14 December 2022 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Supplied
Dr Carla Ellis
Dr Carla Ellis achieved her doctorate at the UFS on Friday 9 December 2022. Her study focuses on the sociolinguistic use of ‘oom’ and ‘tannie’ as forms of address.

It has been officially confirmed through a PhD – the use of ‘oom’ and ‘tannie’ can be loosely attributed to one thing: respect. In her PhD titled ’n Sosiolinguistiese ondersoek na die gebruik van oom en tannie as aanspreekvorme onder Afrikaanssprekendes in Bloemfontein en George (A sociolinguistic investigation into the use of uncle and aunt as forms of address among Afrikaans speakers in Bloemfontein and George), Dr Carla Ellis looks at the use of ‘oom’ and ‘tannie’ as forms of address. “It has always struck me when someone uses oom and tannie as forms of address in Afrikaans, and it is particularly interesting how people react when they are addressed in this way,” says Dr Ellis, who received her PhD degree at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) December graduation on 9 December 2022.

The PhD study contributes to the already existing academic work that has been done on the use of common forms of address in Afrikaans, but Dr Ellis’ PhD focuses specifically on the use of ‘oom’ and ‘tannie’, because this has not been done before. “My study therefore forms part of a larger research project on forms of address,” says Dr Ellis.

Her supervisor was Prof Nerina Bosman from the University of Pretoria, and Dr Annette de Wet served as the co-supervisor.

Sociolinguistics important for every uncle and aunt 

Dr Ellis has been teaching Sociolinguistics in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, German and French at the UFS since 2014, and says sociolinguistics refers to the use of language in different social contexts. “It covers a wide area of variables that can influence the way the speaker speaks,” she says.  In sociolinguistics, we look at aspects (race, age, gender, profession, region of origin) between a speaker and the addressee that differ and/or match. “In the case of using oom and tannie, the speaker will make certain inferences about the addressee based on this available information (age, gender, etc.), and will accordingly decide how to address the interlocutor.” 

Dr Ellis believes that sociolinguistics is important, because language is used to reflect social relations between interlocutors. “By using certain forms of address, you also indicate how you (as a speaker) rate yourself in relation to your interlocutor and how you view the relationship (for example, distant or solidary),” she says. 
Investigating the use and reception of ‘oom’ and ‘tannie’

The real reason for the study was to get to the bottom of why someone would react so violently when addressed as ‘oom’ or ‘tannie’. Dr Ellis believes that for some this is not a problem, while others will retort with ‘I'm not married to your uncle or aunt’. “In the media and on social media, it is also clear that there are differing views on the use of oom and tannie,” says Dr Ellis.  

2 600 Afrikaans speakers participated in the study. “My study was empirical, and I used mixed methods for data collection. Mixed methods for data collection refers to the use of quantitative as well as qualitative methods in a single study,” says Dr Ellis. 

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