A Comparative Sociolinguistic Study  

Kyrgyz Results

Below, the answers of the informants from Kyrgyzstan will be analyzed question by question with a focus on how they compare to, and especially deviate from, U.S. Results. For a more concise account of key observations and findings, please refer to Summary and Conclusion.

Generally speaking, Kyrgyz informants gave a much wider range of answers to most "fill in the blank" questions than U.S. or German informants. Therefore only frequent choices will be dealt with, and variants that only a very small minority picked will not be dwelled upon. As far as the "appropriate-inappropriate" questions are concerned, a considerable number of informants did not mark each term (on average, about 25-30%). Instead, many marked just one or two expressions as appropriate and left the rest blank. It is not exactly clear if they considered these terms inappropriate or if they just didn't know how to evaluate them. I have chosen to calculate the percentages in relation to the overall number of Kyrgyz informants. When reading the "appropriate" (abbreviated 'a') and "inappropriate" (abbr. 'i') percentages, please keep in mind that the difference to 100% are those people who didn't rate a term at all. In other words, if you read that 50% considered a term appropriate and 20% considered it inappropriate, that means that 30% did not mark it at all.

The questionnaire contained the following introductory information:
Imagine you are studying at a new university. Please answer the following questions concerning everyday situations in the life of a student. Some are simply "fill in the blank" questions. In some instances you need to mark whether you find certain expressions appropriate (i.e. they could be used without any problems) or not for the situation described.


Question #1
At your new dorm, you walk up to the front desk to ask where your assigned room is. A sign tells you that the woman working there is called Alice Irving (about 35 years old). Therefore you address her as “… Irving.”

Contrary to the native speakers, who clearly favored "Ms.," only 24% of the Kyrgyz informants chose this term, many others selecting "Miss" (38%) and "Mrs." (35%). These two terms of address were only chosen by a very small number of Americans, probably because the marital status of Alice Irving is unknown.


Question #2
After a good night's sleep, you get up and go to an orientation session for new students. During the welcome session, you meet the Dean, Todd Reed (about 30). You know that because just like you, he's wearing a name plate on his chest. "Welcome, ... (your first name)," he says, "nice to have you here." You answer "Hello, ..."

Like the U.S. students, most informants did not want to use first name unless explicitly invited to do so and therefore chose "Mr. Reed" (76%).


Question #3
It looks like you'll have to pay most of your university fees by check. Because of this you  need to open a bank account. The sign at the counter tells you that you are talking to Robert Burns (about 60). You address him as "... Burns."

Expectedly, "Mr. Burns" was the almost unanimous choice (95%).


Question #4
It is Monday morning, 8.45 am in your second week of class. You are about to attend a 9 am lecture by Dr. Robert Tanner (about 50), who works at your university department. Before class, you need to ask him some questions. You greet him by saying "Good Morning, ...."

Although slightly more Kyrgyz students picked "Mr. Tanner" (16%), the predominant tendency - namely an absolute majority for Dr. Tanner (57%) - was in accordance with native speakers results.


Question #5
On Saturday night, you and your friends go out to have a drink. It turns out it's up to you to walk up to the bar and get the first round of beer. You address the student (female, about 20) working at the bar by saying "..."

Just 16% opted for the Americans' favorite, namely a zero form (e.g. "Excuse me!"). 35% chose "Miss," which the U.S. informants did not choose in this case, but rated appropriate in the similar context of #13. Though a zero form is the most common choice, it therefore seems ok to use "Miss" here, too. Only very few students picked expressions that are clearly inappropriate according to U.S. data for this and comparable sample situations (e.g. #13, #19a) - like "lady" or "girl," the latter most likely being a literal translation of the Russian "devushka," a common term for addressing a waitress.


Question #6
Due to a minor car accident, you have to write a letter to your insurance company. Since you don't know the person who will be responsible for your claim, you have to address the company in a general way. Therefore you start your letter with "..."

In general, the informants offered a great variety of answers to this questions with "Dear Sir" being the top answer at just 16%. This form of address, however, did not occur in the U.S. results at all. After all, it is not gender neutral, but instead implies that the insurance company employee must be male. Since gender neutrality has become a crucial aspect of politeness conventions in U.S. culture, a mistake like that is a potential FTA (Face-Threatening Act, see The Project). Obviously "To whom it may concern," the most frequently mentioned phrase in the American survey, was largely unknown to the Kyrgyz students since not a single one of them chose it. Some 10% wrote "Dear Sir or Madam," which is apparently an adequate  choice also (see U.S. results for #10). A few others found a smart way around potential FTAs by using phrases like "Dear (company name)" or "Dear representative of ..."


Question #7
Two weeks later, get your a letter from your insurance company which asks for some additional information. According to the letterhead, the responsible clerk for your claim is Amber Smith. In your second letter to the insurance, you can write directly to her and therefore you open your letter with "Dear... Smith."

Most informants used "Mrs. Smith" (35%) and "Miss Smith" (19%) here. Since age and marital status of Amber Smith are unknown, using these terms seems somewhat speculative and risky (as shown by their almost complete absence in the U.S. results). Whether they are offensive or not, U.S. results indicate clearly that "Ms.," which only 16% of the Kyrgyz selected, is the official and most appropriate choice in this business-related document. Just like the German informants, the Kyrgyz students seemed generally insecure about how and when to use "Ms." This issue comes up repeatedly in the course of this and the "German Results" section (e.g. #12, #17).


Question #8
You have started to work as a salesperson in a department store to earn some extra money. When your first customer (male, about 35) comes in, you offer your help by asking "..."

43% each chose "sir" and a zero form that, in the vast majority of cases, was politeness marked otherwise, e.g. by expressions like "Excuse me" or "please," which the Kyrgyz students made abundant use of throughout the survey. According to U.S. results, both options are ok with "sir" being a little more common, i.e. polite.


Question #9
Shopping for clothes, you find a nice shirt that you really like. Unfortunately, you can't find it in the right size, which is why you ask one of the salespersons (female, about 55) if it is available in your size. You draw her attention by saying "..."

Many students used the polite "ma'am" or a zero form (32% each). Generally speaking, they tried to phrase their questions in a polite way (e.g. "Excuse me, can you help me?"). Almost nobody just asked bluntly ("Do you have this shirt...") without adding politeness markers. About 16% included the uncommon "madam," which did was not mentioned in the U.S. survey.


Question #10
To apply for a scholarship, you have to write a letter to a sponsoring organization. Since you don't know the name of the person (or the persons) you are writing to, you start with "..." Please mark whether you find each of the following expressions appropriate or not in this situation.

(A) Dear Sir or Madam62% a, 22% i1
(B) Dear Ladies and Gentlemen30% a, 54% i
(C) To whom it may concern19% a, 54% i
(D) Other: ...

Like the Americans, the majority (though not a similarly overwhelming one) marked A as appropriate and B as inappropriate. The fact that only so few considered C appropriate (and that so many did not mark it all all) again underlines that either the term or at least its conditions of usage are unknown to most Kyrgyz informants (see also #6).


Question #11
On a sunny afternoon, you are walking to Starbuck's. Suddenly, you remember that you are supposed to meet a professor at 3 pm. In order to find out if you have enough time to get a coffee, you need to ask an unknown person (male, about 30) for the time. You address him as follows: "..." Please mark whether you find each of the following expressions appropriate or not in this situation.

(A) Excuse me, do you have the time?41% a, 32% i
(B) Excuse me, mister, do you have the time?24% a, 46% i
(C) Excuse me, sir, do you have the time?76% a, 14% i
(D) Excuse me, man, do you have the time?3% a, 70% i
(E) Other: ...

About 25% rated B as appropriate. Since almost only Southern Americans approved of the term "Mister" in this context, it is not recommendable for non-native speakers to use it in a comparable situation. It is striking that the Kyrgyz informants are rather reluctant to use a zero form like A towards females and elders, as will be seen especially in the analysis of #19. It seems like Kyrgyz culture demands an increased degree of politeness towards these persons. For the U.S. students, on the other hand, using a zero form here (and, to a certain degree, in #19) is a completely acceptable choice.


Question #12
Going to a class on Friday morning, you meet your friend and fellow student Dan, who's talking to  Prof. Elizabeth Taylor (about 40, unmarried). Both of you have known this professor for a while and are on very good terms with her. Shaking hands, you greet her with a cordial "Good morning, ..." Please mark whether you find each of the following expressions appropriate or not in this situation.

(A) Miss Taylor62% a, 27% i (G) Ma'am35% a, 41% i
(B) Mrs. Taylor19% a, 62% i (H) Madam19% a, 59% i
(C) Ms. Taylor35% a, 38% i (J) Lady5% a, 65% i
(D) Prof. Taylor70% a, 11% i (K) Lady Taylor11% a, 62% i
(E) Elizabeth5% a, 68% i (L) Other: ...
(F) Liz0% a, 73% i

The evaluations of B, D, G, H, J, and K largely conform with native speaker results. In the case of "Miss," we can observe a slightly larger majority of Kyrgyz informants who considered it ok. Since its appropriateness here is disputed, though (see U.S. results), it should probably not be used by foreigners. As always with "Miss" and "Mrs.," the issue here are the terms' implications concerning marital status on the one and age on the other hand (see German results #14). Like in #7, the Kyrgyz students were unsure about "Ms." and therefore only about 35% marked it as appropriate. According to U.S. results, however, it is an especially good choice here, maybe because a female superior holding an academic title is addressed. The case of "Elizabeth" and "Liz" is also interesting. While about 40% and 30%, respectively, of the U.S. informants could imagine addressing a professor like this, it was perfectly unthinkable for the Kyrgyz to do so. Apparently there is another striking cultural difference here, this time concerning politeness conventions in relation to social hierarchy.


Question #13
It's your birthday. You have dinner with some friends at a nice Italian restaurant downtown. You want to draw the waitress' (about 20) attention to order some more food. Please mark whether you find each of the following terms of address appropriate or not in this situation.

(A) Miss70% a, 11% i (F) Girl19% a, 57% i
(B) Mrs.5% a, 68% i (G) Lady46% a, 35% i
(C) Ms.35% a, 41% i (H) Waitress49% a, 38 i
(D) Ma'am11% a, 59% i (J) Other: ...
(E) Madam5% a, 65% i

The answers for A, B, E, and H were similar to those of the American students. The insecurity about the use of "Ms." was apparent again, so that just 35% voted for it (compared to two thirds of the Americans). Interestingly enough, most Kyrgyz informants, just like the Germans, considered "ma'am" inappropriate here although almost all U.S. informants marked it as appropriate. Since many Kyrgyz marked this form of address as appropriate in #14, they obviously considered it to be restricted to elders. On the contrary, 46% rated "lady" appropriate, while not a single U.S. informant did so. The misinterpretation of this term might be due to its original meaning indicating high social status. Nevertheless, the American informants made it quite clear that it is not a polite term for them (see also #14 and, to a lesser extent, #19b and #19c). Apart from these observations, the only other notable thing is that 19% opted for "girl," a trap intentionally set up in order to test interference from Russian (see also #5). The term "devushka" (=girl) is commonly used to address waitresses in Russian.


Question #14 
While you do your shopping in the mall, you realize that you've left your watch at home. Nearby, a woman (about 45) is shopping for clothes with a man who seems to be her husband. On seeing that the woman has a watch, you ask her for the time by addressing her as "...." Please mark whether you find each of the following expressions appropriate or not in this situation.

(A) Miss5% a, 70% i (E) Madam68% a, 27% i
(B) Mrs.41% a, 32% i (F) Lady27% a, 57% i
(C) Ms.19% a, 54% i (G) Other: ...
(D) Ma'am62% a, 11% i

Most Kyrgyz students aptly recognized "ma'am" as appropriate and "lady" as inappropriate. Like the Germans, however, a clear majority rated "madam" appropriate while almost no American did. Apparently the term was interpreted as a polite way of addressing female elders. As the U.S. results show, however, this is not the case at all. The appropriateness of options A, B, and C is hard to evaluate since the Americans' answers were highly contradictory (for an account of potential reasons for that, see German results #14). Overall Kyrgyz students approved more of "Mrs." and considerably less of "Miss" and "Ms." than the native speakers did. As usual, this is probably due to differing concepts of the terms' age implications. While it seems desirable for some Americans to call the woman in question "Miss" in order to make her look younger, age as such might not have a similarly negative connotation in Kyrgyz culture. If this speculation is correct, it explains why more Kyrgyz informants chose the term "Mrs.," namely to give the woman the right of her age, so to speak. Be that as it may, these underlying cultural notions offer an interesting field for investigation. The other possibility is, of course, that the Kyrgyz informants simply were not aware of these implications concerning age.


Question #15
On your way to a guest lecture at your university, you meet a group of fellow students (male and female, ages 20-25). Assuming that they know how to get there, you ask "..., do you know where the lecture is?" Please mark whether you find each of the following expressions appropriate or not in this situation.

(A) Ladies and Gentlemen5% a, 68% i
(B) Guys76% a, 5% i
(C) Boys and Girls24% a, 49% i
(D) Other: ...

Almost all students were in accordance with the Americans by marking B as appropriate and A as inappropriate. 24% considered C appropriate. This phrase, however, was rejected by all U.S. students and is thus totally unsuitable. In addition to the given answers, a number of zero address forms were proposed. Like in #8 and #9, the informants displayed an abundant use of politeness marked expressions like "Excuse me" or "I'm sorry."


Question #16
You go to see your professor's secretary Michelle Casini (about 25, unmarried) to ask for some information. You greet her by saying "Hello, ... Casini."  Please mark whether you find each of the following expressions appropriate or not in this situation.

(A) Miss86% a, 0% i
(B) Mrs.8% a, 68% i
(C) Ms.41% a, 38% i
(D) Madam16% a, 54% i
(E) Other: ...

Since the person addressed is young and unmarried, there is no dispute about the appropriateness of "Miss" and the inappropriateness of "Mrs." here. All three groups of informants perfectly agreed on that. Like the others, most Kyrgyz students also marked "madam" as inappropriate. On the contrary, only 41% opted for "Ms." as appropriate, which is a perfectly fine choice in this situation according to U.S. results.


Question #17
You write an email to student advisor Angela Sellers (about 35, married). You start it with "Dear ... Sellers." Please mark whether you find each of the following expressions appropriate or not in this situation.

(A) Miss11% a, 70 % i
(B) Mrs.73% a, 11% i
(C) Ms.27% a, 51% i
(D) Madam32% a, 43% i
(E) Other: ...

Likely because of the known marital status, the Kyrgyz joined the Americans in marking "Mrs." as appropriate and "Miss" as inappropriate. The case of "Ms." was again disputed in both groups. While only 27% of the Kyrgyz informants rated it appropriate, a (though not overwhelming) majority of American students approved of it. "Madam," which all U.S. informants rejected, was again marked as appropriate by a considerable number of Kyrgyz students.


Question #18
The decisive day has come. You are defending your thesis before an audience of professors (male and female) and a few students. You open your presentation with a friendly "Welcome, ..."

All informants who did answer this question at all (86%) picked "Ladies and Gentlemen," the phrase favored by the American students.


Question #19
Holding a university degree now, you take a couple of days off from your sales job to relax. Having gotten up just in time, you go to the university cafeteria for lunch. While waiting in line, you see that a fellow student has lost his/her wallet without realizing it. Since you are an honest person, you immediately say "... , you've lost your wallet." Please mark whether you find each of the following expressions appropriate or not in this situation.

a) the student is male, about 20

(A) Hey, mister16% a, 62% i (E) Hey, boy46% a, 35% i
(B) Hey, sir30% a, 46% i (F) Hey, you32% a, 41% i
(C) Hey, man46% a, 30% i (G) Hey62% a, 19% i
(D) Hey, dude30% a, 46% i (H) Other: ...

Apart from a lower rate of approval for "Hey, man" (U.S.: 82%) and "Hey, dude," the address behavior as put forward in answering this question showed only one notable deviation from native speaker results. This deviation, however, is a problematic one. 46% of the Kyrgyz students considered "boy" appropriate. In addition to the fact that not a single American marked this term as appropriate, it can also be considered as especially offensive towards African Americans.2


b) the student is female, about 20

(A) Hey, Miss76% a, 8% i (F) Hey, girl35% a, 49% i
(B) Hey, Mrs.8% a, 68% i (G) Hey, lady57% a, 27% i
(C) Hey, Ms.35% a, 38% i (H) Hey, you19% a, 54% i
(D) Hey, ma'am8% a, 62% i (J) Hey41% a, 35% i
(E) Hey, madam3% a, 70% i (K) Other: ...

Results for A, B, E, and H were similar to U.S. results. "Girl" was marked as appropriate by a little too many Kyrgyz informants. It was not much of an option for the Americans. "Ms." was disputed as ever in both groups with an about fifty-fifty result in both cases. With regard to the zero form "Hey," the Kyrgyz students displayed a reluctance to use it not only towards elders, but also towards females. Like in #13, "lady" was considered an acceptable way of addressing young females - a notion which is very much at odds with U.S. results. Another striking deviation is the rating of "ma'am" as appropriate by just 8%. Although it was not the Americans' favorite answer in this sample situation, a majority considered it ok. Like the Germans, the Kyrgyz informants apparently considered this form of address to be restricted to female elders.

c) the student is male, about 40

(A) Hey, mister78% a, 16% i (E) Hey, boy 0% a, 70% i
(B) Hey, sir73% a, 8% i (F) Hey, you11% a, 59% i
(C) Hey, man14% a, 59% i (G) Hey27% a, 46% i
(D) Hey, dude0% a, 73% i (H) Other: ...

The answers were largely in accordance with U.S. results. The only striking difference was the Kyrgyz informants' reluctance to use the zero form "Hey" to address an elder (see also #11, 19d). The American students, on the contrary, found this form of address totally acceptable here.

d) the student is female, about 40

(A) Hey, Miss22% a, 51% i (F) Hey, girl0% a, 73% i
(B) Hey, Mrs.41% a, 32% i (G) Hey, lady35% a, 49% i
(C) Hey, Ms.27% a, 43% i (H) Hey, you5% a, 68% i
(D) Hey, ma'am57% a, 24% i (J) Hey16% a, 54% i
(E) Hey, madam57% a, 24% i (K) Other: ...

In answering this question, the informants were only in accordance with the native speakers concerning F and H and only deviant to a little extent regarding "Ms." and "Miss" (both were considered ok by a very narrow majority of Americans). Several Kyrgyz informants considered "Mrs." as appropriate. As the U.S. results show, however, it is not a good term to use in such a situation, probably because it indicates advanced age, which is perceived as undesirable. The best choice "ma'am" received a slightly too low rate of approval here, but was at least recognized as appropriate by a majority. Since the Kyrgyz informants were reluctant to use a zero form "Hey" to address elders (#19c) and females (#19b), it is hardly surprising that only 16% considered it appropriate towards a female elder. Still, it is perfectly ok for the Americans on all four occasions (#19a,b,c,d). Except for the Southern males, almost all Americans marked "lady" as inappropriate here. Therefore the 35% of the Kyrgyz students who considered it ok should refrain from using it in a comparable situation. Last but not least, the most striking deviation from the norms as put forward by the native speakers in #19d concerned the term "madam." Just like a majority of the Germans, 57% of the Kyrgyz informants rated it appropriate. Similarly to other sample situations (e.g. #17), however, the U.S. informants made it quite clear that this term is not a sign of courtesy towards elder women, but simply inappropriate in a majority of the United States' everyday life contexts.

1 'a' means "appropriate," 'i' means "inappropriate." The difference to 100% are those informants who did not rate the respective term at all.

2 Apparently because African American males were often pejoratively addressed like that in the course of history, e.g. by white slave owners. However, that is an information I could not fully assess.