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Maciamo
25-10-16, 09:16
If there is one thing that distinguishes French and German speakers from English speakers or even other Europeans is their insistence on using formal vous or Sie instead of the informal tu or Du in any situation where two adults aren't on familiar terms (i.e. close friends or family). This immediately puts a barrier between the speakers, who must reciprocate and never attempt to use the informal tu/Du for fear of offending the other party or pass for an oafish buffoon.

This formality system is instilled in children's mind from a relatively young age (perhaps 6 or 7 years old) and they are then expected to always use the polite vous/Sie with teachers at school. In my parent's generation, using tu with a teacher in a respectable school, especially in a secondary boarding school, could be ground for dismissal. It was that serious. In my generation, it would have led to a suspension or detention if the child/teen did not promptly apologise for his/her impudence. Nowadays things are a bit more relaxed, and kids in primary school can often use tu with their teachers. In fact we can notice another transition in formality. Until about 10-15 years ago all kids had to call their teachers by their surname (Mr/Mrs something) even in preschool, but it becoming increasingly common for teachers of kids until about 8-9 years old to ask to be called by their given name (but still using the Mr/Mrs).

One thing I hate about socialising in French is that it is very hard to know when it is acceptable to use tu in borderline situations, such as talking to other adults about one's age that we barely know but in a rather friendly context like a sports club. The rule is that one should use vous with people who aren't family or friends. The problem is how strict should one consider the word 'friend'. French has two words for it: copain (more like an friendly acquaintance or for children a classmate that is not really a friend) and ami (a close friend). Kids make a big thing of distinguishing between the two, but adults tend to think much less about this distinction (few would use copain, but rather colleague or acquaintance). Once you start saying vous to someone it is very hard to switch back to tu.

There are regional differences in the usage of tu/vous among French speakers. southern and central French people, especially in the countryside, regularly use the informal tu between adults in situations that would be deemed unacceptable in northern France or Belgium. Their usage resemble more that of other Romance speakers, except northern Italians who tend to be somewhere in between North and South French. In fact there seems to be a formality gradient in Italy, people becoming more informal as we move south, and informality being the norm south of Rome (I could be wrong, but that's my impression based on my travels).

I don't think there is much variation in formality levels between German-speaking regions. People in the top north of Germany (Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenbug-Vorpommern) might be a bit more relaxed about it, a bit closer to Scandinavians, but hardly. In my limited experience I found the people of Saxony (along the Czech border) to be the most formal and stuck-up.

British, Irish, Dutch and Scandinavian people all tend to have fairly relaxed attitudes to formality. Scandinavians use the equivalent of tu/Du in most situations except the most formal ones. English speakers don't even make that thou/you distinction anymore - although the 'you', which became standard and rather informal, was supposed to be the polite form originally. I would say that the Irish are the most informal of the lot.

I am not sure about the eastern half of Europe as I don't speak any of their languages, but my impression is that people tend to be more formal in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire than elsewhere - the Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians in particular.

So overall, very formal countries that insist on a strict distinction between tu/vous or Du/Sie are especially German speakers and the more Germanic/Frankish French speakers. This is very strange as other Germanic people could be considered the least formal of all Europeans (except the British upper classes, who get their formality from their French/Norman roots).

The strong difference between northern and southern France and the north-south gradient in Italy imply that this is not just an attribute of language, but that historical events may have played a role too.

I wonder if that Franco-German formality, which could even be perceived as solemnity by British people, has its roots in medieval Frankish society. Geographically it is the best match, and I cannot think of any another root for that phenomenon.

Angela
25-10-16, 15:15
Why are you limiting it to French and German speakers? When I was growing up it was unheard of to use the informal "you" in many situations. In my grandparents' time in certain parts of Italy sometimes even older family members were addressed using the plural informal to show respect. People routinely still ask if they may use the informal: "possiamo darci del tu?"

It's only foreigners speaking in Italian in my experience who habitually use the "tu" form. The fact that most Italians are too polite to say anything about it doesn't mean it's correct.

Also, I don't know of any studies on the subject, but in my experience southerners speaking in Italian have seemed to be even more correct in using the tu form only after requesting permission to do it.

MaxCRO
25-10-16, 15:15
Interesting topic, but formality in laguage is something rather expected in entire continental Europe. In Croatian language there is strict distinction between formal and informal ''you'' when adressing the person and it would be nearly impossible to imagine young person or student to adress older person or his teacher and boss informaly. Adressing stranger informaly would also be considered inapropriate in everday communication.

I am not sure it has specific origin. Bitish Isles and Italy do seem to be more informal in general, perhaps due to their individualistic spirit ?

Maciamo
25-10-16, 16:42
Why are you limiting it to French and German speakers? When I was growing up it was unheard of to use the informal "you" in many situations. In my grandparents' time in certain parts of Italy sometimes even older family members were addressed using the plural informal to show respect. People routinely still ask if they may use the informal: "possiamo darci del tu?"

It's only foreigners speaking in Italian in my experience who habitually use the "tu" form. The fact that most Italians are too polite to say anything about it doesn't mean it's correct.

Also, I don't know of any studies on the subject, but in my experience southerners speaking in Italian have seemed to be even more correct in using the tu form only after requesting permission to do it.

You surely know better than me about how things are in Italy. I judged from my limited experiences travelling around Italy, and from Italian friends and acquaintances. I noticed that in the EU community in Brussels, Italians and Spaniards will often use tu (in Italian, Spanish or French) in situations when French speakers would only use vous.

But the fact that people routinely ask "possiamo darci del tu?" reminds me more of the south of France, where people prfer tu switch to tu whenever possible in everyday situations, like talking to a shopkeeper, a neighbour, etc. In Belgium I wouldn't dream of using tu with anyone except family members and close friends that I have known for many years. It would never occur to me or many northern French speakers to even consider asking someone we barely know to use 'tu'. That would make us very uncomfortable. I also can't stand it when Flemish people perfectly fluent in French call me 'tu', because like Scandinavians much prefer the informal pronoun. It's uncomfortable because I simply cannot reciprocate. That's why I much prefer using English to socialise whenever possible.

Internet forums and social media like Facebook have made things a bit more relaxed online. Northern French speakers can know sometimes address strangers by 'tu' online, when they would never do it face to face. I think it may have something to do with personal boundaries and privacy. British people are known to be very reserved and overly polite, but I feel that it may simply be a way to compensate for the lack to informal/formal pronoun found in other European languages. The vous, Lei, Usted, Sie, etc. automatically puts an emotional distance with the other speaker. Without that people tend to feel exposed and vulnerable.

Japanese is very different. Even though there are many personal pronouns meaning 'I' or 'you' (http://www.wa-pedia.com/language/japanese_personal_pronouns.shtml), there isn't really any of them that is the equivalent of the formal vous, Lei, Usted, Sie... Japanese language compensates with many levels of politeness, including honorific and humble forms, things aren't as crystallised as in European languages, and people can use all levels of politeness with anybody depending on the situation and their feelings. They are more likely to use very polite forms in formal situations like a business meeting, but they could just as well use it with family when they want to ask a service without it sounding odd. In Europe, once you have decided which form to use with someone, you cannot change anymore. Nowadays I don't know any family members that would use vous in French, even though it was done in the 19th century and early 20th century.

LeBrok
25-10-16, 17:04
Isn't You in english formal, well started as formal long time ago before becoming ordinary again, as it is plural second person. Singular second person used to be Thou.
Second person plural was still in use as respectful addressing in Poland few decades ago, so was in Russia and it might be still used today.

Adding Sir, Monsieur, Senior or Pan can make a sentence formal too.

Angela
25-10-16, 17:37
I didn't mean to imply that in my experience people routinely ask to use the "tu" form, but rather that before doing so it is routine to ask and not just to assume that it would be welcome. There are many categories of people with whom I would never ask it, and neither would they.

It seems to me that the changes are relatively recent and that it is more common with young people, so, I don't see how it would have any "ethnic" origin.

As I said, the only "older adults" whom I hear regularly "tu, tu-ing" everyone are foreigners, perhaps because they can't be bothered to keep it straight and no one is correcting them, as the French would do.

However, this is only my experience, and the month or two I spend in Italy every year is mostly spent in my own area, which is pretty conservative in this as in other social matters. It may be that in other areas it is indeed "routine" to ask. However, it is still rather recent as these things go.

Perhaps one of our other Italian members can chime in.

Oh, it also occurs to me that some of the changes may have been accelerated by the fact that Mussolini banned the use of the "Lei" form for political reasons, to bring Italian back to a more "Roman" form, and the second person plural,"voi", was to be used to show social or class distances. I'm not sure about that, however, because to hear my grandparents tell it no one paid much attention to that law or to many other fascist laws, God bless them.

The other great accelerator of change has been the internet, in my opinion.

Not everyone is in favor of these changes. See this article about the "falseness" of this "familiarity", by Umberto Eco.
http://www.repubblica.it/cultura/2015/09/14/news/umberto_eco_cosi_il_darci_del_tu_rischia_di_impove rire_la_nostra_cultura_e_il_nostro_apprendimento_-122861035/

http://www.huffingtonpost.it/2015/09/14/umberto-eco-dare-del-tu-e-del-lei_n_8131926.html



For what it's worth I notice that southern Italians, i.e. Campania, Sicily, routinely use that "voi" form when speaking their dialects. In Sicily it takes the form "vossia". According to a Calabrian friend's grandfather, he used to use the "voi" form even with his grandparents. In my experience, southerners today, when speaking standard Italian, use the Lei form, but that just might be the people I know. Perhaps a lot of them also use the "voi" form.

If I have time I 'll see if I can find some Italian studies on it.

Maciamo
25-10-16, 18:13
Isn't You in english formal, well started as formal long time ago before becoming ordinary again, as it is plural second person. Singular second person used to be Thou.
Second person plural was still in use as respectful addressing in Poland few decades ago, so was in Russia and it might be still used today.

Yes, that is what I wrote above.


although the 'you', which became standard and rather informal, was supposed to be the polite form originally.



Adding Sir, Monsieur, Senior or Pan can make a sentence formal too.

Exactly. This is another aspect of formality that is far more common among French and German speakers than among English speakers. It's much easier for me to switch to first name basis. Over the last 10 years or so I have noticed that the Anglo-American usage of addressing people by their first name has been catching up and nowadays a lot of French speakers under 50 are trying to combine the more friendly use of given name with the formal vous whenever possible (ok with colleagues, social acquaintances, etc. but not in more formal business settings).

Until the 1990's most adults addressed each others as Mr or Mrs something, even between colleagues at work, which I find really too solemn. The worst of all is when people introduce themselves as Mr or Mrs something in a relaxed social context, without mentioning their given name at all. That's still fairly common in some parts of France.

Maciamo
25-10-16, 18:43
I didn't mean to imply that in my experience people routinely ask to use the "tu" form, but rather that before doing so it is routine to ask and not just to assume that it would be welcome. There are many categories of people with whom I would never ask it, and neither would they.

I think that when in doubt, or when you are getting to know someone and wish to switch to 'tu', it is the norm in all European languages to ask before you do so.



It seems to me that the changes are relatively recent and that it is more common with young people, so, I don't see how it would have any "ethnic" origin.

I think it may have something to do with natural sensitivities and social skills. Northern Europeans are more socially awkward and reserved and may need to keep more distance with people they don't know intimately. It's like the personal space, i.e. the physical distance with which one is comfortable when talking to someone. Mediterranean people typically have a smaller facial distance when they talk to each others than northern Europeans or Americans. The joke is that when an Italian is having a conversation with a Briton, the Italian keeps moving forward to close the gap and the Briton keeps moving backward to regain personal space. Yet, the interpersonal distance one is comfortable with varies depending on how intimate we are with the other person. There is a default intimate distance, personal distance, and public distance. But each is smaller in southern Europe than in northern Europe. Personally I feel that the use of the formal pronoun is just another way to keep interpersonal distance.


As I said, the only "older adults" whom I hear regularly "tu, tu-ing" everyone are foreigners, perhaps because they can't be bothered to keep it straight and no one is correcting them, as the French would do.

Yes, but that's true for every language. The lower is a foreigner's language level and the more accepting we are of their mistakes in using the wrong form.



Oh, it also occurs to me that some of the changes may have been accelerated by the fact that Mussolini banned the use of the "Lei" form for political reasons, to bring Italian back to a more "Roman" form, and the second person plural,"voi", was to be used to show social or class distances. I'm not sure about that, however, because to hear my grandparents tell it no one paid much attention to that law or to many other fascist laws, God bless them.

When I learned Italian, I was taught that the voi (the French equivalent of vous) is much more formal than the Lei.

Northener
25-10-16, 19:18
@maciamo even on a micro or regional level there are differences in the Platt or lower German language in for example Groningen "ie" and "du" are used. It's rude to address an unknown person with "du" but a few miles further in most parts of Drenthe only "du" is known....and in Frisia is this also the case with "dy".


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Sile
26-10-16, 19:12
Never heard of that system above in Italy

I have always heard
Possiamo diexe del ti


Last week , while I was in Fiji, I met an elderly Argentinian of Italian descent from Palermo..........and he used the similar Possiamo diece del ti

Maciamo
26-10-16, 20:05
Never heard of that system above in Italy

I have always heard
Possiamo diexe del ti


Last week , while I was in Fiji, I met an elderly Argentinian of Italian descent from Palermo..........and he used the similar Possiamo diece del ti

That would seem to confirm that Italians have a preference for tu over Lei or voi, even with total strangers.

Same with Spaniards. I know a Spanish diplomat and started using 'tu' on the second time we met. Here very few Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese have a natural preference for the formal form if they can avoid it, even in the very formal context of the EU institutions.

Pax Augusta
26-10-16, 20:06
If there is one thing that distinguishes French and German speakers from English speakers or even other Europeans is their insistence on using formal vous or Sie instead of the informal tu or Du in any situation where two adults aren't on familiar terms (i.e. close friends or family). This immediately puts a barrier between the speakers, who must reciprocate and never attempt to use the informal tu/Du for fear of offending the other party or pass for an oafish buffoon.

My Italian parents taught me on using formal Voi, Vous or Sie instead of the informal Tu or Du.


That would seem to confirm that Italians have a preference for tu over Lei or voi, even with total strangers.

In my family is considered "rudeness" having a preference for tu over Lei or voi in any situation where two adults aren't on familiar terms. The same for most of my friends.

A. Papadimitriou
26-10-16, 22:05
It was introduced in Greece probably by people educated in France during the last few centuries, but we should use it when addressing someone older or higher in the hierarchy. Also people who work as salesmen or waiters will always use the plural when addressing the costumers. But it was often used even inside families (for example even by kids when addressing their parents in some cases). That didn't exist in my family. I think it is still expected to use it for parents-in-law, though.

Sile
27-10-16, 01:10
That would seem to confirm that Italians have a preference for tu over Lei or voi, even with total strangers.

Same with Spaniards. I know a Spanish diplomat and started using 'tu' on the second time we met. Here very few Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese have a natural preference for the formal form if they can avoid it, even in the very formal context of the EU institutions.

ti or tu is for one person and voi is for many

voi andiamo va fino Roma

we will ( want to ) go to Rome

Pax Augusta
27-10-16, 02:01
ti or tu is for one person and voi is for many

voi andiamo va fino Roma

we will ( want to ) go to Rome



Voi is used regularly in formal relations in Italy. In many work environments, including school, it is still widely used. Of course, it depends on the social background and the type of education received.

Angela
27-10-16, 02:28
My Italian parents taught me on using formal Voi, Vous or Sie instead of the informal Tu or Du.



In my family it's considered "rudeness" having a preference for tu over Lei or voi in any situation where two adults aren't on familiar terms.

Indeed. I was taught that it's terrible manners. I don't think that I remember my parents ever using the informal form other than with family and very close friends, and, of course, with us. Things are definitely changing, however, at least in my experience. I notice that the younger the person the "looser" the usage.

At any rate, since in the past the rules were very strictly applied, and this looser usage of the "tu" form is such a relatively recent phenomenon I don't see how it can have anything to do with northern versus southern "personality" differences. If anything I think it might have to do with the fact that the French and Germans are much more "class" and "status" conscious.

Maciamo
27-10-16, 07:35
My Italian parents taught me on using formal Voi, Vous or Sie instead of the informal Tu or Du.

In my family is considered "rudeness" having a preference for tu over Lei or voi in any situation where two adults aren't on familiar terms. The same for most of my friends.

And from which region of Italy are you from?

Maciamo
27-10-16, 07:38
ti or tu is for one person and voi is for many

voi andiamo va fino Roma

we will ( want to ) go to Rome

How often do you speak Italian? "Voi andiamo"? Really? It's Noi andiamo. Voi andate. "We will go to Rome" is Andremo a Roma. And if you want to say "we want to go to Rome" it's Vogliamo andare a Roma. If your Italian level is so low I can't really trust anything you say on the subject.

Maciamo
27-10-16, 08:09
At any rate, since in the past the rules were very strictly applied, and this looser usage of the "tu" form is such a relatively recent phenomenon I don't see how it can have anything to do with northern versus southern "personality" differences. If anything I think it might have to do with the fact that the French and Germans are much more "class" and "status" conscious.

All Europeans were more formal in past generations, at least until as far back as the late 18th or early 19th century. All social classes were more formal, although the higher social classes have always been more formal than lower ones. Germanic countries (except England) are less class conscious and more egalitarian, which is probably why at least the Scandinavians and Dutch shifted more quickly to other countries toward a more informal form of address throughout society. Germans are more class conscious than Scandinavians, but not as much as the English, the French or the Italians.

It's often the aristocracy that maintains high levels of formality, and Germany undeniably had plenty of princes, dukes and counts due to its history. After all the royal families are practically all European countries (UK, Belgium, Spain, Austro-Hungary, Denmark, Norway, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece) descend from German noble families. I think that that pervasiveness of aristocratic mindset surely had an influence on formality levels, although ordinary German have tried hard in the last few generations to eradicate it for the sake of egalitarianism. In contrast, the French have had the folie des grandeurs since Louis XIV and there is no sign of abatement among the establishment. It's just that the aristocracy was replaced by a political class that is just as grandiose and pompous. The Italians are more likely to follow the French pattern than the German one, and we see that the industrial (e.g. Agnelli) and political classes are also trying to elevate themselves above everyone else. At present Italian MPs are by far the best paid in all the EU (http://www.euronews.com/2016/04/12/who-are-the-best-paid-mps-in-the-eu) and even in the Western world (yes, Italian politicians earn more than American ones (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/politics-blog/11650588/Leaders-of-the-fee-world-which-country-has-the-highest-paid-MPs.html)!).

So I am not surprised to see strong class differences in formality levels among Italians. But as the north is far richer than the south, it is expected that formality levels should be higher too. It's not just a cultural/personality difference, but also an economic one. A third element is that northern Italian dialects are closer to French and geographically closer to France, hence a sort of cultural permeability across borders may keep formality levels higher. That cultural permeability may pass through Switzerland, as Italian-speaking Swiss are much more likely to have adopted the very formal style of their French- and German-speaking compatriots (if fact they don't have much choice if they want to keep that Swiss identity), and that formality would have spread in neighbouring regions, especially in Lombardy, I would say.

Sile
27-10-16, 08:15
How often do you speak Italian? "Voi andiamo?" Really. It's Noi andiamo. Voi andate. "We will go to Rome" is Andremo a Roma. And if you want to say "we want to go to Rome" it's Vogliamo andare a Roma. If your Italian level is so low I can't really trust anything you say on the subject.

you wanted the old way of Italian

“Andiamo a comandare” di Fabio Rovazzi.
Voi Andiamo in latino, giusto perché il prof voleva farci riprendere a tradurre con simpatia

make up you mind............do you want today or yesterday...you asked for origins..............you are a very confusing fellow


Do you actually think that the italian spoken in 1860 ( when Italy was created ) by 2% of the 22million italians is the same Italian language as spoken by italians in 2016 !

Maciamo
27-10-16, 08:45
you wanted the old way of Italian

“Andiamo a comandare” di Fabio Rovazzi.
Voi Andiamo in latino, giusto perché il prof voleva farci riprendere a tradurre con simpatia

make up you mind............do you want today or yesterday...you asked for origins..............you are a very confusing fellow


Do you actually think that the italian spoken in 1860 ( when Italy was created ) by 2% of the 22million italians is the same Italian language as spoken by italians in 2016 !


The context is important. Actually in this sentence the voi simply means 'you' (plural) as in 'eh you!' It's probably short for "Ecco a voi" and should be separated by a comma before the 'andiamo'. The sentence translates as 'eh you, let's go!". It seems that the 'in latino' isn't part of the sentence as it means 'in Latin' which is not a place. Are you sure you copied and pasted your sentence correctly from whatever website you found it? Sounds like Professor Rovazzi attempted to translate the Latin "Imperatum adeamus" into modern Italian.

Pax Augusta
27-10-16, 20:45
Indeed. I was taught that it's terrible manners. I don't think that I remember my parents ever using the informal form other than with family and very close friends, and, of course, with us. Things are definitely changing, however, at least in my experience. I notice that the younger the person the "looser" the usage.

At any rate, since in the past the rules were very strictly applied, and this looser usage of the "tu" form is such a relatively recent phenomenon I don't see how it can have anything to do with northern versus southern "personality" differences. If anything I think it might have to do with the fact that the French and Germans are much more "class" and "status" conscious.

Indeed, in the past the rules were very strictly applied. I think that the vitality of this kind of formality also depends more on the social background and the type of education received than age.