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How polite is your language?

 Language Learning Forum : Cultural Experiences in Foreign Languages Post Reply
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Chung
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 Message 9 of 51
21 August 2012 at 6:55pm | IP Logged 
See here for more discussion on the subject.
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Hekje
Diglot
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United States
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 Message 10 of 51
21 August 2012 at 7:38pm | IP Logged 
The informal jij (or je) is more or less the norm in Dutch. You may approach strangers with u to be
extra-polite but no one will be offended if you don't. It is still respectful to use u with really old people, and
formal letters (banks bothering you, etc.) always use u.

There's a classic song by the Dutch ska band Doe Maar called "Pa" that's related to this topic. Basically, a father is
exhorting his son not to be such a bum, and part of the chorus goes as follows:

Blijf niet hangen, recht naar huis toe, spreek met twee woorden
Stel je netjes voor, eet zoals het hoort en zeg u!


"Don't loiter, go straight home, speak with two words
Present yourself tidily, eat as you should, and say 'u'!"
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montmorency
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United Kingdom
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 Message 11 of 51
21 August 2012 at 8:21pm | IP Logged 
"Tha" and "thee" are still alive and more or less well in parts of Lancashire and
Cumbria also, though it tends to be older people in rural areas, or if younger, then
people wearing their "northernness" rather self-consciously (to distinguish themselves
from us soft southern jessies, no doubt :-) ).

I wouldn't be surprised to hear it occasionally in parts of the west country as well.


More seriously though, I suppose you could say that English now uses other, more subtle
ways of expressing politeness.


I was interested to read the comment about Norwegian. In TYS Complete Danish (my copy
of which being a fairly recent printing) they are teaching "De" for polite usage,
although we do hear from one character who says she uses "du" to everyone.

I wonder if the book is a bit outdated or just teaching a conservative form of the
language. I'd have guessed the Danes to be the most informal of the Scandinavians!



In one of the Wallander books (which I have only read in translation, and was written
in the 1990s), there is a reference to a person whom W. meets, who uses the formal form
of address, and Wallander thinks he is a bit stuck up, so obviously it wasn't usual in
Sweden by then.


EDIT: OK, I see in that older thread that Danish has been covered, and indeed, TYSCD is
a bit behind the times. Which does not totally surprise me.


Edited by montmorency on 21 August 2012 at 8:32pm

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montmorency
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 Message 12 of 51
21 August 2012 at 8:42pm | IP Logged 
On (older) English usage again, especially in the north, there are semi apocryphal
stories of young apprentices and the like being admonished for using "thee" to their
boss (in the days when there was a very rigid hierarchical structure - not that long
ago actually).

There are variations (which you can find if you google, e.g. "thee thou them" (using
the quotes), but the version of the story I was told was:

New young apprentice in the factory addresses the senior foreman (or someone who is
"God" to him) by "thee", not knowing any better, since this is what he uses to his
family and his mates.


The foreman becomes apoplectic, and hollers at the poor young lad:


"Don't thee thou me!"

"Thee thou them as tha's thee!"


i.e. don't address me in the informal manner - you keep that for use among for social
equals.



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numerodix
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Netherlands
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 Message 13 of 51
21 August 2012 at 9:56pm | IP Logged 
I'm not a big fan of politeness. I think a lot of the time it's about showing respect
that you don't actually feel.

It weirds me out sometimes when people call me meneer.
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rasta87
Diglot
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Colombia
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 Message 14 of 51
22 August 2012 at 8:59pm | IP Logged 
I would say that the use of tú, vos and usted in Medellín is almost impossible to completely understand as non-
native speaker, or at least impossible to explain completely to other English speakers. I think I have a fairly good
intuitive understanding now of how, when and why the various forms of address are used. One thing for sure is
that it is much more than differing levels of respect. I remember one day after I'd been here for a few months, I
was sitting at a friends house thinking about how I would explain the difficulty of using coreectly tú, vos and ud
to friends back home when my friends grandmother walked in and they had a brief conversation that managed to
use all three forms of address in just a few sentences. I don't remember it exactly but it included:
"qué estás haciendo" (tu)
"ud está muy bonita hoy" (ud) and
"contáme!" (vos imperative)

It was the perfect illustration of what I was trying to come up with just at that moment to explain the difficulty to
my friends.

My current understanding of the different uses of tú, vos and ud in Medellín is as follows:

Tú - The most important point here is that using tú shows affection. it can be considered 'gay' for a male to use
tú with other males, unless they are close, and even in that case it's rare. In interaction between males and
females it can be flirty (although at times they might use vos or ud in an effort to build attraction by actively
showing disinterest - a whole other topic), or it can be between good friends, however if there's a mixed group
out together as friends it's more likely they'll use vos.

Vos - It's the buddy/pal/mate form of address. Not affectionate but more of a slap on the back 'hows it going'
kind of vibe. Heavily used in both male-male and female-female friendships (I mention this because I initially had
the feeling it was more of a male-male thing). It's not restricted to young people. I've heard it used between all
generations of a family up to the great grandmother and her great granddaughter.
Examples:
"subile el volumen parce" (imperative, parce = mate)
"oye gorda que vas a tomar vos?" (girlfriends call each other gorda)

Usted - This is easily the hardest to figure out. There's an impressive amount of nuance to it's use. It includes the
obvious respectful use but it more often than not is not a show of respect but a deliberate distancing. I'm often
surprised when I see something on tv where the protagonist is yelling something aggressive to his arch enemy
(You'll pay for this!..for example) and the Spanish subtitles have them screaming at each other with the tú
conjugations. That would just never be the case here, it would always be usted. But there are other subtleties, for
example a boyfriend and girlfriend would usually use tú and sometimes when they fight they'll use usted or vos,
but there's another affectionate use of usted that I can only think to describe as cheeky. This cheeky use is seen
among families but usted among family members can also just be a matter of fact way of speaking when asking
simple things like 'where are you going'. Another example would be a grandmother getting her young grandchild
ready for school in the morning, or telling him of for making a mess is most likely going to use usted as well.
Sorry If this explanation became a bit convoluted, it's still all pretty convoluted in my head.

One thing I wish I was taught before coming is how using tú/usted in the command form is interpreted. It's much
less about the levels of respect and more about the force of the command. Is it 'come la ensalada' (eat the salad)
or 'coma la ensalada' (more like, eat the salad! (or else!). A tú command is more like a suggestion while an usted
command is more like a demand (and can be considered quite rude).

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Josquin
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Senior Member
Germany
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 Message 15 of 51
22 August 2012 at 9:33pm | IP Logged 
numerodix wrote:
I'm not a big fan of politeness. I think a lot of the time it's about showing respect
that you don't actually feel.

It weirds me out sometimes when people call me meneer.

Then better never go to Germany! Everybody will call you "Herr".

I'm often surprised by Englishmen and Americans using first names when it would be "Herr/Frau + last name" in German.

In letters and e-mails, it's even "Sehr geehrte(r) Herr/Frau + last name". That would be something like "Highly honoured Mr/Mrs xy" in English.

Edited by Josquin on 22 August 2012 at 9:34pm

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tractor
Tetraglot
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Norway
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Studies: French, German, Latin

 
 Message 16 of 51
22 August 2012 at 9:53pm | IP Logged 
rasta87 wrote:
"qué estás haciendo" (tu)

Just curious: Isn't estás the form they'd use with vos as well?


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