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How polite is your language?

 Language Learning Forum : Cultural Experiences in Foreign Languages Post Reply
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Senior Member
Russian Federation
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 Message 41 of 51
05 October 2012 at 2:25am | IP Logged 
Relatively to você, many people dislike being called so (they consider it rude, inappropriate), preferring the omission of the subject, like "Prefere bananas ou maçãs?" instead of "Você prefere...?".

Funny, to me this basically means você is there but omitted :) I guess the two options kind of merged in my head.
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Senior Member
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 Message 42 of 51
31 October 2012 at 7:57pm | IP Logged 
Ogrim wrote:
The topic for this post is about the use of different forms for
addressing a person or persons, i.e. the distinction between “polite” and “familiar”
pronouns. English has not made such a distinction for centuries, where it is actually
the old polite form which has replaced the Old English “thou”. However, in in many
languages there are polite and familiar forms.

The challenge is to use the forms correctly, and here the situation varies greatly from
language to language and country to country. I have therefore made an attempt to
summarise my own observations in languages and countries I know. However, I really look
forward to receiving input from other members and stand to be corrected if I am

Norwegian: In my mother tongue, although the distinction exists (familiar “du” and
polite “De”), the polite form is not used any more (except maybe by some really old and
conservative persons). Everyone says “du” to everyone.

French: The “vous” is still very much the norm in France, and you would never address a
stranger (e.g. a shop attendant or a waiter) with “tu”. However, I do feel that there
is a slight tendency for younger people to switch to “tu” more rapidly than what was
maybe the norm some years ago. My approach is that I address everyone with “vous” and
only switch to “tu” if they invite me to do so.

German: I am less familiar with the situation in Germany, but from my regular visits
there it seems to be similar to France. I would love to have more information on this.

Spanish: The situation in Spain has developed enormously over the last 20 years or so.
The polite from “usted” is still used, but less and less. Obviously, in formal and
official settings it will be used. No journalist will address the Spanish Prime
Minister as “tú”. However, it is quite normal that a waiter or a taxi driver will talk
to you directly in the familiar form. In Latin America I have the impression that tú is
still used in a much more restrictive way (not to mention that in the plural, “Ustedes”
has replaced “vosotros”). In Spain I find it can sometimes be difficult to decide which
form to use, but my advice would be that it is better to use “usted” if unsure – some
people my still get offended if you address them directly with “tú” the first time you
speak with them. However, you may expect them to reply to you using the familiar form.

Russian: I am still a beginner in Russian, so here I would ask for input. I do have the
impression that the polite form is the norm.

I will leave it at this for the time being, and as said, I look forward to
contributions and to learn about the situation in other languages and countries.

In Hungarian there is a strictly differenced system of 3 levels:

- 1. - Polite/formal. "Ön" or "maga" used with verb in the 3rd person (or
"Önök"/"maguk" in plural). (Ön/önök, maga/maguk can be omitted.) This is the normal way
of speaking.
- 2. - Polite for children. This is with the auxialiary verb "tetszik" (it means "be
pleased" or "like") + infinitive. This is used when children speak to adults. Also can
be used by adults in rare cases when speaking to very old persons.
- 3. - Informal/familiar. "Te" ("ti" in plural) used with verb in the 2nd person.
("Te"/"ti" can be omitted.) This is between friends, in the family. It is becoming more
and more widespread. Younger people tend to use this form even when they meet each
other for the first time. In work too, colleagues tend to use the informal form
inmediately between themselves. (However this is not the case when speaking to the
"boss". The boss first has to give a permission "talk to me informally".) In the
Hungarian internet the informal form is used in 99 % of the cases, for example in
discussion forums, blogs, but not in official emails or official sites.

Some interesting facts.

For children it is problem to decide when they can switch from the 2nd form to the 1st
form for speaking to adults. Using the 1st form means "I am not a child any more, I am
equal to you". A 12 years old will use the 2nd form, however a 17 years old will use
the 1st form. An adult may consider inpolite when a too young child speaks to him/her
in the 1st form. However it can be inpolite too when a young girl speaks to a young
woman, and the girls still uses the 2nd form (this means "I am young, you are old").

For speaking to God it is always used the INFORMAL form. Also historically speaking to
the monarch the informal form was mostly used.

Actually I work for a British-Gibraltarian company. We have a website in Hungarian too.
In the website we use the informal form to show we are a "friendly company". However
when talking to a customer over the phone or when writing a personal email to a
customer we use the formal form always. Even if the customer writes an email using the
informal form, we respond using the polite form.

Interesting: when two people started to speak using the informal form, it is extremely
inpolite if one of them switches back to the polite form. It shows hostility.

Persons of the same sex tend to use the informal form more quickly than persons of the
opposite sex. Two women of similar age will start speaking informally quickly, however
a man will not speak informally to a woman, until the woman doesnt ask "lets speak
informally". But this is changing. Now starting to use the informal form is getting
easier and quicker.

Speaking must be equal, it means two persons speaking use the same form. Exception: the
2nd form, it is used by children to adults, and the adults respond using the 3rd form.
Also historically there were used inequal forms for example in relations between
landlords and servants. Now this is considered rude. In the Communist period this
happened sometimes: the policemen speaking to a citizen, the policeman using informal
form, and the citizen the polite form.

In the family the oldest tradition was using only the polite form, the informal form
was reserved only when addressing children. Even wife and husband spoke to each other
using the formal way. Also son/daugther to his/her father/mother. Now this is extremely
rare. Now the most widespread is to use the informal form between all generations.
Exceptions are made usually for fathers-in-law, mothers-in-laws, normally one use the
formal way when speaking to them. However this is getting changed too. There were many
changes in different generations. My mother spoke to her grandmother using only the
formal way, even when she was 45 years old and the grandmother was 90. In the same time
I - being then 20 years old - talked to the same person, my great-grandmother using the
informal way.

Ask if something is not clear.

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SpainRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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 Message 43 of 51
01 November 2012 at 2:45am | IP Logged 
Teango wrote:
When my wife asked her parents what they'd like me to use, they seemed very embarrassed and
tried to swiftly change the topic. After a little persistence, they simply suggested whichever he feels most
comfortable with, with a grinning side-glance to each other. At the time I guessed they simply didn't want to make
waves with their other son-in-law. So I incorporated a mixture of both, which didn't seem to matter much in the
end, as I had the Russian language skills of a dazed toddler anyhow!

In-laws can be awkward enough in one's native language, but I always feel especially awkward because my father-
in-law wants me to use the "du" form with him and my mother-in-law "Sie". This makes sense in the context of
the family dynamics (guess which one likes me), but I, only speaking English natively, am not used to having
underlying sentiments which usually aren't discussed in the open codified into the language.
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Senior Member
United States
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Speaks: English*
Studies: Japanese, Mandarin

 Message 44 of 51
04 November 2012 at 12:09am | IP Logged 
there is definitely polite forms in japanese... and before I came to japan, my inner dialogue just played around with
the forms da, desu, degozaimasu, etc, but since Ive been here, I've noticed I am developing an intuitive feeling for
when I should use each level... at least in the parameters I am familiar with, and the usage with the social group by
which I am surrounded...

my main thought today seems to be to value my developed intuition in my TL... thats all Im really trying to say
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Senior Member
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Speaks: Cantonese*, English, Mandarin
Studies: French

 Message 45 of 51
01 February 2014 at 5:52am | IP Logged 
There are languages that sound more polite than others to the ear because of the tones. On the other hand any
language can be impolite if you use it in the wrong context. Found that out the other day at a local hair salon. The
owner(s) are Chinese. 2 hairdressers were busy cutting hairs inside when 4 people walked in casually. In the
middle of winter it would seem odd for them to be standing at the entrance coming in 1 minute and out the next.

They explained in English they just had a car accident and were waiting for the police to arrive to file a report. The
hairdressers asked them in English: "What do you want?" several times instead of: "May I help you?" It looked like
their English is acceptable but their choice of words weren't customer-friendly. The 4 people at the entrance was
upset their vehicles were damaged already but didn't want to stay outside in the cold. They thought that the
hairdressers sounded rude. The hairdressers asked the 4 people to move to the side of the room and not to open
and close the door constantly to let the cold air in. Soon after the 4 left. They thought the hairdressers sounded
unfriendly and was about to get into a major argument.

Edited by shk00design on 01 February 2014 at 5:56am

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Senior Member
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 Message 46 of 51
01 February 2014 at 10:44am | IP Logged 
Josquin wrote:

You would address every unknown grown-up with "Sie". Younger people tend to offer the
"du" faster than older people. University students always address each other with "du".
Moreover, in rural areas, where "everybody knows everybody", the "du" is more common.
Saying "Sie" would be regarded very impersonal in this case. Working class people tend
to say "du" to each other, too. Formal situations always require the "Sie", though.

I'm hearing a lot more 'du's in Germany than in Austria, and this makes Germans appear
more friendly actually. I'm also hearing more 'Hallo's and 'Tschüss'es there, which
would be regarded quite informal here in Austria.
I know of cases here in Austria where neighbors in a rural area would use 'Sie' their
entire life, and it's not like they don't like each other.
Also, titles are a lot more important than in Germany. Austrians love to be addressed
with their titles, eg. "Herr Magister ...", and we have quite many of them, a lot of
them from back when Austria was still a monarchy.

I guess the situation in Germany is developing a bit faster than in Austria.

One notable exception: one would use 'du' with everybody as long as both are on a
mountain, eg. while hiking or skiing. No idea why...

Edited by daegga on 01 February 2014 at 10:54am

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Senior Member
Russian Federation
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Speaks: Russian*

 Message 47 of 51
01 February 2014 at 4:14pm | IP Logged 
Kartof wrote:
Usually in Bulgarian, the formal Вие (Vie) is used with strangers and ти (ti) with family members, friends, and
acquaintances, similar to the use in other Slavic languages as mentioned above. I've always used ти with my
grandparents since i could remember. I think the common attitude in Bulgaria is to use Вие with people you
absolutely don't know such as people passing on the street, waiters and waitresses, or store personnel. You would
also use Вие with your boss and others in a respected position with whom you don't share a close personal
connection. I've noticed that most people who get together for dinner or drinks almost always refer to each other
with ти, simply because they are close enough to be in such a situation together. This almost reminds me of the
"drink to du" that I read about in my Danish textbook.

The Вие/ти distinction is one thing, but familiarity can also be expressed in other ways in Bulgarian such as use of
the particle бе (or more rarely ма). Use of бе implies extreme familiarity between individuals to the point where it
is downright insulting if used in any other situation. Бе used to be used exclusively with males which is where the
ма variation comes from (used for females). An interesting example of the fine line in familiarity in Bulgarian that
has stuck out to me is with my mother's use of the language. She refers to her mother as майче (majche) while she
refers to her mother-in-law as майко (majko). Майче is a diminutive of майка (majka) meaning mother while
майко is the vocative form of the same.

Edit: I forgot to note that Вие and derived pronouns are always capitalized when they have the formal meaning
(singular or plural) and are lowercase (except when beginning a sentence) when they mean the second person
informal plural.

When I was in Bulgaria, I was often addressed by waiters, shop assistants and strangers ти, although it's much rarer in Russia (never with waiters or people like that).
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Speaks: English*, German, French, Russian
Studies: Indonesian

 Message 48 of 51
04 February 2014 at 11:46pm | IP Logged 
In Indonesian the dynamic seems really complicated. My teacher (herself Indonesian, though she hasn't lived there
for several years) taught us that we as foreigners should always use the formal "Anda" (you) and "saya" (I) with
anyone aged over about 14. However, I've recently started interacting with Indonesians (all of whom are aged 18-
26) online and none of them have used "Anda" with me at all (I'm 22). Some prefer to use the informal "kamu" (you)
alongside the formal "saya" (I), while others prefer to use the informal "kamu" (you) and the informal "aku" (I). I
know there are also the highly informal pronouns "lu" (you) and "gue" (I) but these are considered slang and are
apparently only used among close friends.

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