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Names and addresses

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T and V pronouns

Some languages have different forms for “you” (French “tu/vous”, German “du/Sie”, for example). These may

originally have indicated number (vous and Sie) used for plural forms, but now show different levels of

formality, with tu and du being more familiar, vous and Sie more polite. In English this was shown historically

by the contrast between you and thou/thee. The ”thou” form survives in some dialects, while other familiar

pronoun forms are “youse” (Liverpool) and “you-all” (southern USA). Where it is possible to make the

distinction, this is known as a T/V system of address.

In this system the V form is a marker of politeness or deference. It may also be a marker of status, with the V

form used to superiors, the T form to equals or inferiors. T forms are also used to express solidarity or

intimacy. The T form is found in Shakespeare’s plays, where it almost always shows the speaker’s attitude

to status and situation. A king is “your majesty” or “you” but a peasant is “thou”. It may be an insult, as when

Tybalt addresses Romeo as “thou” (“Romeo, thou art a villain”; Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 3). It is also

found in “frozen” language forms, such as the stylized speech of Quakers or other non-conformist groups,

like the Pennsylvania Amish, in orders of service and prayers. Oddly, many modern speakers think that

“thou” (being archaic) is more formal or courteous than “you” – when the reverse is the case!

Titles and names

In English, we also express status and attitude through titles, first names and last names. Titles are such

things as Professor, Dr, Sir, Dame, Fr. (Father), Mr, Mrs, Miss, Sr. (Sister). Note that we abbreviate some of

these in writing, but not in speaking. First names may be given names (Fred, Susan) but include epithets

such as chief, guv, mate, man, pal. Last names are usually family names. In general, use of these on their

own suggests lack of deference (“Oi, Smith...”) but in some contexts (public schools, the armed forces) they

are norms. If one speaker uses title and last name (TLN), and the other first name (FN) only, we infer

difference in status. The social superior (the FN speaker) may invite the inferior to use FN in response:

A: Professor Cringeworthy? B: Please call me Cuthbert.

In schools teachers use FN (or FNLN when reprimanding or being sarcastic) to pupils and receive T (“Sir”) or

TLN (”Miss Brodie”) in reply. “Miss” is addressed to women teachers, even where the speaker knows or

believes them to be married.

In English avoidance of address is often acceptable – thus where French speakers say “Bonsoir, Monsieur”,

English speakers may say merely, “Good evening” (Omitting the address in France would seem impolite.)


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