Ustedes & Vosotros

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by 0stsee, Jan 21, 2008.

  1. 0stsee Banned


    Anybody knows why vosotros was universally replaced by ustedes in Latin America?
    This made me wonder, because why would you give up vosotros if it could lead to confusion?
    I really needed to get used to ustedes, because everytime someone used las/losinstead of os, or the verb form of ustedes instead of vosotros, I immediately thought of other persons.


  2. jmx

    jmx Senior Member

    Spain / incorrect Spanish
    'Vosotros' isn't used in most of the Canary Islands either, and in western Andalusia there is a common way of speaking in which 'ustedes' is used with the verbal forms corresponding to 'vosotros'. So it's not difficult to guess that the change took place near Sevilla in the first place, and from there it traveled to the Canary Islands and to America.
  3. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    I guess for most (native or proficient) speakers used to this, it's not all that confusing. I also feel I would 'lack' something because I'm used to using a distinct informal second person plural form.

    But then, in English there's also just 'you' for both plural and singular... and in the end it's not so confusing ;) Just a matter of getting used to it.
  4. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    Yes, that's what I heard happened: it was imported from Andalusia along with characteristics like seseo, no leísmo, yeísmo (for a good part).
  5. 0stsee Banned

    Thank you for your responses, guys!

    It puzzles me that in spite of Spanish immigration, vosotros never prevailed in Latin America.

    I guess it's less confusing in English because "you" is always used for the second person, singular or plural.
    Using "ustedes" is like saying instead of "I saw you guys yesterday", "I saw them yesterday".

    Furthermore things are more complicated because "ustedes" can be omitted, in fact in most of the cases, whereas you never leave out the "you" in English.
    E.g. "Are you (guys) going to come tomorrow?" vs "Van a venir mannana?" where the subject can be ustedes or ell@s.

    I'm not saying that "ustedes" is bad or anything. In fact, I'm getting used to it. I just wanted to picture my thoughts; how hard it is for someone who already knows "vosotr@s" to get used to "ustedes", yet not the other way around; and why I find it confusing that "vosotr@s" ceased to be used even though it still exists, unlike English "thou" which is practically not used anymore.


  6. Fray Luis Senior Member

    It's not that vosotros was never used in Hispanic America, but being too formal it pretty much died out. It was still common in poetry and in liturgical used until not many years ago, but it would have been considered too formal in everyday spoken usage. In some countries you can still hear it occasionally in a formal speech, but in these cases it's not rare for the speaker to use it with a verbal form that would correspond to ustedes, because he's not used to using it in spite of having studied that form in school. I wouldn't compare though vosotros with thou, since thou is very obsolete in spite of some use in religious contexts, but it's not exactly equivalent.
  7. Senior Member

    Rocha, Uruguay
    Rio de la Plata Spanish
    Vosotros may sound too formal to Latin American speakers of Spanish nowadays, but in fact usted and its plural form ustedes used to be far more formal than vosotros.
    Usted is a syncope of the dated expression:Vuestra merced --> usted, Vuestras mercedes --> ustedes.
    This seems to have been quite common in the late XVI century, when other syncopes produced: Usía (common form of addressing a judge, from Vuestra señoría) and Vuecencia or Vuecelencia (from Vuestra excelencia).

    For the sake of clarification, syncope is the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word; especially, the loss of an unstressed vowel.

    WHY it was replaced? My guess is it must have been something to do with the inferior social conditions of native Americans (indigenous) as well as those of criollo Spanish descendants, who must have considered noble Spanish settlers were entitled to such formal treatment. The custom prevailed, even though nobility itself was abolished in America.
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2008
  8. the MASTER

    the MASTER Senior Member

    Here and there ...
    English - British
    I think it's a shame that vosotros/vosotras was lost. I like the fact that in European Spanish, there are different verb forms for each of the three persons, singular and plural. It neatly completes the verb conjugation table! Ustedes simply 'steals' the 3rd person plural forms.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 19, 2008
  9. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  10. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    Hello everyone.
    In the singular there was a clear difference between "tú" (singular informal) and "vos" (polite formal and also plural form) in Old Spanish. When the third person form "usted" was invented late 1400's - 1500's, "vos" was deprived of its formal singular use and thus was gradually eliminated (Spain and large chunks of Latin America). In marginal use in Spain (like probably southwest Andalucía) it survived longer and gradually mixed with "tú" before falling out everywhere by the 1700's. Colonizers from the south of Spain took this mixed usage of "voseo" to parts of Latin America at the time when it was still used but on decline and it has since become the norm in Rio Plate dialect. See a message I wrote for another thread below.

    What I do not understand and am hoping you can help me with, is figuring out why what happened with the plural forms is so different and almost the opposite phenomenon of what I described above. During the time "vos" was dying out in Spain, its identical plural form "vosotros" (that which has been addressed years ago in the origin of this thread) increased in popularity to the point of becoming the preferred plural (though the plural polite/third person form "ustedes" parallels its use with singular polite "usted"). There may well have been hesitation in southwest Andalucía too in the plural at the same time tú/vos were being mixed. As some foreros have said, it is still possible to find ustedes/vosotros blended in rural Andalucía.

    Ustedes sus vais a vuestra casa (mixed)
    Vosotros os vais a vuestra casa (vosotros)
    Ustedes se van a su casa (ustedes)

    In contrast to Spanish usage, in all areas of Latin America "vosotros" declined in use and was eventually eliminated from common speech. "Ustedes" is now the plural of "Tú" and/or "Vos" as well as "Usted". In "tuteo" speaking areas there is a certain coherence I suppose. As "vos" disappeared so did "vosotros" in analogy (mind you they share a common origin/etymology and are similar in nature, same pronouns, originally same or similar verb forms"). That's how I would see it at least. But as per the Rio Plate area, etc. I fail to understand why this could have happened.
    Could anyone shed a light on why the elimination of "vosotros" was so universal all across Latin America? And how it happened.
    Is there a link with the mixing of ustedes/vosotros in Andalucía? I think not because these particular hybrid forms were not tranmitted at all (to my knowledge). They certainly would have since that's the precise origin of singular "voseo".

    Vosotros is not formal. It lost its formal connotations in the 16th century when "ustedes < vuestras mercedes" was coined. But even before that it was also informal in old Spanish.

    Were this the case, "vos" would certainly have died out too, and probably "tú" elsewhere. All of these could in certain instances be condescending. Indeed in contemporary Chile, a place where "vos" fell out, if ever used it's insulting in character. Again "ustedes" is more formal than "vosotros", just as "usted" is more formal than "vos". "Vos" is informal in the Rio Plate, as "vosotros" would theoretically be as well, in parallel.

    Outsider. I understand that the informal "vós" plural form has been eliminated rather recently in Portugal in favor of making formal "vocês" the universal plural. Do you have an idea why that has occurred?

    Podéis contestarme en castellano si queréis y si necesitáis una traducción os la propongo, no lo hago ahora por pereza.
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2011
  11. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I don't think I would use the word 'recent'. As far as I know it happened during the 19th century. I don't know why, although that's an interesting question.

    You say 'informal plural', and it's true that 'vocês' derives from a formal, deferential expression, so I suppose originally 'vós' was more informal. But when used as a singular second person 'vós' is usually perceived as formal; definitely more formal than 'tu'. I suppose that's part of the reason why nowadays 'vós' tends to be perceived as formal (if old-fashioned and unusual, and in some cases quaint and regional) even in the plural. It's all rather complicated...
  12. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    Thanks for the information, Outsider :) I suppose I was considering that the 19th century was not so long ago. People still mix the (vós/vocês) forms in Northern Portugal, don't they? "Vocês têm a vossa casa.." "Dizei-vos que vocês vâo..."?
    You're explanation makes sense. When "vós" singular polite fell out of use in Portugal and starting seeming archaic, "vós" plural informal disappeared with it through analogy, leaving "tu" and "você" in the singular and "vocês" the only plural form. I believe this could also be the reason why "vosotros" disappeared in Latin american Spanish leaving tú/usted and ustedes in most areas.
  13. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I've heard that there are people in the rural north that still use vós as a subject pronoun. I am not personally well-acquainted with this phenomenon, but I don't live in the north. Most of the country is passively familiar with vós from church, since the standard Catholic translation of the Bible still uses vós instead of vocês (and as a formal tu).

    A different matter is the use of the possessive pronouns vosso, vossa, etc. (English "your"/ Spanish "su", "sus"), and of the object pronoun vos (English "you", "(to) you"/ Spanish "los"/"las"/"les"). These are used alongside vocês by most Portuguese, even the majority that do not use the subject pronoun vós, in spite of the syntactic inconsistency.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2011
  14. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    In Portugal they use vos, vosso, convosco with vocês, in Brazil we use te, teu, contigo with você, in Argentina and Central America they use te, tu/tuyo with vos (te amo a vos). In Colombia and Costa Rica is not rare to see usted with te in the same sentence (Usted sabe que te quiero, a song by Carlos Palacio).

    my theory
    1. 1st there is a semantic neutralization
    2. then forms of equivalent semantic value can be used together (and when a certain form is reduced only to a regionalism or archaism it is dropped)
    [tu is regional and/or archaic in Brazil, but its forms te, teu, contigo are normally used throughout Brazil;
    vós is regional and/or archaic in Portugal, but its forms vos, vosso, convosco are normally used all over Portugal;
    vos is used in Argentina and Central America, but os and vuestro are not)

    Ustedes 1st became an informal pronoun, afer that vosotros was dropped. (general Latin American Spanish)
    Usted 1st became an informal pronoun, after that tú was dropped. (in Costa Rica)
    Vocês 1st became an informal pronoun, after that vós was dropped. (general Portuguese)
    Você 1st become an informal pronoun, after that tu was dropped. (general Brazilian Portuguese).

    When two forms suffer a semantic generalization, people end up using them at random, for exemple teu/tua and seu/sua in Brazil (both meaning your),
    Ivete Sangalo does not ''respect'' the original lyrics (of her recorded songs) when she sings live: many times she uses sua for tua, or tua for sua in her live shows.
    It's how our brain works. Many times we he think ''in meanings'' and not ''in words''. ;)

    It's not that speakers of Latin American Spanish started using the formal pronoun between themselves...That's the European point of view.
    Ustedes lost the formality it once had, that's all. ;) Now you get the opposite situation: vosotros is seen as archaic and sounds formal and ceremonial in Latin American Spanish. ;)

    In most parts of Colombia people use all three forms: vos, and usted, and all of them are informal, so they mix it the way they like in spontaneous speech. ;)
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2011
  15. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    Interesting theory, Istriano. I thought it stemmed from morphology, semantics and analogy. The forms were reduced, they sounded like "tú" or "usted" [vos hablades> hablás or hablá versus tú hablas and usted habla] then semantic confusion occurred and finally the whole scheme shifted out of analogy. Plus, I always thought there had to be analogy and symmetry. Why would "vos" be maintained and "vosotros" eliminated? Why could "usted" be considered very formal in the singular, yet "ustedes" could be so informal in the plural that you could use it with brothers and sisters but with each one in the singular you wouldn't dare use "usted"?

    If I try to forget the importance of grammatical structures and symmetry, it does make more sense.
    In Spain "tú" and "usted" eat up "vos" while at the same time the whole structure displaces to the plural since it was already a possibility there anyway.
    In Latin America "ustedes" acquaints with "vosotros", but "vosotros" not always with "ustedes" so "vosotros" is eliminated since it's no longer useful.
    (Portugal does the same with "vocês" and "vós" at a later time but keeps object and possessive pronouns to be able distinguish second and third persons. In addition Brazil does it in the singular as well)
    This is divorced from "usted" so the average speaker in LA does not ponder or realize that a similar pronoun is used so differently in the singular and plural.
    This is also divorced form the fact that in River Plate dialect "vos" and "tú" mixed and formed a new hybrid singular scheme so no one identified it with "vosotros" and doesn't see inconsistency in that either.
    So first semantic levelling occurs then the morphology adapts. Symmetry and coherence are irrelevant, so there is no reason.:confused:

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