LINGUIST List 28.3545

Mon Aug 28 2017

Review: Pragmatics; Syntax: Sonnenhauser, Hanna (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 23-Jun-2017
From: Susan Burt <>
Subject: Vocative!
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Barbara Sonnenhauser
EDITOR: Patrizia Noel Aziz Hanna
TITLE: Vocative!
SUBTITLE: Addressing between System and Performance
SERIES TITLE: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM]
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Susan Meredith Burt, Illinois State University



Since at least the 1960s, with the publications of Brown and Ford (1964) and Brown and Gilman (1970), to more recent volumes devoted to the topic (Clyne, Norrby and Warren 2009; Norrby and Wide 2015), some linguists have focused on the social psychological, socio-pragmatic meta-messages that hearers and addressees derive from address term choices, concerning perceptions of power relationships, insider or outsider status, social distance or closeness. Discussions of appropriate referring forms and address forms to use with/to/about persons of different gender identities continue as notions of gender evolve. Research on address in the academic world is readily available (see references in Burt 2015 for just a sampling). This volume, entitled “Vocative! Addressing Between System and Performance” by Barbara Sonnenhausen and Patrizia Noel Aziz Hanna, however, scarcely touches on these things. Rather, vocative phenomena, that is, address and calls, are analyzed here in the interests of understanding their position in language as both langue and parole/discours, system and practice, with an eye to understanding how system affects practice and practice affects system.

In the opening chapter, “Introduction: Vocative!”, Sonnenhausen and Noel Aziz Hanna motivate devoting a volume to this particular linguistic phenomenon: vocatives, long neglected, challenge a componential view of language, since their expression and identification may take place through morphological, syntactic, or intonational means; vocatives are defined as “forms and structures used for direct address” (p.1), yet the category is not particularly distinct. Vocatives may be marked morphologically, for example, yet still not be seen as part of the case system because they are not syntactic arguments of the verb; and in many cases, they are not marked even morphologically. The lack of syntactic integration into the sentence, on the other hand, may sometimes combine with prosodic marking to render vocatives recognizable. Zwicky’s (1974) distinction between vocatives’ call and address functions contributes to functional approaches to vocatives: a call attempts to catch the addressee’s attention, while an address serves to maintain or emphasize the ongoing contact between speaker and addressee. Thus, vocatives manifest morphological, syntactic, intonational, and functional variation across and within languages, which makes them of interest.

In Chapter 2, “The vocative in Georgian,” Lia Abuladze and Andreas Ludden show that the vocative in Georgian is not always morphologically distinct from the nominative, and the marking of the vocative is variable; nevertheless, because it can serve to distinguish a vocative-cum-imperative from a third-person imperative (as in “Somebody call a doctor!”), the vocative must be recognized in Georgian as syntactic as well as pragmatic and morphological.

In Chapter 3, “Vocative for Nominative,” David Stifter examines 24 different cases of proposed “VpN” (Vocatiuus pro Nominatiuo), in which a vocative form takes on nominative function. He concludes that VpN arises primarily from language contact situations, typically from a donor language (like Latin) with a vocative form to a recipient language (like Etruscan) without a vocative category. Given names of humans and the names of deities are the most likely to undergo VpN.

Chapter 4, “The vocative and its kin: marking function through prosody,” by Asli Göksel and Markus Pöchtrager examines Turkish and Austrian German. Typologically different and genetically unrelated, both languages lack a segmentally marked Vocative, yet both have similar intonation patterns (“tunes”) for vocative and related functions; the authors suggest these tunes be considered morphological.

Two chapters, written within the generative/minimalist framework, analyze the syntactic structure of vocatives. M. Teresa Espinal argues in Chapter 5, “The structure of vocatives,” that vocatives are not restricted to the syntactic periphery (a claim Christian Stetter also takes up and argues against in his chapter), that vocative phrases may contain a vocative particle (O, hey, ei, etc.), and that despite the lack of a verb in a vocative structure, vocatives “can be arguments of nominal predicational structures” (p.111), and in that way resemble copular sentences, in that they can have identity, identificational, or predicational types. Virginia Hill continues the argument in Chapter 6, “Features and strategies: the internal syntax of vocative phrases,” with a comparison of the syntactic structure of vocative phrases and that of noun phrases. Her goal is to argue that functional features such as [specificity] and [inter-personal] are encoded in vocative phrases, and rather than being confined to the syntax-phonology interface, are visible in syntactic computations. Vocative particles, optional in some languages, obligatory in others, may be one vehicle for these functional features; constraints on the appearance of definite articles in vocative phrases is another way of differentiating vocative phrases from noun phrases. In addition, in some languages, allocutive agreement—syntactic or morphological features that reflect the gender/number/status of the addressee—serves as evidence that features of the speaking situation enter into syntax.

In Chapter 7, Cammeron Girvin, in “Addressing changes in the Bulgarian vocative,” finds that the perception and evaluation of Bulgarian vocatives may vary by addressee gender, gender of evaluator, age, and native dialect; vocatives are now perceived as more marked than they were considered in pre-twentieth century grammars. While some of this marking is negative—vocatives may be heard as rude, folksy or vulgar—vocatives may also convey closeness or intimacy. Girvin’s survey of speaker evaluations of vocative forms shows that the –o vocative of many female names is often perceived as impolite, while the –e vocative characteristic of many male names is perceived as somewhat less so. On the other hand, older speakers perceive the use of a non-vocative name for address as trendy. The system, Girvin concludes, is in flux.

In Chapter 8, “Du Idiot! Din idiot: Pseudo-vocative constructions and insults in German (and Swedish),” Franz D’Avis and Jörg Meibauer, following Zwicky 1974, distinguish between the call function of vocatives (Anruf) and the address/confirmation function (Anrede). In the first, the vocative form “is used to get the attention of a selected addressee, [and] …marks/identifies the selected addressee” (p.195); these functions establish a communication situation or C-situation. In the confirmation function of vocatives, the C-situation is considered already established, although confirmation vocatives may also include relational or expressive functions, characterizing the relationship between speaker and addressee or expressing the speaker’s characterization of the addressee. This distinction between these functions of the vocative is crucial for the distinction D’Avis and Meibauer make here between vocatives and du-vocatives. While several forms of vocatives seem to work well in either call or confirmation function, vocative particles such as ‘hey’ do not appear in confirmation vocatives, and du-vocatives seem not to appear in calls. Du-vocatives also show restrictions on their syntactic distribution in comparison with other noun phrases; furthermore, the construction seems to carry the force of insult inherently; for these reasons, the authors distinguish du-vocatives from others and label them pseudo-vocatives.

Chapter 9 by Tore Janson, “Vocative and the grammar of calls,” surveys a wide range of languages in order to find generalizations of what the author labels “calls,” which are the type of non-sentence utterances in which vocatives may be found. Janson points out that vocatives are different from other case-markings on nouns, since the vocative is not a sentence constituent. These non-sentence utterances may be marked by special intonation and/or by special particles (“Oh, Susan!”), and those particles may be independent or may attach to the noun designating the addressee of the call. The noun itself may or may not be marked; while some languages may mark all eligible nouns, others may manifest marking only on certain subcategories of nouns.

Friederike Kleinknecht’s Chapter 10, “Mexican güey—from vocative to discourse marker: a case of grammaticalization?” traces this word’s lexical history. Thought to be a variant of “buey,” ‘ox’, the word seems to have originated as an insult, but then took a trajectory of amelioration, first becoming a solidarity marker, and then, through frequent use, a discourse marker. Rather than label this particular path as grammaticalization or pragmaticization, Kleinknecht proposes the term routinization for this process.

In Chapter 11, “The vocative case between system and asymmetry,” Margherita Donati summarizes the scope of Western grammarians’ thoughts about vocatives. She argues that while most noun cases are referential and third person, the vocative shifts the noun in question to second person. “The deictic category of person emerges as one of the interface areas which actually show the impossibility of separating language as a system (langue) from language as an activity (discours)” (p.275). Vocatives here are not semantic-syntactic, but pragmatic in their function as shifters of nouns to deictic elements.

Noel Asiz Hanna and Sonnenhauser return in the penultimate chapter to argue that vocatives are “functional performance structures,” recognizable linguistic elements which are not syntactically integrated into sentences, but have indexical function within them. Other examples of functional performance structures include parentheticals and citations. Instead of seeing vocatives as part of the paradigmatic aspect of language, the authors argue that greater cross-language understanding of vocatives can be achieved by seeing them as syntagmatic in nature. Minimal pair sentences like these illustrate how prosodic marking makes distinguishing vocatives possible:

Ich erkläre Mika gleich, worum es geht. ‘I’ll explain to Mika right away, what it’s about.’

Ich erkläre, Mika, gleich, worum es geht, ‘I’ll explain right away, Mika, what it’s about.’ (p. 296; my translations)

While position of the name ‘Mika’ in the first sentence enables us to read it as indirect object, the pauses in the second sentence serve to clarify the lack of syntactic integration of ‘Mika’ into the rest of the sentence; ‘Mika’ here is, of course, the vocative.

Christian Stetter, in the final chapter of the volume, asks again questions which motivate the volume as a whole: “(1) Where is the vocative located in the whole of language articulation systems? (2) Does it belong to the language system or to performance—or isn’t it an either-or in this case?” (p. 306) Stetter argues that the notion that the vocative must be syntactically external or marginal to the sentence does not hold; he gives a series of examples with the vocative element between sentence constituents, such as ‘Kannst Du mir Paul eine neue Parkmarke zuweisen’, arguing that there are several places within the sentence where the vocative can occur, as long as it follows the rheme, the rheme of any individual utterance being a function of discourse context. Address, Stetter argues, is not a syntactic function, and thus, vocative cannot be a syntactic category; rather, it is a speech act type, as well as a speech act. The vocative phenomenon retains its position between system and use, and its consequent claim to our interest and further study.


The strength of this volume lies in the wide range of approaches used and languages examined in the pursuit of what seems at first a very narrowly defined linguistic phenomenon, and at that, one that has been seen as marginal to the traditionally central concerns of grammar, verbs and their arguments. Phonological/intonational, morphological, and syntactic arguments are brought to bear on the status of vocatives within the language system; close examination of the vocative phenomenon from different angles allows us to place seemingly paradoxical results side by side. For example, even though vocatives are not arguments of a verb, the papers here should give pause to anyone who wants to argue that they are not at least partially syntactic phenomena. While vocatives may manifest their own syntactic structure, as Hill makes clear, Stetter’s paper argues against seeing vocatives as a syntactic category; he sees them as a speech act type. It is left to the reader to reconcile these different results from different approaches. The reader can enjoy putting these different results together and examining how the papers speak to each other, but a summary chapter, perhaps by the editors, could have made the chapters’ mutual relevance and their collective implications for the mapping of boundaries or components of the language system more explicit. The theoretical boundary between language system and usage also comes under tentative attack here: speakers also shape their language systems. It is hard not to wonder after reading Girvin’s paper, for example, whether the ambivalence Bulgarian speakers express about vocative forms (are they vulgar or not?) may eventually result in the loss of overt marking of the category in that language. The career of Mexican ‘guey’ shows further how usage can change function. Vocatives emerge in this volume as phonological/intonational, morphological, syntactic, pragmatic, as well as socio-pragmatic discourse elements. I would expect linguists of all stripes to find something here of interest.


Brown, Roger and Marguerite Ford. 1964. Address in American English. In Language in Culture and Society, Dell Hymes (ed.), 234-244. New York: Harper and Row.

Brown, Roger, and Albert Gilman. 1970. The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity. In Psycholinguistics, Roger Brown (ed), 302-335. New York: Free Press.

Burt, Susan Meredith. 2015. “There’s not a lot of negotiation”: Address terms in an academic department. In Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Im/politeness, Marina Terkourafi (ed.), 71-90. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Clyne, Michael, Catrin Norrby, and Jane Warren. 2009. Language and Human Relations: Styles of Address in Contemporary Usage. Cambridge: CUP.

Norrby, Catrin, and Camilla Wide. 2015. Address Practice as Social Action: European Perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zwicky, Arnold. 1974. Hey, Whatsyourname! In Papers from the Tenth Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, Michael, La Galy, Robert A. Fox, and Anthony Bruck (eds.), 787-801. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.


Susan Meredith Burt is Professor of Linguistics in the English Department at Illinois State University, and a member of INAR, the International Network for Address Research.

Page Updated: 28-Aug-2017