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In sociolinguistics, a T-V distinction describes the situation wherein a language, unlike current English, has pronouns that distinguish varying levels of politeness, social distance, courtesy, familiarity, or insult toward the addressee. The name T-V distinction derives from the common initial letters of several of these pronouns in Romance languages, e.g., the French tu and vous, Italian tu and voi, and also in some Slavic languages, e.g., the Russian ты and вы.
In many languages, the formal singular pronoun derives from a plural form (or, sometimes, from a third person pronoun). Many Romance languages have familiar forms derived from the Latin singular tu and formal forms derived from Latin plural vos, sometimes via a circuitous route. Compare pluralis majestatis.
Examples of T-V distinctionsEdit
Here are some examples of second-person pronouns in languages with T-V distinctions:
|second-person singular informal||second-person singular formal||second-person plural informal||second-person plural formal|
|Amharic||አንተ (antä) (m)
አንቺ (anči) (f)
|እስዎ (ɨsswo) or
|እናንተ (ɨnnantä)||እስዎ (ɨsswo) or
|Arabic||anta (when addressing a man), anti (when addressing a woman)||anta / anti; in spoken varieties of Arabic, terms such as ḥaḍretak (your grace) or sayyidtak (your lordship) are used||antum (when addressing men), antunna (when addressing women)||antum / antunna; in spoken varieties of Arabic, terms such as ḥaḍretkum or sayyidatkum are used|
|Basque||hi (very close or dialectal), zu||zu, berorrek (very respectful)||zuek||zuek|
|Bulgarian||ти (ti)||Вие (Vie)||вие (vie)||вие (vie)|
Vós (to God)
|Chinese (Mandarin)||你 nǐ||您 nín||你们 (你們) nǐmen||none; regular plural form of 您们 (您們) nínmen is unusual; instead use other forms like 大家 dàjiā “everyone” or 你们大家 (你們大家).|
U or Gij (when addressing God)
|Middle English Early Modern English||thou/thee||ye/you (irregular)||ye/you||ye/you|
|Esperanto||ci (experimental use only), normally vi||vi||vi||vi|
|Georgian||შენ shen||თქვენ tkven||თქვენ tkven||თქვენ tkven|
|Greek||εσύ (esy)||εσείς (eseis)||εσείς (eseis)||εσείς (eseis)|
|Hungarian||te||Ön (more formal) or maga (more informal)||ti||Önök (more formal) or maguk (more informal)|
तू tu (very informal)
|आप aap||तुम लोग tum log||आप लोग aap log|
|Italian||tu (te)||Lei (archaic Ella, old voi)||voi||voi (rarely used Loro)|
(the latter two have hostile connotations)
(anata is more respectful than kimi, but titles or positions are generally used instead for someone of higher status)
|お前ら (omaera)||あなたたち (anatatachi)|
|Kazakh||сен (sen)||сіз (siz)||сендер (sender)||сіздер (sizder)|
|Korean||neo||— (directly addressing a person);
dangsin (addressing anonymous readers)
|Kurdish (North), Kurmanji||tu||hûn, hingo, tu||hûn, hingo'||hûn, hingo|
|Kurdish (South), Sorani||to||êwe, to||êwe||êwe|
|Bulgarian||ти (ti)||Вие (Vie)||вие (vie)||вие (vie)|
|Polish||ty||pani (to a woman)
pan (to a man)
panie (to women)
panowie (to men)
vós (regional use)
|o senhor/a senhora (more formal)
você (less formal)
vós (archaic and literary)
vós (archaic, literary, or regional)
|os senhores/as senhoras|
|o senhor/a senhora
vós (archaic and literary)
vós (archaic and literary)
|os senhores/as senhoras|
|Romanian||tu||dumneata / dumneavoastră||voi||dumneavoastră|
|Russian||ты (ty)||Вы (Vy)||вы (vy)||вы (vy)|
|Serbian||ти (ti)||Ви (Vi)||ви (vi)||ви (vi)|
|Slovenian||ti||Vi||vidva (dual), vidve or vedve (dual - when addressing two women); vi (plural), ve (plural - when addressing only women)||Vi (dual and plural)|
|Sorbian (Lower)||ty||Wy||wej (dual), wy (plural)||wy|
|Spanish (Peninsular, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco)||tú||usted (formerly or literary vos, vuecencia and ussía among others)||vosotros (masc.)
|Spanish of the Americas and some parts of Andalusia (altered system: i.e.: ustedes estáis) and Canary Islands where previous system is replacing this one||tú or vos||usted||ustedes (literary vosotros, vosotras, in poetry, anthems...)||ustedes|
|Swedish||du||ni or Ni||ni||ni or Ni|
ka (postpositive only)
|Welsh||ti or chdi||chi or chwi||chi or chwi||chi or chwi|
Different languages distinguish pronoun uses in different ways.
It can often be quite confusing for an English speaker learning a language with a T-V distinction to correctly assimilate the rules surrounding when to call someone with the formal or the informal pronoun. Students are often advised to err on the side of caution, the formal; in the wrong situation, however, this risks sounding snobby or at least riotously funny. English speakers may be helped by reminding themselves that the difference is comparable to using first name vs. last name (or using sir and ma'am) when speaking to someone; however the boundaries between formal and informal language differ from language to language, and most languages use formal speech more frequently, and/or in different circumstances, than English. In addition, in some circumstances it is not unusual to call other people by first name and the respectful form or the reverse, e.g. German shop employees often use these constructs if a customer is present.
Even within languages, there are differences between groups (older people and people of higher status tending to both use and expect more formal language) and between various aspects of one language. For example, in Dutch, u is slowly coming into disuse in plural, and thus one could sometimes address a group as jullie when one would address each member individually as u. In Latin American Spanish, the opposite change has occurred – having lost vosotros, Latin Americans address all groups as ustedes, even if the group is composed of friends whom they would call tú.
Catalan vs. SpanishEdit
Catalan vós follows the same concordance rules as the French vous (verbs in second person plural, adjectives in singular), and vostè follows the same concordance rules as the Spanish usted (verbs in 3rd person). Vostè originated from vostra mercè as a calque from Spanish, and replaced the original Catalan form vós. Now vós is used as a respectful form for elders and respected friends, and vostè for foreigners and people whom one doesn't know well. Vostè is more distant than vós. Sometimes people justify the use of vostè saying, "I only speak of tu with my friends."
Close friends, of course, are tú and venerable old ladies are usted, but there is a wide grey area in the middle. Even that is not universally true: in the Spanish dialects of some parts of Latin America (for example, in Colombia and Guatemala), tú is almost never used, not even with close friends or relatives, which are usted, and tú is more common in Mexico and California (even advertisements in California use tú or its possessive tu, for example "En tu canal 73"/Lit. "On your channel 73"). In Argentina, where Rioplatense Spanish is the standard, there's no tú and the informal pronoun is vos which is used rather indiscriminately and neither do other regions (voseo)
Traditionally, use of the informal form was limited for relatives and very close friends, for children or to explicitly express social distance. During the second half of the 20th century, use of the informal form grew significantly among coworkers, youth and members of organisations and groups. The formal form is always used in official documents and when dealing with a stranger (especially an older one) as a sign of respect. Capitalizing the formal "Vy" is slowly getting obsolete. A variant of the formal form modeled after German "Sie" (Oni/oni, Jejich/jejich, verb onikat) was frequently used during 19th century but disappeared.
In Denmark, the use of the formal forms of address has diminished significantly over the last twenty years. De is still used in the written language, in official letters and the like, but the spoken form will be du. For example, a letter from the Inspector of Taxes inviting you a meeting to go through last year's tax return will use De, but during the meeting itself, everyone will say du. The only people you are expected to say De to are the royal family. Waiters in snobby restaurants might very occasionally use De, but it comes across as toadying for tips.
In general, say du to one person, and I to more than one. Write du if you know the name of the person to whom you are writing, and De if you do not.
Anglo-Saxon (a.k.a. Old English) had no distinction between formal and informal "you". In Middle English, in the 13th Century, the term "ye" was used as a formal version of "thou" (to superiors or non-intimates) — however, this use was often contextually-dependent (i.e. changing dynamically according to shifting nuances in the relationship between two people), rather than static. By the 17th century, "thou" increasingly acquired connotations of contemptful address, or of addressing one's social inferiors (so the prosecutor in Sir Walter Raleigh's 1603 trial famously declaimed "I thou thee, thou traitor!"). Therefore the frequency of use of "thou" started to decline, and it was effectively extinct in the everyday speech of many dialects by the early 18th century. Its use is now archaic except in certain regional dialects, usually as "tha", and Modern English today makes no T-V distinction
Originally "ye" and "thou" were subject forms, while "you" and "thee" were object forms, but by the 15th Century, "you" started being used as a subject pronoun, and only "thee" survived into Quaker "Plain Speech".
- See also Thou
The constructed language Esperanto is not a T-V-distingushing language. Vi is the generic second person for both singular and plural, just like you in English. An informal second person singular pronoun, ci, does exist, however in theory. It is almost never used in practice.
Some have imagined ci as an archaic term that was used before and then fell out of common usage, however this is not true. It has only appeared sometimes in experimental language. In standard Esperanto, vi has always been used since the beginning. For example, ci appears in neither the Fundamenta Gramatiko nor in the Unua Libro.
Nowadays the use of the informal singular form of address is widespread in all social circles, even among strangers and in business situations. A counter-trend has been reported in recent years, whereby some people are choosing to use the formal plural more often, but in practice it is very unusual to use this form unless addressing people considerably one's senior or in situations where strict adherence to form is expected, such as in the military. As the use of formal plural conveys formal recognition of addressee's status and of polite distance, the formal plural may also be used jeeringly or to protest addressee's snobbery. A native speaker may also switch to formal plural when speaking in anger, as an attempt to remain civil.
The number is expressed in pronouns (sinä or sä for singular, or te for plural), verb inflections, and possessive suffixes. For example, imperatives are expressed in the plural, e.g. menkää "go(pl.)!". Likewise, the -nne "your" suffix is used instead of the singular -s(i) suffix. There is number agreement in Finnish, thus you say sinä olet "you(sg.) are", but te olette "you(pl.) are". However, this does not extend to words describing the addressee, which are in the singular. For example, oletteko te lääkäri? "are(pl.) you(pl.) doctor(sg.)?" A common error, nowadays often made even by native speakers unused to the formal plural, is using the plural form of the main verb in the perfect and pluperfect tenses. The main verb should be in the singular when addressing one person in the formal plural: Oletteko kuullut? instead of *Oletteko kuulleet? "Have you heard?"
Sometimes the third person is used as a polite form of address, after the Swedish model: Mitä rouvalle saisi olla? "What would you like to have, madam?" The passive voice may be used to circumvent the choice of the correct form of address; the passive voice is also the equivalent of the English patronizing we as in Kuinkas tänään voidaan? "How are we feeling today?"
In most regions (Québec and Acadia are the exception, see below), a rigid tu-vous distinction is upheld. Vous is employed when encountering any new adult (the verb vouvoyer is commonly used), when addressing a customer or a patient, or when talking to a person in his/her function (as when talking to a doctor as a doctor). In some families, Vous is also employed when one is speaking to an elder member of the family. Tu (the verb tutoyer is also used) is consensually used with relatives, friends and when addressing children.
Similarly to Danish, Québec French and Acadian French permit and expect a far broader usage of the familiar tu than in Standard French. There are still circumstances where it is appropriate and expected to say vous: in a formal interview (notably for a job), when addressing a person of very high ranking (a judge, or a prime minister), when speaking to very old senior citizens, or when addressing a customer for the first time---although, in the last two cases, the switch to tu often occurs quite fast, and might even be used for a first time. For the majority of Quebecers and Acadians, vous sounds stilted or snobbish, and archaic. By no means is tu restricted to intimates or social inferiors. There is however an important minority of people, oftentimes those who call for a use of standard French in Québec, who prefer to be addressed as vous. At the radio of Radio-Canada (often considered as establishing the normative objectives of standard French in Québec), the use of vous is spread out even between collaborators.
Finally, in familiar language, it is usual to use a "generic tu" (cf. English generic you) instead of "on", which is used solely as a first-person plural.
In Germany, an old but by no means extinct custom (called Bruderschaft trinken, "drinking brotherhood") involves two male friends formally splitting a bottle of wine to celebrate their deciding (mostly proposed by the elder or socially higher-standing of the two) to call one another du rather than Sie. Note this custom is also adapted among the Swiss-French of the Jura. Duzen and siezen can be used as the verbs of du and Sie.
In most parts of Germany there is no clear custom on how to address a group the individual members of which the speaker would address in part as du, in part as Sie. As both plural pronouns, the informal ihr and the formal Sie, can offend improperly addressed members of the group, circumlocutions that avoid the use of pronouns are often employed in such cases.
"Ihr", capitalized, was formerly used in addressing social superiors, unless more informal relations had been established. This form remains until today in some dialects as a respectful way of addressing elders. "Er", capitalized, was similarly used in the second person to address social inferior, as a master addressing a servant.
In Internet-Chats and -Forums, however, Germans would rarely use "Sie", although there are exceptions.
In German, the respectful form is the same as the third person plural.
In Greek, συ was originally the singular, and υμεις the plural, with no distinction for honorific or familiar. Paul addressed King Agrippa II as συ (Acts 26:2). Later, υμεις and ημεις ("we") became too close in pronunciation, and a new plural εσεις was invented. The ε of εσυ is a euphonic prefix.
- The use of the second-person conjugation with the pronoun te (plural ti) is the most informal mode. As in many other European languages, it is used within families, among children, lovers, close friends, (nowadays often) among coworkers, and in some communities, suggesting an idea of brotherhood. Adults unilaterally address children this way, and it is also the form used in addressing God, animals, and objects or ideas. Sociologically, the use of this form is widening. Whereas traditionally the switch to te is often a symbolic milestone between people, sometimes sealed by drinking a glass of wine together, today people under the age of about 30 will often mutually adopt te automatically in informal situations. A notable example is the Internet: strangers meeting online use the informal forms of address virtually exclusively, regardless of age or status differences (even the Prime Minister encouraged  people in his blog to use te mutually when asking him). – IKEA (or rather, its Hungarian team) was noted and practically unique in its choice of this way of addressing people in Hungary in its brochures; reactions were mixed.
Nevertheless, formal forms of address are alive and well in Hungarian:
- The third-person verb conjugation is the primary basis of formal address. The choice of which pronoun to use, however, is fraught with difficulty (and indeed a common solution when in doubt is to simply avoid using any pronoun at all).
- The pronoun maga (plural maguk), for instance, is considered the basic formal equivalent of "you," but may not be used indiscriminately, as it tends to imply an existing or desired personal acquaintance. (It would not, for instance, ordinarily be used in a conversation where the relative social roles are predominantly important – say, between professor and student.) Typical situations where maga might be used are, e.g., fairly distant relatives, neighbours, fellow-travellers on the train, or at the hairdresser's. If one already knows these people, they may even take offence if one were to address them more formally. On the other hand, some urbanites tend to avoid maga, finding it too rural, old-fashioned, offensive or even intimate.
- Ön (plural önök) is the formal, official and impersonal "you". It is the form used when people take part in a situation merely as representatives of social roles, where personal acquaintance is not a factor. It is thus used in institutions, business, bureaucracy, advertisements, by broadcasters, by shopkeepers to their customers, and whenever one wishes to maintain one's distance. It is less typical of rural areas or small towns, more typical of cities.
- Other pronouns are nowadays rare, restricted to rural, jocular, dialect, or old-fashioned speech. Such are, for instance, kend and kegyed.
- There is a wide spectrum of third-person address that avoids the above pronouns entirely, preferring to substitute various combinations of the addressed's names and/or titles. Thus, for instance, a university student might ask mit gondol X. tanár úr? ("what does Professor X. think?") rather than using the insufficiently formal maga or the overly impersonal ön. (Note that it's possible because the formal second-person conjugation of verbs is the same as the third-person conjugation.)
- Finally, the auxiliary verb tetszik (lit. "it pleases [you]") is an indirect alternative (or, perhaps, supplement) to direct address with the third or even second person. It is very polite (sometimes seen as over-polite) but generally speaking not as formal as the ön/maga form. Children usually address adults outside their family this way. Adults may address more distant relatives, housekeepers and older persons using this form, and some men habitually address older or younger women this way (this is slightly old-fashioned).
In Italian, lei or Lei means "her" (as accusative form of she). Since in Italian egli ("he"), essi ("they") and especially ella ("she") have fallen out of common use, being replaced by lui ("him"), loro ("them") and lei ("her"), it is also possible to use Ella as a very polite alternative, but this is very rarely used if ever, and is perceived as very archaic or bureaucratic. During Fascism, attempts were made to convert the polite form to voi ("ye"), with some success. Voi might still be used by some, sometimes (but not necessarily) because of political affiliation with the far right, voi is also common in southern Italy; furthermore, in some parts of southern Italy both voi and lei are used: in this case lei is more formal than voi. The polite plural form Loro ("them") is used rarely, as voi is often perceived already as polite enough, because it was previously used as polite form. Lei is generally concorded, when necessary, with the gender of the addressee, not therefore necessarily female. It might actually not be present in sentences as Italian is not subject-compulsory, and is then understood by the verb being conjugated in the third person.
- "Have you been in Rome?"
- "È stato a Roma?" (-o: to a male)
- "È stata a Roma?" (-a: to a female)
The origin of Lei is probably due to expressions as Your majesty/eminence/holiness/..., where all of these substantives were female in gender ("Maestà/Eminenza/Santità/Signoria/..."). Lei is normally used in formal settings, with strangers, older or otherwise respected people. Currently, people address strangers of their own age using the informal tu until about 30.
In Japanese, as in Vietnamese, kinship terms, titles, or names are commonly used instead of first-, second- or third-person pronouns. As in Korean, there are several levels of politeness regarding to social hierarchy, and polite language encompasses not only pronouns, but verb endings and vocabulary as well. (See the articles Japanese pronouns and Japanese honorifics for more information.)
Much like Japanese, the Korean language has complex gradations. It uses honorifics and no less than 7 speech levels, making for a cartesian product of 14 basic verb stems. Nevertheless, most levels have all but disappeared from everyday language, so one can simplify this into the basic distinction between plain and polite conjugations of verbs and adjectives. In general, the plain form is used when speaking to family, close friends, and social inferiors, and the polite form otherwise. When two Korean-speaking strangers meet where none is the obvious social superior, both use the polite form; when it is determined that one or both can switch to the plain form, one often asks for permission for this switch. The phrase used to describe this is mareul nota (literally “to release language”). In Korean, the polite form is called jondaenmal and the plain form is called yesanmal or banmal. In contrast to the neutral term yesanmal, banmal (literally “half speech”) often has a rather negative connotation, referring for instance to the plain form that one may deliberately use to provoke someone who should be addressed in the polite form.
There is a similar phenomenon called nopimmal, which is honorific speech triggered not by the addressee but by the content of an expression. It is used independently of the speech levels. For example, in -hasimnida “do(es) …”, the speaker uses the infix -si- to honour the subject of the sentence and the ending -mnida to express courtesy or politeness (or simply his distance) towards the addressee.
In Norwegian, the use of the polite form De is today all but extinct. Norwegians use exclusively du in their daily life, and it is said that De is reserved for the king of Norway, who at the first use would comment "Please, let's use du", thereby limiting the use of De to once in a lifetime. In practice, De can be found in written works, translations where an impression of formality must be retained, and theatrical plays.
Generally speaking, tu is the familiar form of address used with family, friends, and minors. Você indicates distance without deference, and tends to be used between people who are, roughly, social equals. O senhor/a senhora (literally "sir"/"madam") are the most ceremonious forms of address. English speakers may find the latter construction akin to the parliamentary convention of referring to fellow legislators in the third person (as "my colleague", "the gentleman", "the member", etc.), although the level of formality conveyed by o senhor is not as great. In fact, variants of o senhor and a senhora with more nuanced meanings such as o professor ("professor"), o colega ("colleague") and o pai ("father") are also employed as personal pronouns. In the plural, there are two main levels of politeness, the informal vocês and the formal os senhores/as senhoras.
This threefold scheme is, however, complicated by regional and social variation. For example, in most communities of Brazilian Portuguese speakers, the traditional tu/você distinction has been lost, and the previously formal você tends to replace the familiar tu in most cases. On the other hand, in Portugal it's common to use a person's own name as a pronoun more or less equivalent to você, e.g., o José, o sr. Silva, which is unheard of in Brazil.
The second person plural pronoun vós, from Latin vos, has fallen into disuse in all but a few regional dialects of Northern Portugal, where it expresses an intermediate degree of formality between tu and você/vocês.
Romanian dumneavoastra when used for the second-person singular formal takes plural verbs but singular adjectives, similar to French vous. It originates from domnia voastra - your lordship. The form dumneata originating from domnia ta - thy lordship is less distant than dumneavoastra and somewhat midway between tu and dumneavoastra .
In Spanish, the respectful form requires verbs to be conjugated in the third person singular; this is because the form usted evolved from the title vuestra merced (your grace) which naturally took the third person.
In Swedish there has been a marked difference between usage in Finland-Swedish compared to in Sweden. While the form Ni (noted as formal above) has remained the common respectful address in Finland-Swedish, it was until the 1960s considered somewhat careless, bullying or rude in Sweden, where addressing in 3rd person with repetition of name and title was considered proper and respectful. After that the usage swiftly changed in Sweden, and the 2nd person du (noted as informal above) came to dominate totally, until recently when in the late 1990s a usage resembling that in German, Finnish or Finland-Swedish has become popular among the youngest adults. It is also now common to see Du capitalized in places where the formal Ni would have been used before, such as in printed instructions or on signs.
- Main article: Vietnamese pronouns
Vietnamese does not have a clear concept of pronouns. Any noun can be used to refer to people, especially kinship terms. Pronouns are sometimes not needed in a normal conversation, as the speaker can always refer to him/herself, the audience, and others directly by name, which might seem strange to English speakers. The nouns used to refer to people can reveal not only the level of formality, but also the social relationship between the speaker and the person being referred to, differences in age, and even the attitude of the speaker toward the person being referred to.
In the extinct Ubykh, the T-V distinction was most notable between a man and his mother-in-law, where the plural form sʸæghʷa supplanted the singular wæghʷa very frequently, possibly under the influence of Turkish. The distinction was upheld less frequently in other relationships, but did still occur.
Related verbs, nouns and pronouns Edit
Some languages have a verb to describe the fact of using either a T or a V form. Some also have a related noun or pronoun.
|T verb||V verb||T noun||V noun||T possessive||V possessive|
|Catalan||tutejar||el teu (/ton), la teva (/ta)||el seu (/son), la seva (/sa)|
|Hungarian||tegez||magáz (önöz)||tegezés||magázás (önözés)||(a te) …d||(a maga) …ja/je ([az ön] …ja/je)|
|Italian||dare del tu||dare del Lei||tuo||Suo|
|Korean||mareul nota; banmalhada||neoui|
|Polish||mówić per ty||mówić per pan/pani||mówienie per ty||mówienie per pan/pani||twój||pana, pani|
|Romanian||a tutui||tutuială / tutuire / tutuit||tău / ta||vostru / voastră|
|Russian||тыкать (tykat')||выкать (vykat')||тыканье (tykanie)||выканье (vykanie)||твой (tvoj)||ваш (vaš)|
|Spanish||tutear||tratar de Usted||tuteo||tu||su|
- On-line Middle English grammar (PDF file)
- Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, The. New York, Oxford University Press, 1971.
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