Author Topic: Formal & informal "you"  (Read 542 times)

Offline MrTongue

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Formal & informal "you"
« on: January 31, 2017, 07:46:45 PM »
I gather that all or most proto-indo-European languages have 2 forms of you, the formal (vous, sie, etc) and informal (tu, du).

What about other languages, such as Chjinese/Japanese/Korean/etc, slavic, etc?

And can someone direct me to a discussion of the meaning/significance/subtleties/etc of these 2 forms of address?  Tnx.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Formal & informal "you"
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2017, 08:04:39 PM »
Welcome to LinguistForum!

This topic has been discussed a lot, often using French tu/vous as the example or even the name for the distinction.

The Wikipedia article here is a great place to start:

Note that Slavic languages are Indo-European, so they have a very similar system.

I don't think Chinese does anything quite like that, but there's some discussion about other strategies used, on the Wikipedia page above. The other languages you asked about are mentioned there too. Japanese and Korean are similar in having many different terms of address based on politeness and the relationship between the speaker and the hearer (beyond just 'you' but also for 'I', etc.). So it's not really the same thing but actually more extensive, and certainly similar in some ways.

The exact meaning/significance/subtleties will vary by language! So you'll need to look at them individually to figure out all of the details. For example, when is it appropriate for two people to start addressing each other informally, and how is this done? There's even a word for that in German:

More broadly, the use of these forms is related to the general study of politeness within Pragmatics (the branch of linguistics that deals with language use and meaning in context). Sometimes more precisely it is discussed as "(im)politeness" because behaving socially in an acceptable way actually requires a lack of politeness in some cases. It can be distancing to use especially polite forms of address with someone close to you, and it might even suggest you want to keep them at a distance. So the best form is the one that is at the right place on the impolite<>polite scale. Too polite is distancing, but too impolite is rude. For more about this, see
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