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I’m just roughing out something on how students and professors/ lecturers at college talk to each other, and am using the VOICE and MICASE online academic corpora for guidance. Dialogues will hardly contain the names of the two partners. You won’t necesessarily need to use the name of the person when you first address them. At the outset, usually it’s some sort of an interruptive noise or phrase or body language signal to get the other person’s attention. As the dialogue progresses, one of the two might reinforce a thought by using the other’s name, as in “You know, (name),..”, which has quite a strong attention-getting effect. But how often is it really used by the student?

It’s different in three-way conversations, when participants refer to what someone else in the room has said, so they use names all the time: “As (name) was saying…”.

So how do students refer to their professors? Wouldn’t that depend on the situation? Is the student signing up for a course? Wouldn’t they then ask the person at the desk whether Professor Whatsit’s course was already full? Are they in a big seminar or lecture? In class, wouldn’t there be some leftover strangeness in referring to what a professor has said using a phrase like “But the point Peter was making…”? What about deference, is there still any left at college, or has it been driven out by some agenda to turn conversations at university into those between peers to differentiate them from those at school? And how do students who have bought into that concept handle conversations with their peers from other countries and cultures in which deference plays a larger role? I wonder whether this varies very much from campus to campus. After all, some are more rarified than others, and you’d think that using first names would then create a rather exclusive sense of intimacy.

In related musings: Isn’t it funny how we refer to published authors sometimes just by their last name (more academic), sometimes by their full first and last name (more popular), and sometimes – for example if they are present and we’re in a discussion among peers – just by their first name?

And what about the many strategies we use to avoid using names altogether to cover up the fact we’ve forgotten them?