Address Terms in Oscar Wild's "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "A Woman of No Importance"

Academic Paper, 2021

20 Pages

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Table of contents




Research Questions

The Theoretical Framework of the Study
Types of Address Terms
Communication Accommodation Theory(CAT)

Themes of the Plays
The Importance of Being Earnest
A Woman of No Importance

Methodology and Data-Analysis
Types of Address Terms Used by the Main Characters Addressing Other Characters in The Importance of Being Earnest
Types of Address Terms Performed by the Main Addressing Other characters in A Woman of No Importance




This is a pragmatic study that explores the relationship between language and society. This study aims to analyse the phenomenon called address terms performed by the main characters in the selected English dramas under the study, namely: The Importance of Being Earnest and A Woman of No Importance. This study has four main objectives: finding out the main types of addressing terms used by the characters in the dramas previously mentioned, their functions, the factors affecting their selection by the characters and the difference between the two genres, modern and classical, and effect in using the address terms. The theoretical framework that has been employed in the data-analysis is the Communication Accommodation Theory. The type of adjustment whether convergence or divergence, the way its components affect the communication, and the strategies that are used for adjusting. This study employed the mixed (qualitative + quantitative) content-analysis method since the data under the study are books and documents. Moreover, the findings are presented in narrative form and tables with numbers and percentages are used to support the analysis. The results show the great connection between the address terms that are used, the Communication Accommodation Theory, and the themes of the plays.

Keywords: Pragmatics, address term Communication Accommodation Theory, convergence, divergence, mixed-method.


In daily life, people use language to communicate with others. Language is an important factor for a person to live with other people. People send a message to a person with language, ask for help, and express their feelings with language. People always use language even when they think about their life. These prove that language is an important factor in our life. In other words, people are part of a society that is built on relationships with one another. There is social interaction between people in societies which is done through communication.

Holmes (2004) states that "We use language to ask for and give people information. We use it to express indignation and annoyance, as well as admiration and respect. When people communicate with others, sometimes their dialogues may contain addressing terms. Addressing terms are defined as the way people address each other. These could be the first name, last name, nickname, title, or some combination of them. Since at least the beginning of the 1970s, linguists have become aware of interpreting language in contexts not in isolation. With this trending linguistic approach towards language, sociolinguists have highlighted the role of language in different social contexts and vice versa. Holmes (1992, 1) declares that "examining the way people use language in different social contexts provides a wealth of information about the way language works, as well as about the social relationships in a community." People use different styles of speech according to the social contexts they are engaged in (Keshavarz 2001, p.5). This entails that language is not used only to exchange information; rather, while engaging in social linguistic interactions, language users consciously or unconsciously reveal their identities (Formentelli 2009, p.179), their cultural and social background, and their relationships to their addressees and their referents.

One of the aspects representing the existence of context is the use of address terms (ATs) which are defined as words used in a speech event referring to the addressee. They can be used as important elements to convey what happens among the participants, and between the participant and context, to gather social information (Holmes, 1992). Studying ATs always becomes interesting research in linguistics study as the use of ATs can reveal many things including the identity of the speakers, the power and authority of the speakers, and also the distance and relationship between the speakers. Address by title alone is the least intimate form of address. It usually designates ranks or occupations, as Colonel, Doctor, or Waiter. Titles lack 'personal' content. Knowing and using another first name is, of course, a sign of considerable intimacy or at least of a desire for such intimacy. Using a nickname or pet name shows a greater intimacy. The asymmetric use of names and address terms is often a clear indicator of a power difference. A school classroom is almost a universally good example, such as John and Sally are likely to be pupils, and Miss or Mr. Smith to be a teacher. The phenomenon of addressing terms can be observed from social interaction as reflected in several selected English dramas under study. There are various ATs used by those characters and they vary depending on who uses it, where they use it, when they use it and why they use it. The character uses different ATs when the situation changes.


The main aim of the study is to investigate the functions and types of ATs that are used by the characters in the selected dramas under study and their connection to the themes of these dramas taking into consideration the interpersonal relationships amongst these characters.

Research Questions

1. What are the main ATs used by the addressers in the selected English dramas to call their addressees?
2. What are characters’/participants’ intentions behind using the ATs in the communicative situations?
3. How the class, and social status of the addresser affect his use of the ATs in addressing the addressee? That is, what are symmetrical and asymmetrical relations among characters?
4. Are these linguistic devices (address terms) used well in classical written dramas?


Based on research questions, the present study hypothesizes that:

1. All types of ATs are used by the characters in the selected drama under study.
2. In old drama, playwrights use politer, formal AT, that is, there is a social distance between the addresser and the addressee or the referent, and
3. There is a direct connection between the address terms used by the characters and the themes of the selected dramas under the study.

The Theoretical Framework of the Study

This section clarifies the theoretical background of the study.

Types of Address Terms

There are different types of addresses, but the most common type of ATs is by names. A name is a term used to denote a specific individual, identifying him or her directly Lehrer and Hanks (2006, cited in Kubayi 2013). First Names identify human beings as individuals, not groups or functions. Naming focuses on how adults address each other, how they address children, and how this is reversed (Wardhaugh, 2006). Next, according to Chaika (1982:47), the use of Title plus Last Name in communication indicates social distance and unfamiliarity between the speaker and the interlocutor. This type of AT is usually used by a person who has a relatively higher status than the other people who he/she wants to address. Besides, Titles are nominal forms that emphasized the relationship between the speaker and the addressee (Martiny, 1996). Titles are different from personal FNs and last names in the sense that they emphasize the social relationship between the speaker and the addressee, rather than upon the addressee, in other words, titles are expressions of respect (Dickey,1996). Ts that are used so commonly include “Sir”, “Madam”, “Miss”, “Mr.”, “Mrs”. Next, Chaika (1982:49) states that “the use of the LN indicates that the speaker is more superior to the addressee”. She adds that the inferior will receive her/his LN alone while the superior will be addressed by her/his T plus last name. It can be concluded that the use of LN in communication shows asymmetric power between the speaker and the addressee. Another type of AT is a special nickname. According to Chaika (1982:49-50), this type of ATs is used in communication by the speaker and the addressee that has an intimate relationship, such as between close friends. She adds that a special nickname is also used as a sign of intimacy. An example of special nicknames is "Charles" turns into "Charlie". Furthermore, Pet Name is similar to the special nickname that is proposed by Chaika (1982:49) in the previous description. However, Wardhaugh (2006:268-9) states that PN indicates a higher level of intimacy compared to the use of the FN in addressing other people. Examples of PNs are "Honey" and "Sweetheart". Also, Asadpour (2010) states that Kinship Terms are those which are used for blood relations and for affined”. Foley (1997, cited in Aghagolzadeh and Asadpour 2010), believes that KTs should be studied from two perspectives: universalist and relativist. kinship systems are good domains to show universals because marrying and reproduction are necessary features for any society. Finally, the Neutral Terms category of terms that is neutral concerning the degree of respect includes terms with very basic meanings like "man", "woman", "girl", "boy", "child", etc. The function of most of the terms that are included in this category also interacts with other categories such as terms of solidarity and family terms. These terms are neutral concerning the degree of respect or formality and rather they imply either friendship or joking.

Communication Accommodation Theory(CAT)

CAT is a framework for understanding the intergroup and verbal patterns between the speaker and his addressee, and the communicative behaviours of the speaker either oriented convergently towards or divergently away from the addressee or the fellow speaker.

Giles (2016), distinguishes between two types of accommodation: Psychological and linguistic types of accommodation. Psychological accommodation indicates the speaker's own intentions and motives to adjust while communicating with others. The latter refers to the actual speech that is used by the speaker through communication. Linguistic accommodation can be further distinguished as either objective or subjective. The former indicates a direct shift in the behaviour and it can be measured and observed, while subjective accommodation is not direct, that is, one's perception of behaviour change. There are three main ways in which people can adjust their speech in a communication situation concerning other people: Convergence, Divergence, and maintenance.

"Convergence refers to adjusting one's communicative behaviours to be more similar to another's."(Giles, 2016, p.36-37). Convergence is a strategy where an individual adapts the communicative behaviour in terms of linguistic, paralinguistic, and nonverbal features so that they become more like their interactants. While "Divergence refers to adjusting one's communicative behaviours to be more dissimilar to another's" (Giles, 2016). A speaker may "diverge" from the needs of his listener or fellow speaker by not accommodating to his speech. This way can be used by communicators to separate themselves from undesirable groups or individuals. And "Maintenance refers to sustaining one's "default" level of communicating without adjusting for others. " According to Thakerar et al. (1982 as cited in Gallois, Ogay, and Giles 2005) maintenance indicates maintaining speakers' positive identity. The interlocutor persists in his individual style regardless of the communicative behaviour of his partner. It can be considered as similar to divergence strategy in the point that the speaker wants to stay as distinctive as possible from the inter-individual or intergroup speakers.

Themes of the Plays

The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" provides a mirror image of the late Victorian upper class. It is one of the most successful plays criticizing the Victorian age and the triviality of the upper class at that time. The play is a subversive comedy of manners to give a satirical portrayal of social and moral conventions and to create humour for the audience. to live in double identities. The whole drama handles the issue of assuming deceptive identities which Wilde calls "Bunburyism". Algernon and Jack both impersonate double identities throughout the play. Algernon Moncrieff, who is the main character of the play, invents an imaginary friend in order to conceal his double life. As well, Jack conceals his travels behind an imaginary brother he calls Earnest.

The theme of triviality (lack of seriousness) or superficiality is considered of high value in Victorian society, and one of the most dominant themes in the play. The play "The Importance of Being Earnest" is treated with complete and sincere "triviality". The subtitle of the play "A Trivial Comedy for Serious People", here Wilde plays with the words trivial and serious which become complementary to each other in the play. Truly, it is the trivialization of seriousness that Wilde celebrates in this play.

A Woman of No Importance

As for A Woman of No Importance, it is one of the most popular melodramas of the nineteenth century. This play was written by Oscar Wilde, a well-known figure of late-nineteenth-century literature. A Woman of No Importance is one of Oscar Wilde's plays among four of his social comedies' plays. There is Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest. A Woman of No Importance talked about a woman who became a single unwed parent in the Victorian era. In this era, a person to become a single parent, birth an illegitimate son was not well received in society. It is possible to see a new light to the art of drama by mixing comedy of manners and Victorian melodrama, especially in terms of characters, theme, situation, paradoxes, and dialogues.

As Weber states in the study related to the play A Woman of No Importance (2017), despite its title, A Woman of No Importance is a play in which male authority has to step back and make room for strong female characters such as Mrs. Arbuthnot and Miss Hester Worsley. It is a play that presents the conventional view of seduced and seducer yet undermines it with a complex interpretation of the power relationship between man and woman. In A Woman of No Importance Wilde redefines and challenges stereotypes through the characters of the play. A Woman of No Importance views a very feminist play and the intrigue is very subtle and occurs in the background. She assumes that Oscar Wilde paints an aristocratic society dominated by hypocrisy: A Woman of No Importance is a very scalding comedy of manners. A good dose of feminism and a drop of tragedy.

Methodology and Data-Analysis

This section clarifies the methodology of the study i.e., source of data and the method analysing these data. It tends to analyse the types of ATs used by the main characters in the selected dramas.

The Data

The data of the study are classical dramas written by Oscar Wilde in the 1890s.

The Procedure of Data-Analysis

The study adopts Denscombe’s (2003) content model to analyse the collected data. Content analysis is a method that can be used in any text to analyse the content of the data in form of documents. The researcher closely examines the data to identify common themes – topics, ideas, and patterns of meaning that come up repeatedly. However, Giles' (1973) theory (CAT) will be used in the interpretation of the data from the selected English dramas under study. CAT is a multifunctional theory that conceptualizes communication in both subjective and objective terms. It focuses on both intergroup and interpersonal features and, as we shall see, can integrate dimensions of cultural variability. Moreover, in addition to individual factors of knowledge, motivation, and skill, CAT recognizes the importance of power and macro contextual factors. Most important, perhaps, CAT is a theory of intercultural communication that actually attends to communication.

On the other hand, the collected data will be analysed according to the themes of the plays under the study. The theme in a play is its underlying message or big idea. In other words, what critical belief about life is the author trying to convey in the writing of a novel, play, short story, or poem? This belief, or idea, transcends cultural barriers. It is usually universal in nature. This research will analyse the use of address terms depending on the context of the plays, the conversational situations in which they are used, and their effect on the selection among the different types of address terms. It will explore the main themes' effect on characters' behaviours with other characters, and what are the main factors within the play that are affecting their decisions as social values and rules, characters' general status, and the relationship they have among themselves.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

This section provides a detailed analysis of all the address terms that are used by the main characters of the plays. The analysis is according to the CAT, its components, strategies, models, and ways of converging/diverging. And takes the themes of the plays and their effects in the selection of the ATs into consideration as well.

As for the Victorian era dramas, the Victorian era seems to have been a paradoxical period in British history. What is commonly understood by the terms "Victorian values today decency, chastity, diligence, godliness,'' was not commonplace neither in the working class nor in high society. One may say that the strong notion of morality, which was embodied most profoundly by the institution of marriage, was in fact systematically trespassed by all social classes. Hypocrisy was considered to be the worst vice by Victorians and yet it seems to have been prevalent by the end of the 19th century. It is also the late period of the Victorian era that saw comedies mocking the rigid and yet inconsequent morality. The most prominent plays are those by Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde was one of the most successful playwrights of his day but he was also a complex person full of contradictions. Wilde's comedies of the 1890s had a far surer place in the Victorian theatre. Based on Sanders, 1994 as quoted by Kardiansyah,) 2017) The Importance of Being Earn est in 1895 has indeed been accorded an unchallenged canonical status considered as the most quoted play in the English language after Hamlet. "Lady Windermere's Fan: A Play About a Good Woman" in 1892 was Wilde's first supreme success on the London stage, and it was continued by "A Woman of No Importance" in 1893, in which both plays had a noticeable feminist bias in which they stressed the innate strength of their central female characters.

Types of Address Terms Used by the Main Characters Addressing Other Characters in The Importance of Being Earnest

Types of Address Terms Performed by Algernon Moncrief

List of all the address terms that are used by Algernon Moncrief in addressing the other characters as shown in the below table. And one example from these terms is analysed to show the implications of its usage within play context.

Table (1): Address terms used by Algernon Moncrief

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1. First Name

FN is used among people with intimate and close relationships. And it is mostly being used in reciprocal relationships as friends, colleagues, or family members. The use of FN, as shown in Table 2, is 26 times out of the total 67 address terms being used by Algernon Moncrief. The following example is quoted from the play explaining the use of FN:

ALGERNON. What a fearful liar you are, Jack. I have not been called back to town at all JACK. Yes, you have ALGERNON. I haven't heard anyone call me. JACK. Your duty as a gentleman calls you back ALGERNON. My duty as a gentleman has never interfered with my pleasures in the smallest degree (II. 50)

In this scene, both Algernon and Jack are talking about Algernon's second life. When Algernon appears in the doorway, Jack is furious, not only because Algernon is there, but also because he is disguised as Jack's own invented, and now presumably dead, brother. Cecily takes Jack's anger as part of the long-standing ill-feeling between the two brothers and insists that Jack shake hands with Algernon, who has evidently been telling her about his good offices toward his poor friend Bunbury.

In terms of CAT, the use of FN to address a friend is an attempt of convergence, downward, and symmetrical with the use of interpersonal control strategy. The use of FN indicates solidarity and friendship and the use of it within the family members and friends is the most common one. The character's initial orientation is based on a long-term relationship with a friend. The immediate situation specifies that the addressee has the same status as a friend, and the use of such terms determines the intergroup relation. At the same time, he is employing certain strategies as the interpersonal control strategies in his relationship with the other character as the main focus is on their relationship.

In line with the theme of the play, the use of the FN is highly affected by one of the main themes of the play. This scene has some implications related to the "Bunburying" or the double lives of characters. Algy and John "Earnest" are close friends and they stick to using nicknames most of the time when addressing each other or using the per names. However, in this scene, the researcher finds that John uses the FN which is less intimate than the nickname and pet term. This shows that Algernon is in a serious situation, and has negative feelings for not being hosted at John's home. That is why, we can see that Algernon refers to his friend as his friend because of his madness at that scene, and using the FN as an attempt to show that. The essence of the issue between the two characters is that Algernon is pretending to be the fictional brother of John "Earnest" and entering his life which causes conflict for John. Because Victorian norms were so repressive and suffocating, Wilde creates episodes in which his characters' live secret lives or create false impressions to express who they really are. Jack and Algernon both create personas to be free. These other lives allow them to neglect their duties, in Algernon's case, or to leave their duties and pursue pleasure, in Jack's case.

2. Pet Name

PNs are terms used to address people such as the endearment address terms darling, beloved, dear, etc. These terms indicate a greater level of intimacy among the following speakers. Table 2 shows that PN is used 6 times out of the total 67 address terms being used by John. An example of PN used by John is as below:

CECILY. Well, ever since deal Uncle Jack first confessed to

us that he had a younger brother who was very wicked and bad, you of course have formed the chief of conversation between myself and Miss Prism. And of course, a man who is much talked about is always very attractive. One feels there must be something in him after all. I daresay it was foolish of me, but I fell in love with you, Earnest.

ALGERNON. Darling ! And when was the engagement actually settled? (II. 54)

In this scene, the characters Cecily and Algernon are talking at John Jack's home. The two characters are discussing the matter of Jack's younger wicked brother, who Algernon pretends to be, and Cecily is confessing the imaginary thoughts she had in the past even before meeting Algernon "Earnest" in person. She confesses her love to him and their imaginary engagement that she created in her mind. Surprisingly, Algernon goes on in Cecily's story and discusses their engagement and apparently confesses his love for her too.

In line with CAT, the use of PNs including "darling" is an attempt of convergence, downward and it is symmetrical. It is usually perceived positively by the listener as the speaker is converging psychologically and linguistically. Both motivations and verbal tools have been used for this purpose. The speaker's first orientation is based on the variations of the immediate communicative situation. The speaker's adjusted cooperative communication is based on the context of the conversation between them, and the upcoming events within this conversation. Certain CAT components affect Algernon's use of the PN when he addresses Cecily, such as the evaluation and future intentions. The fellow speakers are perceiving their partner's communicative behaviour and its effect on their relationship. The character is employing certain strategies within his cooperative behaviour, the interpersonal control strategy which shows the role of their relationship and the emotional expression and the way the speaker is showing his own feelings and emotions towards the addressee so that to be more cooperative and accommodative and at the same time to achieve the goals he is aiming.

In fulfilment of the themes of the play, Oscar Wilde stated, concerning his play The Importance of Being Earnest that "We should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality." This reflects the ideas behind the play and the way that Wilde presents his characters, and their actions throughout the course of the play. This philosophy influenced many important themes throughout the play, most notably the presentation of class, as well as Satire and Comic Pairings. Wilde's presentation of the society he showcases in the play revolves largely around this philosophy of 'Serious Triviality' and "Triviality of Marriage" as this is perhaps the most obvious theme, and a subset of the triviality theme. This theme exposes the aristocracy as shallow and absurd. Wilde's characters consistently refer to marriage in a poor light, yet, continuing with their absurdity, each seeks to be married. This theme is very clear in the quoted scene and more obvious in the AT being used by Algernon to address Cecily. There is a clear triviality in both characters' speech. Cecily is in love with someone never seen before and Algernon's love feelings exposure and addressing a girl he sees for the first time using the endearment word "darling" showing the triviality case clearly.

Types of Address Terms Performed by John Worthing (Earnest/Jack)

A list of all the address terms that are used by John Worthing in addressing the other characters is shown in the below table. And one example from these terms is analysed to show the implications of its usage within the play context.

Table (2): Address terms used by John Worthing

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1. Nickname

Nicknames are those kinds of addressing terms that are used to show a higher level of intimacy. Nicknames can have negative implications when they have some negative intentions and content. It has been used 12 times by Jack, and the following example shows the use of the nickname by Jack:

MISS PRISM. We must not be premature in our judgments

CECILY. I feel very happy. (They all go off)

JACK . You young scoundrel, Algy, You must get out of this place as soon as possible. I don't allow any Bunburying here. (II. 49)

In this scene, three characters are present: Miss Prism, Cecily, and Jack. Cecily is very happy to fall in love with Algernon, however, Jack is refusing his presence as brother Earnest and telling him to leave his house and stop his Bunburying because he wants to protect his ward.

In terms of the CAT framework, the use of nicknames with negative intent is an attempt of divergence by the speaker. Jack is being rude as a kind of protective action for his ward Cicely. There is a clear deviation from the normal form of their relationship, Jack and Algernon. This kind of adjustment is downward and asymmetrical as the use of such negative terms is only used by Jack towards Algernon throughout the play. The speaker is fully aware of his divergent adjustment and he is intentionally doing it. This short-term divergent adjustment is led by the immediate interactive situation among the characters, their social connection, and the focused goals of their communication. Certain strategies within CAT have been employed in the mentioned scene as interpersonal and discourse management strategies as this divergence was led by the interpersonal relation between Jack and Algernon, and Jack's knowledge about Algernon double life and imaginary friend "Bunbury" which leads him to use such terms when he addresses his friend.

In line with the main themes of the play, this scene is clear evidence of Oscar Wilde's satire on the Victorian age's bad manners. Society is so attached to the fake ideals of earnestness that it is ready to pay any price for it. This frenzied and frantic thrust towards the ideals pressurized individuals to live a double life. It reveals a biting critique of traditional expectations and behaviour and represents the hypocritical values that would be questioned especially regarding characters' double behaviour, life, and manners. This scene shows clearly this struggle and the comedy of manner through the play. The use of such an AT is a clear representative, as Jack is cursing his friend Algernon to be at his house and pretending to be his wicked brother. Both characters are from the higher status of the Victorian society, however, their real behaviour and the one they are pretending to be are showing clear hypocrisy and the bad manners of the Victorian age society.

2. Title + Last Name

As already being stated, TLN is often used by people in their daily conversations. Different types of ATs have different meanings which also indicates equality or inequality between people. TLN has been used 28 times out of the total 76 terms being used by Jack to address the other characters. An example of TLN performed by Jack is shown below:

JACK. I am engaged to be married to Gwendolen , Lady


LADY BRACKNELL. You are nothing of the kind, sir. And now, as regards Algernon!... Algernon!

ALGERNON. Yes, Aunt Augusta.

LADY BRACKNELL. May I ask if it is in this house that your invalid friend Bunbury resides? (III. 75-76)

In the quoted scene above, Lady Bracknell is doing a sort of intervention on Jack, the one who proposed to her daughter, Gwendolen. She treats him in a very harsh way presenting the Victorian age with most of its ugliness and inequality among the classes, even if only regarding having money or not. Lady Bracknell doubts that Jack is Algernon's imaginary invalid friend Bunbury. That is why she calls over him to know if they are, Jack and Bunbury, the same person.

In alignment with the CAT, the use of TLN by Jack in this scene is an attempt of convergence adjustment, upward and Symmetrical using the multi-dimensional models. Both characters barely know each other, that is why the way of dealing with each other is so formal and both interlocutors are showing respect towards each other. Jack's convergence towards Lady Bracknell is motivated by his aim to converge to the addressee's needs to gain her approval on him and his marriage from her daughter, Gwendolen. This form of adjustment is mainly done through the interpersonal control strategy with the use of interruptions, honorifics, or the use of appropriate address terms. The character's initial orientation is based on a positive history of respect between the interlocutors. The sociocultural norms specify that Lady Bracknell is not familiar with Jack and according to the Victorian age norms, Jack should address her using the most formal type of addressing terms.

As for the connection between the AT with a frequent occurrence of 28 out of 76 and the theme of the play, the TLN being used by Jack has a clear connection with the play's theme, the TLN that is used by Jack indicates the Victorian age norms and rules for communication. The upper classes were highly obsessed with the high moral standards and manners that people displayed in social contexts, and the less proper behaviour that took place when people were outside of the public eye. The character's focus is on how one behaved in public. However, the act of Lady Bracknell during this scene exactly states the opposite, she is obsessed with money, social status, wealth, and luxurious life for the gentleman who is to propose to her daughter. That is why she is investigating Jack to know his background and wealth.

Types of Address Terms Performed by the Main Addressing Other characters in A Woman of No Importance

Types of Address Terms Performed by Mrs. Rachel Arbuthnot

List of all the address terms that are used by Mrs. Rachel Arbuthnot in addressing the other characters is shown in the below table. And one example from these terms is analysed to show the implications of its usage within the play context.

Table (3): Address terms used by Mrs. Rachel Arbuthnot

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1. Title Last Name

TLN has been used 13 times out of the total 39 terms used. An example of TLN is shown below:

MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It was the eldest son who succeeded, of course, Lady Hunstanton?

LADY HUNSTANTON. No, dear, he was killed in the hunting field. Or was it fishing, Caroline? I forget. But George came in for everything. I always tell him that no younger son has ever had such good luck as he has had.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Lady Hunstanton, I want to speak to Gerald at once. Might I see him? Can he be sent for? (II. 31)

In the quoted scene, there is a normal Victorian speech between the two characters Lady Hunstanton and Mrs. Arbuthnot. And within the flow of speech, Rachel-Mrs. Arbuthnot- asks Lady Hunstanton to call over her son. In return, the latter speaks about George and how poor a young man he was in the past and how his brilliance turns his life into a completely different thing. Within the framework of the CAT, the use of TLN by Rachel is an attempt of convergence, upward and asymmetrical following the unimodal method as one form of address is used by Rachel to address Lady Hunstanton throughout the scene and most of the play. This form of adjustment is done through interpersonal control strategy to remind the partners of social relation distance. The participants' initial orientation is based on a long history of respect to the addressee, when a TLN is used, it shows respect and honour as they are considered as a means for showing respect towards people the addressee does not have an intimate relationship with. The cooperative adjustment is done through the interpersonal control strategy counting on the long-term relationship between the two characters. The two characters are related to the same social class and they participate in the same social events and parties that are conducted, i.e. they only socially know each other and for a long period. The character's initial orientation to converge is governed by the positive history relationship between her and the other character and how strong the intergroup relation is. According to these two factors, character determines according to sociocultural norms of the interaction the appropriate term to use.

Concerning the theme of the play, the term that has been used is most directly related to the Victorian era manners, morals, and social behaviours. Lady Hanstantun appears throughout the whole play, she holds luxurious parties inviting the aristocratic upper-class members from the Victorian society and Oscar Wilde uses this character to show the comedy of manners regarding the Victorian era. And for Lady Caroline, she is the top profile for the hypocrisy of manners and behaviours the Victorian society is having. Lady Caroline is a very self-convinced person, she feels that she knows better and more than anyone else. Besides, she is always criticizing anybody absent, especially Hester, and everybody and everything else. If somebody asks her an uncomfortable question she will immediately change the topic or turn towards another person. She is judging a person from what class he or she belongs to, their names, and their possessions. But she tends to forget things faster than she changes her subjects, and this is a clear representation of the Victorian age manners which is linked to the name of Lady Caroline.

Types of Address Terms Performed by Mr. Gerald Arbuthnot

List of all the address terms that are used by Mr. Gerald Arbuthnot in addressing the other characters is shown in the below table. And one example from these terms is analysed to show the implications of its usage within the play context.

Table (4): Address terms used by Mr. Gerald Arbuthnot

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1. Kinship Terms

The use of the KTs is mainly related to family members and it can be between equal or unequal relations among family members. In general, they indicate the intimacy and closeness among those members. The KTs have the highest rate of 45 terms used by Gerald out of the total 75 terms used, and all of them were used for addressing his mother Rachel. An example of KT is shown below:

GERALD. Mother, this is Lord Illingworth, who has offered to take me as his private secretary. [MRS. ARBUTHNOT bows coldly.] It is a wonderful opening for me, isn't it? I hope he won't be disappointed in me, that is all. You'll thank Lord Illingworth, mother, won't you? (II. 33)

The quoted speeches belong to one long scene within the play. Rachel aims to leave Lady Hunstanton's home but her son insists on introducing her to the man who offered him the golden opportunity to work with him. Surprisingly, Rachel meets Lord Illingworth, the man whom she loved when was a young girl, and pretends to meet him for the first time.

Within the frame of CAT, the use of the KT "Mother" or any of its diversities is an attempt of convergence upward and asymmetrical. The social relative status between the mother and son specifies an unequal relationship and system for addressing each other, i.e., a son cannot address his mother using her first name, in return, parents, in general, can address their children using their nicknames, FNs, and PNs. Concerning KTs, one of the major functions of the kinship usage is to govern the role relationship between kins, that is how one kinsman should behave in a particular kinsman's presence, or what kinsman owes to another. Kinship assigns a guideline for interactions between persons. It defines a proper acceptable role relationship between the kins. Giles (2016) describes adjustment motivation as an ongoing process that can change during the course of interaction. People enter a given communicative encounter with an initial orientation. As the interaction progresses, this initial orientation is transformed into a psychological accommodative stance, based on the salience of different identities and interlocutors' perceptions of their own and others' behaviours.CAT proposes several macro-level factors that can influence a character's initial orientation, including interpersonal history, sociocultural norms and values, and the current and past state of relevant intergroup relations.

In terms of the theme of the play, the KTs that are used by Gerald are mainly related to the title of the play A Woman of No Importance, Mrs. Arbuthnot as there is no other AT belonging to mothers that have been used throughout the play except the ones addressing Mrs. Rachel Arbuthnot. The AT "mother " and its varieties which are so repetitive during the play, shed the light on the theme of the unwed Victorian mother and her struggle in raising a child on her own. She hides her unwed status as a mother, she represents the single woman of the Victorian era, who could have been in a desperate situation had she not had help.

Types of Address Terms Performed by Mr. George Illingworth

List of all the address terms that are used by Lord George Illingworth in addressing the other characters is shown in the below table. And one example from these terms is analysed to show the implications of its usage within the play context.

Table (5): Address terms used by Lord George Illingworth

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1. Pet Name + Neutral Terms

The use of the pet name in combination with the NT strengthens the first implication and the positive impact of the address term. This pattern has been used 4 times only out of the total 57 terms used by Lord Illingworth for addressing other characters, and all of them are used for addressing Gerald, his son. An example of this term is shown below:

MRS. ALLONBY. Ah, I never listen!

LORD ILLINGWORTH. My dear boy, if I didn't like you I wouldn't have made you the offer. It is because I like you so much that I want to have you with me. [Exit HESTER with GERALD.]

Charming fellow, Gerald Arbuthnot! (I. 16)

In compliance with CAT, the use of the "Pet + Neutral Terms", the quoted scene shows that the character's main motivation is convergence with his fellow speaker; it is downward and asymmetrical since both characters cannot use the same AT for addressing each other. Accommodative orientation components were employed in this interactive situation by the speaker when he is addressing his interlocutor as interpersonal factors, communicator's feelings towards his counterpart and the immediate situation of interaction as Algernon finds that Jack is his elder brother. Certain accommodative strategies have been used in this conversation between the two characters, including emotional expression strategies as exposing that Jack and Algernon are real brothers and interpersonal control strategies considering their new relationship. Thakerar et al. (1982) have introduced into the propositions the idea that accommodation strategies do not have only an affective function (i.e., of identity maintenance), but also a cognitive one involving speakers organizing their output to take account of the requirements of listeners, and hence facilitating comprehension.

Concerning the theme of the play, the use of the term "my dear boy" is connected with the title of the play, and the main theme also. Lord Illingworth uses the mentioned addressing term regularly to address Gerald, the young man to work with him as his secretary, treating him as his son and at the same time he is not aware and does not know the reality of being his son, and this irony is stated in the play . This addressing term is also connected in an indirect way to the theme of the Victorian unwed mother, as referring to Gerald using the term "boy" sheds some light on this theme and reminds the audience of this critical situation.


Based on the research findings and discussions related to the address terms performed by the main characters in the selected dramas under study: The Importance of Being Earnest, and A Woman of No Importance. Four main conclusions can be drawn; the first conclusion is concerned with the types of address terms performed by the main characters in addressing each other. The second conclusion is related to the factors affecting the choice of the address terms, namely, CAT. The third is the connection between the choice of the address term and the themes of the plays under the study. Lastly, the fourth is the main difference between classical and modern black dramas as far as the use of AFs is concerned.

Eight types of address terms have been used in the selected dramas under the study. They are first name FN, title plus last name TLN, title T, Last Name LN, nickname N, Pet Name PN, kinship term KT, and neutral terms NT. The most regular type of address term that has been used by most of the characters in all the dramas under the study is FN as it is the most direct, easy-to-use, and effective address term to be used.

For the factors that affect the use of the ATs in the selected dramas under the study, the CAT plays a major role in showing the communicative situations. CAT's adjustment methods can be either in the form of converging, diverging, or maintenance. Convergence can take different forms depending on the social value, modality, symmetry, and duration of behaviour. It can be either upward or downward depending on the social value of the form used, unimodal or multimodal as using one form or different forms to converge the addressee, and varies in its duration from short to long depending on speaker's needs, or the approval he seeks from the addressee. The most common strategy that has been employed within the plays is the interpersonal control strategy to show the relative status of the characters; and emotional expression one which is mainly related to endearment words and expressions. The components of CAT as the context, the accommodative orientation, the immediate interactive situation, and any future intentions also have some roles in the interactive situations amongst the characters.

The classical dramas took place during the Victorian age which is an era mainly affected by the ideal manners, and behaviours. Speech style is highly formal, polite, and follows the standards of society. The language is highly formal and follows the standards of the English language and it is extremely proper with the effective use of endearment words as a way of showing politeness. The language that is spoken by the characters is the same as written literature, and this is highly reflected in the classical dramas under study.


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Address Terms in Oscar Wild's "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "A Woman of No Importance"
University of Mosul
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address, terms, oscar, wild, importance, being, earnest, woman
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Dr. Kamal Hussein (Author), 2021, Address Terms in Oscar Wild's "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "A Woman of No Importance", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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