Missing me and Msing the other: Courtesy titles for women in Englishes

Joanne Winter, Anne Pauwels

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The introduction and spread of Ms as the courtesy address title for women is a cornerstone of feminist linguistic planning for English. Its introduction aimed to eradicate the discriminatory inequity in the address system that exposed women through their (non)marital relationship with men. The understanding, use and impact of the courtesy title are fairly well documented, particularly for Englishes of Australia (e.g. Pauwels 1987; 1998; 2001; 2003), US and Britain (Romaine 2001) and New Zealand (Holmes 2001). We have little knowledge of the form’s spread, impact and use by speakers for whom English is not the dominant language but forms part of their linguistic repertoire. Graddol (1997) argues that English-speaking bilinguals will outnumber first language speakers and, ‘increasingly will decide the global future of the language’ (p.10). Such contexts of English – second / third / foreign – usage loosely align with locales Kachru (1997) identified as ‘expanding circles’, and to some extent, many of the ‘outer circle’ Englishes, e.g. Hong Kong. In this paper we take up a new direction in feminist language planning: the explorationof courtesy title use and practices by English-speaking mono-/bi-/multilingual women around the world. We draw upon online survey data (available from http://www.teagirl.arts.uwa.edu.au/) to probe respondents’ strategies for addressing unknown women, as well as women’s use of courtesy titles for themselves. Our mapping of practices associated with Ms reveals an unexpected pattern of diffusion with implications for evaluating planned social language change. In relation to Ms, the implementation of feminist linguistic policy does not cohere with a pattern of spreadfrom inner to outer to expanding ‘circles’ of English or from ‘first language speaker’ to … ‘foreign language speaker’ diffusion. The locale and personal contexts associated with education, awareness and personal commitment to gender equity interact in complicating, and surprising ways. Indeed our research exposes a new directionality for Ms as a preferred form for unknown women, without necessarily implicating its use in self-naming for many bilingual women resident in ‘outer circle’ locales.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)08.1-17
    JournalAustralian Review of Applied Linguistics
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


    Dive into the research topics of 'Missing me and Msing the other: Courtesy titles for women in Englishes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this