How to address your professor

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Face to face, most students greet me as "Professor Mair", a few as "Dr. Mair". In e-mails and other written communications, they nearly all address me with "Dear Prof. Mair", "Hello Prof. Mair", or "Hi Prof. Mair", all of which sound natural and normal. I nearly fell off my chair when a female student from China recently sent me an e-mail that began simply "Victor". A few weeks later, I was stunned when she sent me another e-mail that began even more abruptly with just "Mair". This particular student's English otherwise is quite good, so I really don't know what's going on with her.

The culture of how to address faculty members varies in different departments at Penn, but I don't think it's customary in any part of the university for students to call or address their professors with their last name alone.

In China, people who are close to me have been affectionately calling me "Lao Mei ('Old Mair')" for several decades. As I become a true senior citizen, they have taken to referring to me as "Mei Lao ('Mair Old')", which is both respectful and familiar.

When my students graduate from Penn, no matter what degree they receive — B.A., M.A., or Ph.D. — it usually takes them a few years before they start addressing me as "Victor", and most of them ask me ahead of time if it's all right to do so. Of course, I say "sure!". Most of my students from Sinophone countries continue to call me "Prof. Mair" forever, even if I invite them to call me "Victor". Students from other countries (Russia, Germany, etc.) typically wait for a decade or two before they tentatively start to address me as "Victor". Students and nonprofessorial colleagues from Japan, no matter how long I know them, normally prefer to address me as "Dr. Mair", "Mair sensei", etc.

BTW, when I was a student at Dartmouth (1961-65), our professors called us "Mr. Mair", "Mr. Blake", etc.  And we always called them "Prof. Bond", "Prof. Perrin", and so forth.



47 Comments

  1. Fred said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 8:48 pm

    Honestly, I'm surprised this is the first time it's happened to you in all these years. I got it pretty often on the mainland.

  2. David Moser said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 8:51 pm

    I always found the flexibility of "laoshi" to be endearing. My colleagues have used the form of address with my given name (Dawei), surname (Mo), and even full name, all eliciting various degrees of respect and/or affection. Students would call me "Mo Laoshi", peers could call me "Dawei Laoshi", TV hosts or first-time acquaintances might call me "Mo Dawei Laoshi", and sometimes even "David Laoshi". These could all flexibly be applied as terms of address for 3rd person, or first person, all equally useful in their own way.

  3. FM said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 8:53 pm

    As an undergraduate in the late aughts, I had a poetry professor (Oscar Mandel) who must have been in his 90's who insisted on calling all the students "Mr. X" and "Miss Y". He also declared, "I don't even let my wife call me by my first name!"

    We all thought it was weird.

    As a young university math instructor, I have been called almost every possible combination of {Mr., Professor, Dr., ∅} {FirstName, LastName} but never just LastName.

  4. Paul Midler said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 9:01 pm

    What I've found peculiar is a sudden misspelling of my first name in electronic communications. There are only four letters, and given (a) the lack of typos in the body of the note and (b) the sudden frequency of people—mostly factory reps—who are doing this, I figure it must be a trend. Chinese otherwise have such fondness for face, and they have a reputation for going out of their way to give it to those with whom they do business (as well as professors!).

    My best guess is that this is all tit-for-tat. After years of having their own names misspelled, they have decided this is protocol. In your own case, Prof. Mair, they may have witnessed (not from you of course) foreign professors get their first names mixed with their last. In the US, Chinese who use the standard last-name-first word order quickly learn to allow themselves to be called either until they adopt the US standard of first-name-first.

  5. mg said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 9:05 pm

    Back in the late '70s I had a professor who called the male students by last name only but the female student by Miss Lastname. Other than that, most profs called us by our first names and expected to be called Prof. Lastname, though a few had students call them by their first names. One said we could call him by his first name or Dr. Lastname, but not Professor because that made him think of the mad scientists in the movies.

    In 2 out of the 3 grad programs I attended, graduate students (but not undergrads) were on a first name basis with profs.

  6. Aaron Boyden said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 10:15 pm

    When I was a grad student, I recall that we usually called professors by their first name when talking about them among ourselves, but tended to be more formal when they were actually present (maybe some sort of grad student status thing, pretending we were closer to them than we were?) I had a strange student a long time ago when I was a TA who called me "Mr. Aaron" (and he wasn't foreign or anything, just odd).

  7. Annie Gottlieb said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 10:25 pm

    Maybe the student thinks one part of your name means "Mr." or "Professor" . . . but isn't sure which.

    My high school German teacher and I became friends (mostly by email) late in his life. He was a native German and had been a thrillingly strict old-time "Professor," as Gymnasium teachers were actually called.

    As fellow adults, friends, and not as unbridgeably far apart in age as we had seemed at the time, he invited me to call him "Gregor." I simply could not. The best I could, and it became my salutation whenever I wrote to him, was "Lieber Freund und Professor."

    It felt about right.

  8. Colin Rafferty said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 11:14 pm

    As an undergrad, I TA'd a class and never knew how to address my professor in email. She would sign her name every which way, and I would always just reflect however she signed off last. It drive me nuts, but I was too afraid to just ask.

    Dr. Lastname
    Prof. Lastname
    Firstname
    F

  9. Laura Morland said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 11:56 pm

    @ Victor Mair (or should I write, "Prof. Mair")

    I can well understand why you almost fell off your chair when your student wrote "Victor" and then "Mair" as a salutation! It's hard to say which was worse.

    To echo what others have written, when I entered grad school (Cal Berkeley, in the 1980s), I was an "older" student (age 27), and who had already spent five years in the business world, where even the Senior VP at Bank of America addressed everyone in the office by our first names, but expected us to call him by his first name in return.

    And therefore when I became a grad student, I resented the fact that my professors called me "Laura," but I had to call them "Professor X." There were, however, two happy exceptions: Prof. Irmengard Rauch (an American, despite her name) who called all her students "Ms." and "Mr.," and my mentor, Prof. Alain Renoir.

    In the case of Prof. Renoir, after his students had completed Old English and were taken under his wing, he would choose a moment when nobody else was around, and say, "Call me Alain." (Pronounced the American way, not the French.) As others have noted, it was hard at first to obey his request, but we adjusted.

    However, when referring to him in conversation (where he was not present), we would refer to him as "Renoir."

    That reminds me of a story: back in 1997, a math grad student, a friend of my husband's penultimate Ph.D. student, was visiting that student in Portugal at the same time as my husband was a guest of the university there. One night we took them out to dinner, and during the meal this guy kept referring to my husband as "Rhodes," in direct address!

    After the fourth of fifth such transgression, I couldn't stand it any longer. I said — right in the middle of our meal (the only Chinese restaurant in Porto, as it happens) — "Listen, do you realize that you are being incredibly rude? It's normal for [my husband's] students to refer to him by his last name when talking about him, but you don't call him by his last name right to his face!"

    The rest of the meal was a bit awkward, but I hope he learned an important lesson.

    P.S. I presume that you will send a link to this post to the Chinese student in question!

  10. Martha said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 11:57 pm

    Aaron Boyden, it was the opposite when I was in grad school. They insisted we called them by their first names ("We're going to be colleagues soon, so you should get used to calling us by our first names!"), but when we talked about them, the more professorial ones were referred to by their last names.

  11. Garrett Wollman said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 1:24 am

    I work in a lab with more than 100 PIs. (Obviously not a linguistics department!) We have a strongly established first-naming culture, and have had for many years; even in third-person context the only people who regularly get last-named or full-named are the ones who have very common given names (especially "Dave"/"David" — there used to be a standing joke in our old building around "Have you seen Dave from the fifth floor?" because there were four or five of them). Looking at the PI list now, the duplicated given names are, with one exception, exactly the ones you'd expect given US naming trends: "Arvind", "Adam", "Mike", "Dave","John", "Eri[ck]", "Ste(f|ph)anie", "Tim", "Bill", "Rob(ert|)", and "Ron". Graduate student practice seems generally to be given-name for their adviser and other faculty in the same research area, and bare family-name ("citation style") for everyone else.

    That said, when I'm talking with students, I'm generally careful to reflect back whatever form they use, especially if the person I'm dealing with is an undergrad.

    Use of the honorific is a particularly sore point with many female and URM junior faculty. It's been pointed out that it's all very well for privileged (white male) senior faculty to be cavalier about first-name use, because they automatically get respect and deference in situations where their younger and female/minority peers do not. So if those people want to insist on the titles they have earned, I'm going to back them up.

  12. Lindsay Marshall said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 2:42 am

    I think there is a lot of departmental culture at work here. The vast majority of our students (computer science) call all the staff by their first name and have for as long as I can remember. There are exceptions, almost all international students, and their salutations take on all the variants described above including some who insist on sir (I don't know how these would address a female member of staff)

    It can be an issue though – it took me a couple of years to get one if my PhD students to call me by my first name but eventually he did, however when he went back home he struggled to adjust back to the much more formal culture there.

    My biggest problem though is getting them to spell my first name correctly.

  13. Ricardo said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 3:04 am

    My general experience of universities on the mainland is that Chinese are always careful to use proper honorifics with other Chinese (师兄 from one student to a slightly older student; 老师 for any kind of staff, whether administrator or professor), but that they rarely extend this usage to foreigners. Except in some very formal circumstances, foreigners of whatever rank were referred to by their first names.

    To my knowledge, very few foreign staff minded, since all sides knew that naming conventions on Western campuses have become more and more casual. At the same time, I also thought this habit was a general reflection of the standing of foreigners in China and occasionally overheard foreign staff being referred to as 老外 and worse. Once when I was walking the corridors a worker who was installing an air condition unit pointed me out to his colleague and said, '你看,黑鬼.'

  14. John Rohsenow said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 3:34 am

    I too have been surprised that many of the younger recent graduates from the PRC whom we have been hiring here in Chicago simply address me as "John" instead of "Prof. Rohsenow". (They are not my students, but they know I am a retired univ. prof.) Perhaps they picked it up in their recent U.S. graduate school experience, where it seems to have become more common these days for students to address their teachers by their first names. I started to encounter it from American
    MA students at my university just before I retired in 2005.

  15. Julian Bradfield said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 3:45 am

    My department has a long-standing habit of informality – we don't put titles on doors, and most staff are happy even for first-years to use first names to them. In practice, things seem to go in cycles – at present, a majority of (both British and foreign) students use formal address, but still a sizeable minority will use first names once they feel they know me (e.g. if I teach them personally). Ten years ago first-naming was more common, I feel.
    As for the "Dear Bradfield", I get that sometimes from Chinese students, and I've always assumed it's an attempt to be relatively informal – when I was a young lecturer, my Chinese colleagues liked to be addressed by family name, though nowadays they use given names. I always inform the student that they have committed a major cultural faux pas.

  16. Philip Taylor said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 4:15 am

    For three consecutive years we had visiting lecturers from SISU, each of whom kindly agreed to teach Mandarin Chinese to interested staff. None really wanted to be addressed as <surname> lǎoshī, and all preferred to be addressed by by their given names. What I did find odd, however, was that when the second sought me out in my office, as he frequently did, he would invariably start the conversation by saying "Ah, Taylor !". Out of politeness I initially accepted this, but once we became friends I explained to him that in British culture, "Ah, Phil !" would be more appropriate, and he in turn explained that in China the converse was most definitely the case.

  17. Michael Watts said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 5:37 am

    At the same time, I also thought this habit was a general reflection of the standing of foreigners in China and occasionally overheard foreign staff being referred to as 老外 and worse. Once when I was walking the corridors a worker who was installing an air condition unit pointed me out to his colleague and said, '你看,黑鬼.'

    老外 ("foreigner") is not an offensive word, so I don't get why you're calling it out.

    黑鬼 ("black devil") is called "derogatory" by CC-CEDICT. I have no experience of the word. It could be offensive, but the use of 鬼 isn't exactly a reliable indicator of that — children are called 小鬼. Did you find 你看,黑鬼 offensive because of the wording specifically, or because you think the comment "hey look, a black guy" is offensive regardless of the wording?

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 6:18 am

    I find it interesting that Google Translate renders 你看,黑鬼 as "Look, nigga". Why the "a" ending, I wonder ? Even clicking on the translation for alternatives does not offer the (more common, IMHO) "er" ending,

  19. B.Ma said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 6:26 am

    As an undergraduate at a British university (10 years ago), my professors would sign emails (both one-on-one and to the whole class/tutor group) with their first name, or less commonly, their full name but with no title.

    When a particularly stuffy old fellow actually signed an email using "Professor ___" it was odd enough that my coursemates actually made comments about it.

    In face to face interactions, and when I spent a few months in labs (several different ones), practically everyone was on a first name basis after the first time you met them, from the PIs and postdocs to schoolkids doing work experience.

  20. Doug said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 7:13 am

    When I was at Penn, I had a Number Theory instructor who always addressed the class with, "So, ladies and gentlemen…"

    There were only three of us, all male.

    When I got my first professional job after college, I had a supervisor [originally from Ukraine] who addressed all the guys who worked for him with "Mr. [firstname]"
    When he got a woman reporting to him, he was unsure what to do. Eventually he migrated to just plain first names for all of us.

  21. peterv said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 7:55 am

    My Chinese students have told me that Chinese people who are friends call each other by their surnames only. Is this not the case?

  22. Rodger C said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 7:59 am

    When I was a freshman in 1964, We were Mr. or Miss X and the instructor was Mr., Miss, or Dr. X. We thought this was cool, as in Not High School. I've always taught at colleges where I'm Dr. C, and so I persist, for symmetry's sake, in calling my students Mr. or Ms. X, though this has long since become a peculiarity of mine. Of course I'm just C behind my back.

  23. Ricardo said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 8:16 am

    @Michael Watts

    I don't really want to get into whether 老外 is generally offensive or not, since that is beside my main point. I'll try to make myself a little clearer.

    When university staff were referring to another Chinese professor, whether s/he was present or not, they always spoke of 王老师,刘老师 etc. But when they spoke of a foreign professor, they always referred to him by his first name, Charles, Richard etc. On rare occasions, I heard them speak of this or that 老外,especially if they wished to express irritation.

    My point is that they did not treat the foreign staff as they would treat other Chinese staff.

  24. Victor Mair said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 8:49 am

    "Laowai: the old furriner" (4/9/14)

    "'Gweilo' as a racially charged term" (9/10/18)

    "Fake foreigner" (19/3/11)

    "The rhetoric of anti-Japanese invective" (9/23/12)

    "Does Gary Locke speak Chinese?" (8/19/11)

    "Laowai" in Wikipedia

    "Gweilo" in Wikipedia

  25. Victor Mair said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 8:55 am

    My experience in China and among Chinese abroad is that, if they refer to someone by their surname alone, they generally preface it by lǎo 老 ("old") or xiǎo 小 ("little; small; young"). Without these prefixes, the surname alone sounds peremptory.

  26. David Marjanović said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 9:34 am

    "Professor," as Gymnasium teachers were actually called

    Still are, at least in Austria; officially after a year or two on the job, in practice always. Actual university professors therefore style themselves Univ.-Prof. Dr. in writing (most Gymnasium professors are not doctors, though some are), and this is copied by media including TV news.

    (Gymnasium = the kind of middle + high school that confers the right to study at a university. Lasts 8 years, or 9 in some parts of Germany.)

    naming conventions on Western campuses have become more and more casual

    Not equally so everywhere in the West, even if the general trend has been going in the same direction.

  27. Bob W said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 10:01 am

    @Aaron Boyden – Mr. Firstname is not uncommon in the southern U. S. from my own experience. And, I found a citation to share.

    In comments, from Anne W Zahra: "This is a Southern U.S. custom and is followed when speaking to an older person you know well, but want to address with both affection and respect. It's a bit old fashioned but still common."

  28. Geoff M. said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 10:55 am

    Philip Taylor's comment reminds me of the passage in Stephen Fry's memoir where he recalls then while he was at boarding school, boys savoured the subversiveness of calling each other by their Christian names in private. When they run into old school mates in adulthood, on the other hand, they fall back on the nostalgia of surnames, as in "Bloody hell, it's Taylor!" is even one of the examples he gives.

  29. Mark P said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 11:05 am

    @Bob W — I was going to say the same thing about the Southern custom of young people calling older people Mr or Miss (not Mrs) firstname. One of my coworkers often brought her young child to the office when we worked late. He always called my coworkers, who he knew pretty well, Mr or Miss firstname. Once he called me Mr Mark, and his mother corrected him by saying,"Oh, no, he's Doctor Mark." That's what he called me from then on. The custom spread to some of my coworkers, and now, even after retirement, if someone emails me to do a little work, they address me as Dr Mark, even the ones I don't know.

    I started graduate school at Georgia Tech in 1980 at the advanced age of 30. The department was small and had a fair proportion of older students. I am not aware that any professors were addressed as other than Dr Lastname. One of the friendlier profs said we could call him by his first name, but no one did. When I got to know my advisor well, I called him Dr. J (for his last name). When I left, I went into a different field and never interacted with my professors. If I saw my advisor today, I would call him Dr J.

    We had a lot of foreign students, from Colombia, Britain, Italy, Greece, India and China. One of the Chinese students had had his education, profession, and life interrupted by the Cultural Revolution, so he was a good bit older than most of the students. We students always called him Mr Bai.

  30. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 11:27 am

    I teach physics at a community college. Physics has a strong first-name tradition (particularly near Los Alamos, New Mexico, as my college is). I ask all my students to call me Jerry, though when I was in college I called all my professors Professor Lastname, and even in grad school had some trouble calling my adviser by his first name. Now many of my students have trouble calling me Jerry, and the trouble seems to increase as my hair gets grayer. I'm making less of an issue of it now.

    Aaron Bowden: A few students call me "Mr. Jerry", which they may think of as a compromise. They haven't been southerners. (In N.M., few of my students are southerners.) Maybe a disproportionate number have been immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries.

    Sad story: When I was teaching math at a different college, I was helping a student one-on-one, and my preference for my first name happened to come up. The student said something like, "Yes, my sister asked me what college was like, and I said you have to unlearn everything you learned in high school." I did not say, "No, if you'd learned how to solve linear equations in one variable in high school, it would work just fine in college."

  31. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 12:30 pm

    @Laura: "the Senior VP at Bank of America addressed everyone in the office by our first names, but expected us to call him by his first name in return."

    Did you mean to write "by his last name in return"? Or am I just misreading the rest of the context? (Possible; I didn't sleep well last night and so have fuzzy-brain this morning.)

    @Geoff M: I was going to say the same thing. In all those British school-boy books and films, all the boys are addressed by Lastname only. It's true even in Harry Potter (which I've never read, but have of course seen some clips from the movies).

    Also true in crime dramas such as Criminal Minds and Law & Order, not to mention military shows.

    That said, I would never think to cal anybody by Lastname only unless it was in jest or some other context where it seemed appropriate. In an email to my professor would not be such a context, imo. (Except in Japanese class, in which case it would be "Tanaka-sensei" and not just "Tanaka".)

  32. Tom said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 12:55 pm

    I've had a number of students call me "Professor Thomas," most likely because they don't know how to pronounce my last name (Mazanec).

    I ask undergrads to call me "Professor Mazanec," "Dr. Mazanec," or "余老師" (from my Chinese name, 余泰明).* I encourage grad students to call me "Tom" because I like to encourage the mindset that we are all researchers, and we're in this together.

    *N.b.: I've adopted my wife's surname in Chinese, as she's adopted mine in English.

  33. Peter B. Golden said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 1:03 pm

    In Turkey, it was and remains customary to address professors (and others perceived as socially above you) by first name followed by Bey (for men) and Hanım (for women). Sometimes "Hocam" ("my professor" – originally a honorific [khoja] associated with Islam) is used. I receive many emails from Turkish students with that greeting ("Merhaba Hocam" – "Peter Bey," although sometimes used, sounds a bit odd). Prior to the 1934 Law on last names, the great majority of Turks (unless from a distinguished family, e.g. Köprülü) did not have last names. When I did graduate work at the Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi in Ankara, some 50 odd years ago, I addressed my professors as Hasan Bey, Saadet Hanım etc. They did not address us by any title – or even name – most of the time, other than "hadi, gel" "come here" (with the imperative in the familiar form). Saadet Hanım (daughter of a famous Tatar poet) used to call us, individually, "yavrum" (my puppy"), which was quite endearing. In my undergrad and grad student years in the US (1959-1970), the system was as has been noted, professors, male and female, were addressed as "Professor" and students were usually "Mr." or "Miss." On occasion, only the last name was used. I was first addressed by my first name by a graduate student in the late 1980s. It was becoming fashionable by then. I raised an eyebrow, a bit surprised. I, in turn, addressed my mentors by their first name only after being invited by them to do so.
    Turkish-American students call me "Hocam," but then (some of them) address me in the familiar form ("sen" not "siz"). It is a clear sign of their having been born in or largely raised in the US. In Turkey such a violation of the norms of deference would earn at least a "çık dışarya" (get out!) if not a whack on the head.

  34. Mark P said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 1:24 pm

    I forgot to mention in my earlier comment that at my middle and high school, which was a private, boys' college prep school modeled at least somewhat on the English form, students called teachers Mr Lastname, and in return teachers called students Mr Lastname.

  35. Philip Taylor said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 4:38 pm

    Regarding Victor's 'lǎo (老, "old") or xiǎo (小 , "little; small; young")', one thing that puzzles me is that it is (apparently, according to Kan Qian) permissible to invite someone to address you as "lǎo <family name>" (請叫我老王 / "Qǐng jiào wǒ lǎo Wáng"). But China is a society in which age is revered, and deference required to be shewn to older people, so does not asking someone to call you "lǎo <family name>" also suggest that they should show you deference ? If so, then this strikes me odd in a society that also prizes modesty.

  36. Paul M said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 4:38 pm

    黑鬼 is most certainly offensive, though the Chinese person uttering the term may not intend offense. The more proper term is of course 黑人.

    Similarly perhaps, many who refer to someone as 老外—especially if uttered in his presence—mean to elicit laughs. "Look at this old white dude" is about the right tone. If someone says in a declarative way "你是一个老外," it sounds offensive. But if instead a person says "你是一个外国人," it becomes neutral to positive.

    I'd once been given a long speech by an old Jewish man who insisted that "gaijin" is always offensive, even though the Japanese insist that it is not. The proper term was "gaikoukujin." I suppose there the difference is between calling the fellow "international" instead of "foreign."

    It's important to remember the Chinese not intend as much offense when signaling differences. There's always some gentle pressure to not be strange or different "奇怪," but they don't often have the bullying quality one catches when applied in English. As an example, you hear Chinese people refer to a heavyset person as "fatty" or "little fatty," and it almost has the ring of endearment.

  37. Victor Mair said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 7:56 pm

    The lǎo 老 ("old") of "lǎowài 老外" ("old furriner") and "lǎo Zhāng 老张" ("old Zhang") doesn't necessarily indicate chronologically old. It imparts more the feeling of the "old" in "my old pal / buddy / friend" (lǎo péngyǒu 老朋友).

    I've never heard anyone ask another person to call them "lǎo 老 ('old') SURNAME". While that may in some exceptional circumstances occur, whether someone calls you "lǎo 老 ('old') SURNAME" depends on the person doing the calling, not on the person who is being called "lǎo 老 ('old') SURNAME".

  38. Philip Taylor said,

    January 8, 2019 @ 4:32 am

    The invitation to someone to address you as "lǎo 老 ('old') SURNAME" was taken from the very first chapter of Kan Qian's Colloquial Chinese (Routledge, 1995) where the dialogue starts as follows (see line 5) :

    [Wáng Lín] Nǐ shì Jones xiānshēng ma ?
    [David Jones] Shì de, wǒ shì David Jones.
    [Wáng Lín] Nǐ hǎo, Jones xiānshēng. Wǒ shì Wáng Lín. Hěn gāoxìng jiàndào nǐ.
    [David Jones] Nǐ hǎo, Wáng xiānshēng. Wǒ yě hěn gāoxìng jiàndào nǐ.
    [Wáng Lín] Qǐng jiào wǒ Lǎo Wáng.
    [David Jones] Hǎo de, Lǎo Wáng. Jiào wǒ David ba.
    [Wáng Lín] Huānyíng nǐ lái Zhōngguó, David.

    Is this therefore a very artificial dialogue ? Our SISU teachers had led us to believe that it was reasonably representative of real life, which is (I think) why they chose the book as the set text in the first place.

  39. Victor Mair said,

    January 8, 2019 @ 8:26 am

    The encounter between Zhang Ping and John Smith at the Beijing Airport near the end of Lesson 1 (Audio 1:12) is more natural. John Smith calls himself Yuēhàn and Zhang Ping calls himself Zhāng Píng, and thereafter that's what they call each other.

    BTW, I like the emphasis on Hanyu Pinyin in Kan Qian's book. It reminds me of the wonderful Tung and Pollard's Colloquial Chinese (by P.C. [Ping-Cheng] T'ung and D.E. [David] Pollard), which, insofar as I remember, didn't have a single Chinese character in it. I wonder whether Tung and Pollard's Colloquial Chinese is still in print and what the relationship between it and Kan Qian's book with the same title is. Both are from Routledge.

  40. Philip Taylor said,

    January 8, 2019 @ 9:12 am

    (T'ung and Pollard's Colloquial Chinese) — Really plunges straight into the heart of the matter, with very little introductory material, and adopts a far terser (less prolix) approach. I can see why our SISU teachers opted for Kan Qian's version, but I think that T'ung and Pollard is equally good in its own way. Intrigued that "T'ung"s name is presented in what looks like Wade-Giles rather than in Hanyu Pinyin !

  41. Wally w said,

    January 8, 2019 @ 4:31 pm

    When my son was in middle school- 12 or 13 years old – he called his teachers mr lastname. He became a little close to Mr Webster – they played music in class together a few times. I ran into Mr Webster at the Kerrville folk festival in central Texas. Ok a folk festival, where people camped out maybe three weekends in a row and maybe the days in between, and some of them had been camping near the same people each year for sometimes 20 or 30 years. So one of the least formal spots on the planet. Yet I really struggled not to address the teacher who was maybe half my age as "Mister Webster" as my son always did and how I knew him instead of by his first name.

  42. Andrew West said,

    January 8, 2019 @ 8:06 pm

    I have fond memories of learning Mandarin from "T'ung and Pollard" taught by T'ung laoshi and Prof. Pollard in my first year at SOAS in 1983/84 soon after the book had been published in 1982. There was an accompanying volume (A4 size with white cover as I remember) with the Chinese text which you had to buy separately.

    I last saw T'ung laoshi nearly 20 years ago when I bumped into him on the streets of Stanmore, but if you click on my name above you can read more about his long career.

  43. Philip Taylor said,

    January 9, 2019 @ 4:28 am

    Thank you for that most interesting link, Andrew. I have just ordered a copy of Character text for Colloquial Chinse (Full-form character version) from Abebooks to accompany my 1987 edition of Colloquial Chinese. The full-form version now comes in a blue cover whilst the simplified-form version comes in red.

  44. DCA said,

    January 10, 2019 @ 3:28 pm

    When I started grad school in 1972, the nameplates on the doors in the building I was in were, as a sign of equality, the same for everyone: Mr/Miss/Mrs Lastname, with one exception, someone who had retired from Cambridge: Sir Firstname Lastname (an OBE who was actually known to everyone as Nickname). Fairly soon after, Ms was added to the repertoire, and then at some point, I think in the early 80's, the nameplates were all changed to Firstname Lastname. There are also a few nameplates next to the floor, with Dogname (never changed even if the owner moves). None of this was official University policy, needless to say.

  45. Erin said,

    January 10, 2019 @ 4:33 pm

    When I was in undergrad (class of '06), we addressed the professor as Professor LastName. ie. "Hi, Professor Bakovic."

    But in grad school ('11), I believe the majority of the professors encouraged us to call them by their first name. "Hi, Mark."

    I figured that the professors mentally had a different social structure in their heads or something for grad students that made them feel comfortable with grad students calling them by their first name.

    It's kinda a two way street with the addresser and addressee, right? What the addresser feels comfortable calling them, and what the addressee feels comfortable being called. But I guess at that stage, I mostly took my cue from their standpoint. Shrug.

    By the way, I've been taking Korean classes at a cultural center for fun. I was friendly with the teacher, but I would always call her "선생님" (sonsaengnim – which is the korean word for teacher), in or out of the classroom. After the course ended, we kept in touch and she introduced me to her former Korean students that learned English from her. They always simply called her "Jennifer," and it weirded me out a lot, ha. I try to call her Jennifer now, but my first instinct is still "Hi, Sonsaengnim!"

  46. stephen said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 12:46 pm

    A very popular and friendly English professor named Ploegstra let his students call him Ploogie. Or Dr. P, which sounds better.

    And our middle school principal had a Polish name, hard to spell and pronounce, and we were allowed to refer to him as Mr. P.

  47. Philip Bowler said,

    January 17, 2019 @ 11:49 pm

    Differences in ways of personal address are fascinating. I'd just like to add a couple of historical points from experience.

    I started at a British boys' grammar school in 1958. Teachers were addressed as Sir and referred to formally as Mr Surname, but were always talked about amongst pupils by a nickname; teachers addressed pupils as Surname, though there was one who added Mr …. No female teachers.

    At university, my older tutors mostly used Surname, though younger dons were using first names. We used Dr/Mr Surname. Again, no females! The shift in formality was definitely a 60s thing.

    My father, when identifying himself on the phone, or introducing himself, only used his surname. He thoroughly disliked people using 'Mr Surname' for themselves, on the grounds that 'Mister' is an honorific and never to be used by oneself with one's own name.

    My father worked for a family firm. The owner was always referred to as Mr Surname, while his son, who was the senior manager, was always Mr First name.

    In various places around the world where I have worked as a school teacher, I have often been called Mr Philip. It seemed very odd at first, but I came to quite like its level of intermediate formality. Here in China, since I haven't adopted a Chinese name, I'm regularly addressed either as (Mr) Philip/Phil or as Sir. My favorite, of course, is being called Sir Phil.

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