê nie. Dis mos sonder respek!"
    Groete Giel

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