American culture; Chinese culture; Forms of address; Intercultural communication


In cross-cultural situations, choices of address terms often reflect cultural differences. Although a good number of studies have discussed address terms in mono-linguistic settings, literature directly related to cross-cultural address terms is scarce. The current study intends to investigate common forms of address terms in Chinese and American cultures. Two hypotheses are examined: 1) Differences between Americans and Chinese in their choices of address terms are governed by cultural norms such as politeness, as well as by contexts or styles, and 2) The Chinese students in the U.S., who are undergoing the process of assimilation and acculturation, tend to accommodate the American culture and be more like the Americans in their choices of address terms.

Twenty-seven American and 24 Chinese subjects completed a 12-item survey. Data was analyzed by descriptive statistics and visual presentations and through the Kolmogorov-Smimov tests of population difference. The results indicate that while most American respondents tend to use either first name or no name in most informal settings or status conscious settings, Chinese respondents under the context in China would use more diversified choices. In addition, acculturation plays a role in Chinese respondents’ language change in terms of the choices of address terms. The relationship between age and the choice of address terms is also discussed.