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Addressee’s Influence on Speech Style Term Paper

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Updated: Jul 14th, 2020


In Sociolinguistics, speech style generally refers to the social distribution of linguistic features. An addressee can be generally defined as the person to whom a message is being conveyed, where the origin of the message is referred to as the addresser. When the addressee gets the intended message from the addresser then we say communication has occurred. Communication is the core business of any address, where an address refers to the process of transferring the information from the addresser to addressee.

Age of the addressee

When addressing an audience, the kind of words used by the addresser is dictated by the age of the addressee. There are certain words that are considered obscene thus cannot be used with young audience. Furthermore, use of complex vocabulary may hinder children’s understanding of the message being put across, therefore use of simple language and short sentences are preferred. For example, when addressing children, short sentences like “This is a car.” They have gone.” are ideal.

However, when addressing adults a wider variety of vocabulary and sentence structure can be used. Words which are otherwise considered obscene for children may also be used. However, addressing adults also require a lot of caution since issues of respect to their age is likely to come up (Krause and Chiu, 1991, p. 52). Long sentence constructions are allowed as adults are able to follow and comprehend what message is packaged in such long sentences. For example, “The mediation talks stalled after one of the parties snubbed the second round of the negotiations”. This sentence would not be understood by a young audience; however it is okay with adults.

Another group of audience with respect to age are the youth and teenagers. This is the group that precedes the adults, otherwise called young adults. This group has a special way for which their message must be packaged and therefore any addresser must take their tastes into consideration when deciding the speech style. One would be forgiven for not being able to appeal to the current generation, since this is a generation that has a totally different speech style out of the conventional language norms. The language used to address them is somewhere between that of adults and the children. An example is,”We goanna roll with swag.”

Clearly the age of the addressee has so much influence on the speech style used.

Social status and role of the addressee

This refers to the position held by the addressee in the society and his or her social responsibility. This would for example be religious leader, village elder, political representative or just a village pauper. All these people command certain amount of respect in the society and are perceived differently by the members of the society. Even the children of these social groups would be addressed differently in terms of the words used and the information given. How a political representative is addressed is different from how the other members of the society would be addressed.

Furthermore the issues talked about with such a person will definitely revolve around political activities. Such people will likely pay attention to issues affecting the general society and how their reputation is likely to be affected by such happenings thus addressing them would require that the speech style chosen briefly reflects the society’s feelings at a glance (Brennan and Lockridge, 2002, p 554). These people are also known to be very impatient and therefore do not pay attention too much details therefore addressing them require use of short speeches straight to the point.

Religious leaders are known to be very patient as an audience and pays attention to details and examples. Therefore addressing them is a little easier and requires giving of details, examples and personal opinions. Use of parables and asking of questions is acceptable to them and use of biblical reference is allowed. They can also be engaged in a one on one discussion of issues that may involve a question and answer session which is very unlikely to happen with a political leader. Addressing these people also requires some amount of decorum and the language used must also be of high degree of respect.

When addressing a mere villager with low social status and probably not very good economic status is a bit more casual. Addressing such people does not require a lot of message packaging and choice of words to be used. When the addressee is of a higher social status it might even involve giving demands. Such an audience is known to be good listeners and followers of instructions, therefore are less likely to be involved in discussions or argument with addressee of a higher social class (Thompson, 2011, p 1). Their address should be packaged in more affirmative way as they are less likely to start any discussion from the information given. For example one would be expected to say, “Go to the next table.” instead of “would you go to the next table?”

Depending on the social classes of the parents, children are also addressed differently. This is because the ability of a child to comprehend certain statements and words depend on their upbringing. Some words are common in certain social class but are nonexistent in other social classes. A child from the slum might not understand certain formal vocabulary and devices like play station or even computer unlike a child from a rich suburban. On the same breath there are words used in the ghetto and the slums which are never used in the higher social classes.

Therefore, when addressing children from these two different social classes, words and terms used must be carefully chosen to fit their understanding. This is also applicable to the youth from these social classes. Apart from the choice of language, there are issues which can be best discussed and comprehended by a certain social class of youths. An example is the challenge of using public service vehicles to get to school is best understood by a youth from the slums than a child from a well off family, who might have never used a public service vehicle in their entire life. Clearly the addressee social status is an important influence on the speech style and even issues addressed.

Relationship between addressee and addresser

How the addresser and addressee interact will have a huge influence on how the addresser will package his message. There are several levels of this interaction which includes sibling-sibling, child-parent, parent-parent and the nuclear family to the extended family and vice versa. In a sibling-sibling relationship, the conversation would be more relaxed and use of informal language prevails. The addressee would however influence the speech style depending on the age different, although the influence would be minimal. In a case where the addressee is older, the addresser is likely to use a more polite tone with an inquisitive approach (Carli, 2011, p 1). Whereas in a case where the addressee younger, the addresser is likely to adopt a more affirmative or advisory approach.

In the child-parent kind of a relationship, if the child is the addressee, the parent is more likely to give advice and package it in a friendly manner to cultivate a health culture of exchange. However this is dependent on the prevailing situation and the kind of topic being discussed. If the issue at hand involves a rebuke or correction the addresser, who is the parent will possibly use harsh words. On the contrary, if the addressee is the parent, the child addresser is expected to use words of respect and generally look for the parent’s opinion and never give directive or a rebuke. If the addresser is offended in any case and wish to express disappointment, he or she will have t do it in a manner that maintains the respect for the parent while puts the point across (Wehrwein, Lujan and DiCarlo, 2006, p 1).

For a parent-parent interaction, the addressee will either be the husband or the wife and never both. In most instances this is expected to be a horizontal kind of exchange, however, the husband is more likely to influence the speech style depending on his position as either the addresser or addressee. This happens because; the husband is expected to give directions to the wife being the head of the house.

Gender of the addressee

Gender is either male or female and their perception of how people chose their speech style is different. Majority of men prefer fellow men talking in a more authoritative and decisive manner although they also like to be consulted where important decisions are to be made, especially if the decision is likely to affect them. On the other hand, women like especially the male addressers who talk from an informed point of view. Therefore, the speech style adopted by the addresser should suit the addressee depending on their gender.

When addressing a female audience, the addresser should show great depth of knowledge of the topic at hand. Therefore, the speech style chosen should be affirmative and reflect surety of what is being talked about. However, for a male audience, the style should be more interactive. The addresser can adopt a discussion kind of approach. This is because men like to be part of the message and do not really enjoy being lectured. They like to give in their input as regards the topic under discussion. It would be more helpful to adopt a question –answer kind of interaction with men or the guided discussion style.

An example is, when addressing an issue on say global warming. The speech style would be different for a female audience and a male audience. When the addressee is females, it is preferable to give the facts and figures with confidence and not gamble around. However if the addressees are males, the more suitable style would be to give the addressees an opportunity to give their input the correct where necessary and add on what’s new or was left out.

These two approaches would work for the different groups respectively but in some cases they vice versa can also work albeit with some modifications (Lim and Guy, 2003, p 1). However, this is not cast on stone and can be debated. An example would be, “Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases for example, methane, ozone and chloro-flouro carbons.” This is a more appropriate statement for a female audience. However, for a male audience, a question structure would be more appropriate like, “What are some of the causes of global warming?”

Addressee’s level of education

An audience can have varying levels of education either as a group or as individuals in a group. It is important to know what kind of an audience, in terms of their levels of education one is addressing. In terms of formal education, the audience can either be primary school dropouts, secondary or high school drop outs, or tertiary level of education. Of which tertiary level can either be middle level college with a diploma or a certificate or a university graduate. The university graduates can also be categorized based on the number of degrees one has.

The addressee can either be pure or uniform in terms of their levels of education or can be mixed. In a uniform audience, the level of education should be the same or have a certain minimum level of education. In a mixed audience however, the individuals in an audiences have varying levels of education with no minimum level of education expected to have been attained. The knowledge of the addressees level of education is important in deciding on the speech style as the style should enable the addresser to convey the message to the addresses well.

There are certain vocabulary and sentence structures which can only be used with a given group of audience with a certain level of education. Therefore when addressing a mixed audience such terms and vocabulary should be avoided (Bell, 1984 p. 1). For example, when addressing a mixed audience of university graduates and primary school dropouts, it is desirable to use simple language and sentence constructions to accommodate the less learned dropouts. However, when addressing a uniform audience, say all first degree graduates, use of a bit of complex vocabulary is allowed. The same applies to a uniform audience of other levels of education.

However it is important to note her that, most speakers overlook this and tend to get swayed to using difficult to comprehend terms in the name of taming the audience. Such speakers forget the essence of their talk which is to pass information. They end up talking for hours on end without passing the intended message. It is clear that the addressees’ level of education is a big determinant of the speech style adopted by the addresser. An example would be, when talking about the need for a weapon from peaceful world. The statement “Disarmament is a prerequisite of global tranquillity” is more appropriate for a learned addressees than a less learned audience. For the sake of the less taught audience, the statement “Having peace in the world requires withdrawal of weapons.”

Background of the addressee

Background of a person entails so many things; these may include education, family upbringing, and religious affiliation among others. These to some extent determine a person’s understanding and perception of issues in the society. Therefore this is a very important aspect of the addressee that must be taken into consideration whenever making a choice of speech style. The way one would address a lay man is different from how a technocrat is addressed and the topics discussed with these two groups of people are greatly different.

On the same note, people who come from a strict family background perceive issues differently from people who had a less strict or a loose family. These people understand differently and therefore require different speech styles (Carli, 2011, p. 1). A classical example is a person who grew up with abusive parents might only know the language of abuse and violence, talking politely to such a person and trying to make them see sense in an argument may prove futile. On the contrary a person brought up in a loving family where issues are discussed and solved amicably may freak out when talked to in a harsh tone.

Based on the religious background, there are those major world religions and theirs teachings, doctrines and dogmas. Based on these teachings the follower’s perception and thinking is shaped in a particular way. It is therefore important to consider the addressees religious affiliation in deciding on the speech style (Schober and Clark, 1998, p. 224). For example for Christians, peace and tranquillity is preached while on the other hand Muslims advocate for jihad against the non Muslims.

Therefore, talking about war to a Muslim does not require much of packaging as it would be to a Christian. For a Christian, it would require a lot of sugar coating to make it acceptable to them. On the same breath, it would be easier to convince a very religious person by quoting lines from the relevant religious books. Religion has a way of stereotyping peoples thinking and making them only believe on things with a religious backing.

Level of acquaintance between addressee and addresser

Acquaintance refers to how well a person knows the other and their level of interaction. How close friends address each other is different from how strangers would. When the addressee is not an acquaintance of the addresser, then the conversation will be more structured and official. On the contrary, if the addresser and the addressee are acquaintances, then their conversation will be more casual and relaxed. An example is a conversation between a patient in a medical facility and a medical service provider. Since both parties are like strangers to each other, their conversation would be short, tense and straight to the point. However if it were conversation between colleagues then it would be more relaxed and informal, with light moments coming as interludes. Clearly how well the addressee and the addresser know each other is a very important factor in deciding on the speech style to employ in any conversation.


In trying to communicate, it is important that the addressee gets and understands the information as intended. An addresser may give statements for hours on end but never relay the information intended. The addresser should learn the addressee and understand the needs, understanding and the preference of her or his would be audience before the address starts. There are several factors which come into play anytime an audience is analysed with the intention of deciding on the speech style to use to pass information. These factors apparently do not come into play independently be work in association to determine the addressee suitability to a certain speech style. However, all these factors might not come into play at the same time but two or more will be considered at any one given time.

Reference List

Bell, A. (1984). Language styles and audience design. Language in society. 13(2), 145– 204.

Brennan, S. and Lockridge, C. (2002). Addresses’ needs influence speakers’ early syntactic choices. Psychonomic bulletin and review. 9(3), 550 – 557.

Carli, L. (2011). Journal of social issues. 57(4), 725 – 741. Web.

Krause, R. and Chiu, Chi. (1991). Language and social behaviour. Handbook of social psychology. 2(4), 41 – 88.

Lim, L. and Guy, G. (2003). The limits of linguistic community: Speech styles and variable constraint effects. Department of linguistics, New York University. Web.

Schober, M. and Clark, H. (1998). Understanding by addresses and overhearers. Cognitive psychology. 21(4), 211 – 232.

Thompson, G. (2011). Coding-switching as style shifting. International journal of language studies. 5(4), 1 – 18. Web.

Wehrwein, E., Lujan, H. and DiCarlo, S. (2006). . American physiological society: Advances in physiology education. Web.

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