Dr. Grit Liebscher
Professor of German, University of Waterloo
Dr. Liebscher is a co-author of Language, Space, and Identity in Migration (2013) and a co-editor of upcoming Germans of Waterloo Region. She specializes in German applied linguistics.
Contextualizing Pronouns: German t/v Language Attitudes and The Construction of Identities
German, among other languages, offers tu (du) as well as vous (Sie) pronouns, with the former generally associated with informality/closeness and the latter with formality/distance. Recently, researchers have acknowledged the rigidity of this understanding that lacks a more meaningful contextual analysis. Such analysis would recognize how users of German across the globe as well as learners of German employ these pronouns to negotiate power relationships and difference through the construction of roles, identities, and perceptions about their use and users. This plenary draws on two SSHRC-funded co-authored studies: the first revealing du/Sie language attitudes among German Canadians that differ largely from those held in Germany; the second investigating du/Sie use in the so-called “linguistic landscape,” drawing on a large collection of photographed public signs in two mid-sized cities in Germany between 2019-2022. This research helps to understand the contextual complexity and power relationships constructed through the use of these pronouns.