LINGUIST List 2.598

Mon 30 Sep 1991

Disc: Polite Pronouns

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Jean Veronis, Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns
  2. David Powers, Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns: Sie/Du
  3. Joe Giampapa, Tu/Voi
  4. , Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns
  5. Dale Savage, Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns
  6. Michael Newman, Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns

Message 1: Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 91 10:18 EDT
From: Jean Veronis <>
Subject: Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns
In his message from Sun, 29 Sep 91 13:19:15 EST Bert Peeters
<> asks for clarification about what I meant
>> [...] I remember my father
>> addressing everyday's colleagues as *vous* in the early sixties. Now,
>> immediate colleagues would use *tu*. But I have the feeling that this change
>> froze at a certain point in time.
>Question: "it froze" in what sense? Did it stop spreading? But then how could
>one say that today *tu* would be used (this seems to imply that *vous* in that
>context has disappeared). Or does it depend just on how close the colleagues
>are, on how much collegiality there is? Could this be clarified?
I meant that it stopped spreading any further--I am not a native speaker, and I
apologize if my prose is at times a little bit obscure. The use of *tu* clearly
gained some areas, like between colleagues, especially with the same rank, or
between young people, let us say, below 25. But changes seemed to stop in the
seventies. It is interesting to see that Martin Haspelmath makes the same
observation about German. Maybe the pan-European "collapse of leftist
In the same message, Dana Paramskas ( says:
>3) I haven't been back to France in too many years to mention,
>but was startled by the following behaviour in some of our
>assistant-e-s (exchange TA's). While I was a mere prof, they had
>no trouble using "tu" with me. When I had the misfortune of
>being named head of our French section, with the full-blown title
>of "Directrice", they could not bring themselves to "tutoyer". I
>felt as though I had aged many years overnight! When my term of
>office was over, I reintegrated the ranks of "tu-able" folk...
This reminds me of a similar experience. I started giving lectures in a
University (in France) when I was 22. At the time, student used *tu* with me
spontaneously. My heart broke some day when they started using *vous*. I
suddenly understood I was in an other age/status class. I was "on the other
side of the fence" as we say in French.
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Message 2: Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns: Sie/Du

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 91 15:20:37 MET
From: David Powers <>
Subject: Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns: Sie/Du
In my AG (workgroup) duzen is the expected manner of address amongst
colleagues or even student-professor - only with secretaries do we
siezen. This group is a little 'progressive' in that in other
groups Professors of similar age get/use Sie.
As far as shock goes, I have had the reverse experience in Austria
(Innsbruck I think) when being introduced to a stranger by a
friend. The stranger (female late 20s) was shocked when I siezt
her, and I was reprimanded by my friend for forcing her to
'recategorize' me (as someone of similar age). This was in 88.
What I find particularly fascinating in terms of status marking is
that it is reciprocal except in the special case of child-stranger.
In other words the Du form is a par marker normally (and of course
in the usage of young children who have not yet learned to use the
Sie form).
In France I have not been surprised by any usages of tu/vous,
although again (and I speak primarily of the border
Alsace-Lorraine areas) the tu form is assumed in my age group and
below, vous to parents of the above - just like Du/Sie.
I can't recall using tu in Belgium at all (except to children).
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Message 3: Tu/Voi

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 91 14:53:10 +0100 (MET)
From: Joe Giampapa <>
Subject: Tu/Voi
|Date: Fri, 27 Sep 1991 14:04 EST
|From: Fan mail from some flounder? <>
|Subject: Re: 2.564 Responses
|Re attempted language engineering: The following anecdote was related in
|my Italian I text in the early 1960's (Robert Hall was the author).
|During the Mussolini era, the Fascists wanted Italians to use "voi" (*not*
|the equivalent of 'vous' but rather the 2nd person intimate plural)
|instead of "lei" (which is both "she" and the polite form of "you" in the
|singular), since "lei" shows some kind of social difference.
>From what I have understood from my Italian colleauges, the "voi" is more
pompous than the formal "lei". A pompous style was fascist, though the
probable intent was to "return" to the "original" Italian style.
Growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, I was taught to use the 2nd person plural
"voi" when speaking with my Sicilian grandmother. It was considered "more
respectful" than the "lei". I am told that this usage was common for all of
Italy, as in Sandro Manzoni's "I Promessi Sposi", in which the Settentrionali
also used the "voi". The characters which use it are 17th century. The book
was written in the 19th century. It is possible that this form of respect was
in use even until late 19th c., although it is still used in Italian dialects,
particular in the Merridione.
Using the "tu" and the "lei", and being addressed in the "tu" or "lei"
continues to be one of my more confusing experiences in Italy. In my first
year here, the older people (in pensione) would use the "tu" with me when they
saw me dressed for commuting to work by bicycle (bermudas, short sleave shirt,
helmet). If I put on a necktie for a meeting, they would switch to the "lei".
My colleagues use the "tu"; those who are over 50 tend to use the "lei" amongst
themselves even though they have known each other for much time. Young people
use the "tu", or intermediate greetings such as "salve" when "testing the
waters" to find out if the person they are addressing is "on the same social
level" as they are. Some colleagues are irritated when salespeople use this
form with them, because it seems pretentious and false.
Are there any trends in Italy? The weight of the "tu"/"lei" debate rests in
the ear of the beholder, and I think that the Italians recognize this.
If anybody wants to open a can of worms, ask the following question:
"How man continents are there, and what are their names?"
Italians are taught 5. USAmericans are taught 7. Italians consider North and
South America to be "America", simple. Thus, it is "self-aggrandizing" for US
citizens to call themselves "Americans" (in the sense, inhabitants of the
Continent of America).
-Joe Giampapa
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Message 4: Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 91 09:11:47 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns
Use of tu/usted in Spanish and tu/voste in Catalan has undergone
the same kind of partial levelling in Spain since the reestablishment
of the monarchy in 1975 (or, if you prefer, since Franco's death).
Brown and Gilman's power/solidarity paradigm seems to account for the
situation rather well. Among the university crowd, use of tu between
professors is the norm, regardless of age, even at the first contact,
provided there is a minimum element of solidarity (eg. on introducing
myself to a Spanish/Catalan colleague, I have invariably been called tu).
On public places (restaurants, stores, hotels) it seems to depend
a lot on how formal the place is; in the more formal restaurants
the waiter/manager/etc will use usted/voste --on the other hand, as
one gets to know them, transition to tu is quick and smooth. These
observations apply primarily to Barcelona and Madrid (and environs
in both cases); I have no recent first-hand experience with other
regions. I have noticed people (both real people and linguists) :-)
tend to generalize and refer to pronominal usage "in France",
"in Quebec", which may create the erroneous impression that such
usage is uniform. The other day a fellow linguistician asked me what
was current tu/usted usage in Latin America, as if that could be
answered briefly and concisely.
Milton Azevedo
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Message 5: Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 91 11:18:12 CDT
From: Dale Savage <>
Subject: Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns
For those following the French (and now German) polite pronoun exchange,
There is an interesting --perhaps germane--article on a similar type of
shift in Swedish du/ni and combinations of address forms (first name, last
name, kinship title, etc..).
Paulston, Christina Bratt. 1976. Pronouns of address in Swedish: Social
 class semantics and a changing system. Language In Society, vol. 5,
 pp. 359-86. (Reprinted in J. Baugh & J. Sherzer (1984) _Language in
 Use: Readings in sociolinguistics_. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall,
The data for the paper were collected in 1973, and there was a considerable
amount of ambiguity in the system as described by Paulston that reminds me of th
the general tone of the tu/vous discussion here on LINGUIST. It would
be interesting to find out from someone familiar with the situation in
Sweden if the ambiguity accompanying change has settled out in the 18 inter-
vening years and whether the leveling (if memory serves leveling was part
of the process) led to the sort of "impoverishment of the language" someone
has suggested in the tu/vous exchange. ;-)>
Dale Savage
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Message 6: Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 91 16:09:10 EDT
From: Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU>
Subject: Re: 2.592 Polite Pronouns
In response to Martin Haspelmath's question about the decline of formal second
person pronouns in Europe, I can assure you that you can put Spain on the list
too. While use of 'tu/usted' varies throughout the country (Tu is more favored
in Catalonia and probably Andalucia; Usted seems stronger in Castile) Tu has
certainly increased its currency throughout the country. Where I was living--
outside Barcelona--usted/voste (in Catalan) was mainly for old folks and parent
in-laws. I was rarely refered to as usted/voste even in classes I was
teaching. Once one 14-year-old kid called me usted and provoked torrents of
teenage laughter; I got the idea he had been caught out trying to be the teach-
er's pet. The change seems to have occurred much as in Germany during the seve
nties. My Spanish friends seem to see it as representative of a shift from the
old ways of doing things, a reaction against the Franco regime's values. This
practical universalization of tu can cause problems. I heard a story of Span-
ish high school exchange student who was sent to France and translated his
Spanish tu for a French one when talking to the teacher. He was thrown out
of class. It also comes as surprise to Latin Americans who are usually much
more conservative in their usage. Some of my current ESL students have com-
mented to me on that. Even in Latin America usage varies enormously. In
the Antillies, for example, tu--while not as common as in Spain--is often
used. In Central America and Colombia tu or its dialectal equivalent 'vos' is
highly marked. Even young people use usted to each other, and I have heard
a Colombian mother treating her daughter as usted. The mythology, at least
among central Americans is that usted shows 'respect', vos the lack of it.
 Michael Newman
 Hunter College
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