Speaking to your interlocutor in 3rd person

Kasrav

Senior Member
India - English
I dont know how I used the word interlocutor ! :)

There are some lndian (as in the country in Asia) languages (like Malayalam) where the following conversation is common

A and B are talking to each other. There is no one else around

A : Has B eaten ? instead of Did you* eat
B : yes, just a little while ago..
A : Good . B should take care about his health. And eat healthily and at regular times of the day
B : I shall try to...
etc.


One native speaker of this language mentioend that it was considered respectful (the language does have the tu and vous forms).


What is this called ? Does this exist in other languages ? What are some of the reasons for this practice ?

I find it very quaint !

Gracias
Kasrav
 
  • Grop

    Senior Member
    français
    Some people do it in France, but it is not common: I have only experienced it a few times and found it very impolite. I am tempted to think I misunderstood something, but some people have confirmed it happens.

    I don't know why it happens - there's a theory they just don't know which personal pronoun (tu or vous) to choose, but I don't find it convincing.

    Edit: There's a related thread, concerning children.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    This is very common in Portuguese, and it's a mark of formality.

    For example, "Has grandfather eaten his dinner yet" (a literal translation) is more respectful than "Have you eaten your dinner yet [grandfather]?"

    Also, a shop assistant is more likely to ask a client "Does the lady need any help?" than "Do you need any help?"

    The direct words for "you" are generally seen as too familiar to be used with strangers or people you should be respectful to (especially in Portugal).
     

    palomnik

    Senior Member
    English
    The phenomenon per se exists in languages as far apart as Swedish and Japanese, but I think that it is more institutionalized in Far Eastern languages than in most others. I would hazard a guess that this has to do with the relative fluidity of pronouns in most East Asian languages; while in Afro-Asiatic and Indo-European languages pronoun forms tend to be well-entrenched grammatical forms, they are very apt to change over the course of time in East Asian languages, usually as one traditional polite form gradually is considered less "polite" as it becomes more widespread, and gets replaced by something that sounds more proper. The fact that these languages tend to be highly analytic in structure probably works to encourage the phenomenon.

    The most flagrant case of this I know of is Vietnamese, which has different words for you depending not only on the gender but also the age of the person being addressed; on further review, one realizes that the terms are actually kinship terms, i.e., grandfather, grandmother, older sister/brother, etc. that are being used as terms of address; in effect, third person terms of address are the only ones available. There is, in fact, no neutral word for you in Vietnamese, at least not in the modern spoken variety. I understand that something similar applies in Indonesian, although I have no knowledge of the language.
     

    Kasrav

    Senior Member
    India - English
    Thank you all for the examples and explanations. Incidentally this Portugese example has some resonance in some of the formulas used in
    such contexts in my personal experience of Indian languages. The shopkeeper almost always says What can I get for the señor - Monsieur ¨' Sir´´ ? And I have myself used this construction in a similar grandfather example in my mother tongue !! Looks like in cultures and societies where there are clear boundaries and a need to reinforce them, there is more of this...once again many thanks !

    .
    This is very common in Portuguese, and it's a mark of formality.

    For example, "Has grandfather eaten his dinner yet" (a literal translation) is more respectful than "Have you eaten your dinner yet [grandfather]?"

    Also, a shop assistant is more likely to ask a client "Does the lady need any help?" than "Do you need any help?"

    quote]
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    For example, "Has grandfather eaten his dinner yet" (a literal translation) is more respectful than "Have you eaten your dinner yet [grandfather]?"
    This I consider rather unusual for European languages; Portuguese here is a little bit exotic, I feel.
    Anyway, in German this is not done at all (except in pluralis maiestatis, see below), and it would be a huge surprise to me if it were done in English, French, Italian, Spanish or any Slavic language (in modern usage).

    Also, a shop assistant is more likely to ask a client "Does the lady need any help?" than "Do you need any help?"
    This however I would consider very common and I am quite sure that the exact same phrasing would be possible at least in French (if not all Romance languages).
    It certainly is common in German, even if I would say that this is already a little bit old fashioned and not so likely to occur (although possible) in a trendy fashion shop with young staff.

    And then there's another instance where speaking in the 3rd person to someone else is considered normal: if speaking in the Pluralis Maiestatis (used in former times by Emperors and Kings, old fashioned and only ironically used nowadays, in German) - where the 1st person adresses him- or herself as 'we' - it is also usual, in German, to speak of 2nd persons in the 3rd person.
    So in German a sentence in Pluralis Maiestatis could go approximately like that:
    Servant: Would Your Honour see the chancellor? - Möchte (3rd sg. conjunctive) Euer Gnaden den Kanzler empfangen?
    King: If we must. He (= the servant!) may let him (= the chancellor) in. - Wenn es sein muss. Er möge (3rd sg. conjunctive meaning the servant, 2nd person) ihn eintreiten lassen.

    This of course is, as mentioned, old fashioned and not used any more, except ironically. But once the Pluralis Maiestatis was used (would be my guess) all over Europe - I am just not sure if in other languages than German 2nd persons would have to be addressed in 3rd person like in the example above.
     

    franz rod

    Senior Member
    Italiano
    t would be a huge surprise to me if it were done in English, French, Italian, Spanish or any Slavic language (in modern usage).

    In Italian we use the third person in formal dialogue and with the strangers. Speaking useing "you" with strangers is considered impolite.
    For example the sentence "could I help you?" became "Could I help her?= (Posso aiutarTI?-->Potrei aiutaLA?)
    She (lei) is used also for male.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Lei there works a bit like usted in Spanish and você in Portuguese, though, doesn't it? That still seems a bit different from saying (literally): "May I help the madam?" when you're addressing the madam. :)

    (For those who may be wondering, the sentence really is "May I help the madam?", with "the madam" as the direct object, not in apposition like in "May I help you, madam?")
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    In Italian we use the third person in formal dialogue and with the strangers. Speaking useing "you" with strangers is considered impolite.
    For example the sentence "could I help you?" became "Could I help her?= (Posso aiutarTI?-->Potrei aiutaLA?)
    She (lei) is used also for male.

    There it is, my huge surprise!
    Thanks for putting this right.
     

    SleepingLeopard

    Senior Member
    English - United States (New York)
    We even have one context in English where this is still used. I'm not sure if it's a holdover from older English when there were different forms of "you".

    In the U.S. at least, it's the proper and extremely formal way to speak to a judge in court. You address a judge as "your Honor", and speak to him/her in the 3rd person.

    Has your Honor reached a decision on this ruling?
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Has your Honor reached a decision on this ruling?

    This is Pluralis Majestatis (in this case, adressed by others in this form which would correspond to P. M.; I guess that the judge would not reply in the 'we'-form, so more exactly: a survival of, but not the full form of P. M.).

    I know this one from English films, by the way - just didn't think of it in my previous post.
     

    javier8907

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Spain
    Well, in Spanish there is such a form: "¿Desea algo el señor?", but it will only be used, that I think, by houseworkers addressing their employers or waiters talking to customers very formally -for example, in a posh restaurant.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I can think of a few situations where it seems to be used in English.

    First, it is a polite but slightly condescending way to speak to the elderly. A nurse might speak in third person to a patient, for example, or even in first person plural: "Is Mrs. Johnson having a good day today?" or "Have we finished our dinner tray yet?"

    It is also used, at least in films and novels, as a respectful form of address by a servant to a master or a maitre d' or waiter to a customer. In this context it seems very "upper crust" and exclusive.

    The third case is with children. It's not uncommon to hear parents speaking to their very small children in the third person: "Is Jason ready for bed now?" "It's time for Jason to clean up his room." I'm not sure whether this is an accommodation to the child's level of speech, a way of speaking that is meant to be endearing, or what. I know I did it with my two boys when they were toddlers. Children seem to start with the third person and then work their way to the first person when talking about themselves, so it doesn't seem so odd to speak to them in the same way.
     

    federicoft

    Senior Member
    Italian
    As mentioned above, in Italian the 3rd person is the standard polite person.

    Lei there works a bit like usted in Spanish and você in Portuguese, though, doesn't it? That still seems a bit different from saying (literally): "May I help the madam?" when you're addressing the madam. :)

    True, but differently from Portuguese and Spanish there isn't a special formal pronoun in Italian, we just use the standard 3rd person singular feminine pronoun.

    So we literally say "May I help her?" or "She should take care about her health" when addressing an old venerable lady (or gentleman too - in fact, the feminine form is used with both genders).
     

    javier8907

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Spain
    The third case is with children. It's not uncommon to hear parents speaking to their very small children in the third person: "Is Jason ready for bed now?" "It's time for Jason to clean up his room." I'm not sure whether this is an accommodation to the child's level of speech, a way of speaking that is meant to be endearing, or what. I know I did it with my two boys when they were toddlers. Children seem to start with the third person and then work their way to the first person when talking about themselves, so it doesn't seem so odd to speak to them in the same way.

    As another poster said before, babies learn everything, so if their parents talk to them in third person, they'll most surely learn to speak that way about themselves, and afterwards, as parents switch to speaking properly, they'll learn to do so. I don't remember ever to have listened to my younger sister speaking about herself in third person, nor any other baby.

    Those "special pronouns" for respectful second person in Spanish -and I suppose in Portuguese- are not conjugated in the third person casually. They are contractions of old forms meaning literally "thy mercy". There were, at least in Spanish, more pronouns coming from other forms, such as "usía" -which I don't remember very well, but I think comes from "vuestra señoría" (literally "thy lordship/ladyship")- which was used when speaking to upper class people, and there is one pronoun which may still be in use, although in a very specific context: "vuecencia" -coming from "vuestra excelencia", literally "thy excellence". This is -or was- only used when addressing a general by his subordinates. I can't tell if it continues to be used as I have never been in the army, nor has any of my peers, but my grandfather used it when he did military service some 50 years ago. Of course, in the army, there is also the form "mi general" -"my general"-, used by soldiers below in rank, which is built the same for majors, colonels, sergeants... but I can't make my mind whether it works only as a vocative -"Sí, mi general."- or it's truly a form of addressing somebody in third person -"¿Qué desea mi general/sargento/...?". If this sentence was to be said, though, I can't think of a more appropriate way.

    Judges in a courtroom are addressed in Spanish quite like in English, as "su señoría", or if a vocative, just "señoría" -"Señoría, ............" It's a bit off topic, but once I saw a documentary about the legal system in Nigeria and I was astonished at the sight of an African man -the defence- wearing a white wool wig, talking to another African man with a similar wig -the judge- and addressing him directly as "Lord, ...".

    I can think of a few situations where it seems to be used in English.

    First, it is a polite but slightly condescending way to speak to the elderly. A nurse might speak in third person to a patient, for example, or even in first person plural: "Is Mrs. Johnson having a good day today?" or "Have we finished our dinner tray yet?"

    Quite like in Spanish, but only the first person plural, not the third person singular. One could say "¿Cómo estamos, abuelo?", or "Venga, vamos a la cama" -"Let's go to bed", meaning, "Do you want to go to bed?"- subtly offering help, but it can sound offensive if the person you're talking to is not obviously weakened -"Do you mean I'm old?". Also, the first person plural can be used in Spanish for making recriminatory suggestions: "a ver si estudiamos más" -literally "we ought to study harder".
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It is unusual to use 3rd person references here.
    I remember hearing this in various shops as a child, but not any more.
    It still happens in some restaurants, though somehow more casually and less obsequiously than in the past.

    I know some adults speak like this to children, but it always seems to me that it is the adult learning from the child, and it would be better to speak normally to the child so that the child may learn from the adult.
     

    Miguel Antonio

    Senior Member
    Galego (Rías Baixas)
    Those "special pronouns" for respectful second person in Spanish -and I suppose in Portuguese-
    You suppose rightly: você issued from the contraction of vossa mercê

    It still happens in some restaurants, though somehow more casually and less obsequiously than in the past.
    The same may be said about Spain, "¿desean tomar algo más los señores?" and in some old-fashioned "servant-to-master/mistress" relations.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I've had a consultation with a certain gentleman of my acquaintance (aged 44) who manages a small chain of shops and is, admittedly, rather 'old school' about this kind of thing. He always refers to customers as the/this lady/gentleman, so, talking to a member of his staff:
    Would you help this lady find what she's looking for? OR
    The gentleman would like the same thing but in blue instead of green.

    I call this Cat's Aunt Syndrome, (he calls it Cat's Mother Syndrome but that's another story), as in:
    Me: Would you like a cup of tea, mother?
    My mother: Ooh yes please, four sugars for me.
    My sister [to me, coming into the room]: Does she want a cup of tea or not?
    My mother: Who's 'she'? ~ the cat's aunt?

    Quite often a bare pronoun sounds curt, or dismissive, or both.
     

    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    One would think that linguistically the whole case should be different in languages where words for "you" (for addressing others) exist. Even if there may be funny coincidences in languages where that word is expressed by a 3rd person (Sing. + Pl.). Or maybe they are not simple coincidences...?

    In any case, Portugese is not alone. This use of the 3rd form exists equally in Hungarian and independently of our usual polite form of addressing others in the third person (like Sie in German and Lei in Italian).

    The appearance of the "clear cut" 3rd person as a polite form of addressing others appeared relatively late in our language (which used the informal form, in various ways, up until the 16th century) and only after centuries of mixed use (some bits in informal form, others in formal within the same sentence, referring to the same person) the "proper" formal form had finally appeared - on German influence - in the 18th C.
    Even then it did not go smoothly, there were periods when we had 4 formal addressing words used parallel but up today we haven't managed to choose a word that could be used like vous in French, Lei in Italian, etc, etc. In other words: the introduction of the formal form still has not found its roots "properly" in our language.

    Maybe this is why the use of the 3rd form - Kasrav originally mentioned - could survive so well in Hungarian in similar meaning and context to all those JamesM mentioned in n°14.

    The difference may be just that some extra human warmth, care and special attention could be expressed with it. (Which we obviously don't feel possible with the formal form.) And true, it is becoming a bit old fashioned but I hope (and fairly sure) that it won't disappear definitively.
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    This I consider rather unusual for European languages; Portuguese here is a little bit exotic, I feel.
    Anyway, in German this is not done at all (except in pluralis maiestatis, see below), and it would be a huge surprise to me if it were done in English, French, Italian, Spanish or any Slavic language (in modern usage).

    Slavic languages: Polish uses the third person as a polite form. Subjects are the equivalents of Mr (Pan) and Mrs (Pani) in singular and plural (there is even a neutral form, Państwo, to say "Mr and Mrs" or "Ladies and gentlemen"). This use is normal and standard.

    This however I would consider very common and I am quite sure that the exact same phrasing would be possible at least in French (if not all Romance languages).

    It is absolutely possible: "Madame est servie", "Monsieur désire... ?" are servile or obsequious, but typical, French examples.
    A shop assistant is more likely to use the "vous" form, but a butcher, a grocer... will typically say "Et pour Madame, qu'est-ce que ça sera aujourd'hui ?" Literally: "And for (the) lady, what will it be today?"

    I know some adults speak like this to children, but it always seems to me that it is the adult learning from the child, and it would be better to speak normally to the child so that the child may learn from the adult.

    I concur. But... Some adults speak about themselves using the third person when speaking to their children.
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    I just remembered some dialogues from Jewish writers, where a Jew traditionally asks another Jew: "Where does the Jew come from?"
    I do not have access to Yiddish sources, but Isaac Babel has similar dialogues in his short stories (he wrote in Russian but his characters would have spoken in Yiddish).
     

    viera

    Senior Member
    English/French/Slovak
    ..................
    It is absolutely possible: "Madame est servie", "Monsieur désire... ?" are servile or obsequious, but typical, French examples.
    A shop assistant is more likely to use the "vous" form, but a butcher, a grocer... will typically say "Et pour Madame, qu'est-ce que ça sera aujourd'hui ?" Literally: "And for (the) lady, what will it be today?"
    I don't consider this as true 3rd-person usage, but rather as friendly shop-keeper language. I would be most surprised if the butcher did not switch to the 'vous' form during the conversation.

    In the servant-to-master mode, however, during the entire conversation the butler addresses his master in the third person. "Monsieur est trop bon. Madame désire-t-elle autre chose ?" This can be heard in older plays.
     

    MarX

    Banned
    Indonesian, Indonesia
    In Indonesian we do this all the time.
    In another thread I said:
    Our system of addressing others is much more complicated than European languages in general.
    The words that directly translates to English you are basically used only for people of the same age you know, and for those who are younger than you.

    This is very common in Portuguese, and it's a mark of formality.

    For example, "Has grandfather eaten his dinner yet" (a literal translation) is more respectful than "Have you eaten your dinner yet [grandfather]?"

    Also, a shop assistant is more likely to ask a client "Does the lady need any help?" than "Do you need any help?"

    The direct words for "you" are generally seen as too familiar to be used with strangers or people you should be respectful to (especially in Portugal).
    In Indonesian I cannot imagine myself saying you to my grandfather, nor to my parents.
    Nor would I address a shop assistant with you.

    The phenomenon per se exists in languages as far apart as Swedish and Japanese, but I think that it is more institutionalized in Far Eastern languages than in most others. I would hazard a guess that this has to do with the relative fluidity of pronouns in most East Asian languages; while in Afro-Asiatic and Indo-European languages pronoun forms tend to be well-entrenched grammatical forms, they are very apt to change over the course of time in East Asian languages, usually as one traditional polite form gradually is considered less "polite" as it becomes more widespread, and gets replaced by something that sounds more proper. The fact that these languages tend to be highly analytic in structure probably works to encourage the phenomenon.

    The most flagrant case of this I know of is Vietnamese, which has different words for you depending not only on the gender but also the age of the person being addressed; on further review, one realizes that the terms are actually kinship terms, i.e., grandfather, grandmother, older sister/brother, etc. that are being used as terms of address; in effect, third person terms of address are the only ones available. There is, in fact, no neutral word for you in Vietnamese, at least not in the modern spoken variety. I understand that something similar applies in Indonesian, although I have no knowledge of the language.
    :thumbsup:
    You're absolutely right.
    In Indonesian, the verbs don't change according to person, number, tense, etc.
    The English words eat, eats, eating, ate, eaten all translate into a single word in Indonesian (makan).
    Interestingly, in spite of the freedom to choose which pronoun to use, we often simply omit it altogether.

    The conversation:
    A: Where are you going?
    B: I'm just going to take a walk.

    would be translated as:
    A: Want to where?
    B: Just want walk-walk.

    This I consider rather unusual for European languages; Portuguese here is a little bit exotic, I feel.
    Anyway, in German this is not done at all (except in pluralis maiestatis, see below), and it would be a huge surprise to me if it were done in English, French, Italian, Spanish or any Slavic language (in modern usage).

    there's another instance where speaking in the 3rd person to someone else is considered normal: if speaking in the Pluralis Maiestatis (used in former times by Emperors and Kings, old fashioned and only ironically used nowadays, in German) - where the 1st person adresses him- or herself as 'we' - it is also usual, in German, to speak of 2nd persons in the 3rd person.
    Where I live, sometimes people say er/sie instead of du/Sie.
    Kind of unusual, but you hear it from time to time.

    By the way, I thought Pluralis Maiestatis is about replacing singular pronouns with plural, but not with 3rd person pronouns, among the nobles.
    So Wir instead of ich, Ihr instead of du.
     

    DearPrudence

    Dépêche Mod (AL mod)
    IdF
    French (lower Normandy)
    Some people do it in France, but it is not common: I have only experienced it a few times and found it very impolite. I am tempted to think I misunderstood something, but some people have confirmed it happens.

    I don't know why it happens - there's a theory they just don't know which personal pronoun (tu or vous) to choose, but I don't find it convincing.
    I completely agree with Grop. Once, I went to the post office & as I looked young, but not as if I was 8 either, I guess she was uncomfortable & referred to me as "she": "Alors, elle veut retirer de l'argent ?" "So, she wants to withdraw money?"). What? Who is "she"? Oh, wait, there is nobody else in the room (yes, it was in a small village), we haven't mentioned a third person... That must be me!!
    Honestly, I was kind of hurt. As if I didn't deserve a simple "vous". I do think in this case, it was because she didn't know what pronoun to use but in this particular case, the result was disastrous as I felt insulted & humiliated... (of course, the "tu" would have insulted me as well)

    Also, the case of nurse/patient has been mentioned. I also find it far too patronizing & insulting (I'm looking forward to being in an old age house... :rolleyes:)
    "Il a bien pris ses petites pilules bleus, le débile mental" :rolleyes:
    "Has the dumbass taken his little blue pills"

    A shop assistant is more likely to use the "vous" form, but a butcher, a grocer... will typically say "Et pour Madame, qu'est-ce que ça sera aujourd'hui ?" Literally: "And for (the) lady, what will it be today?"
    My mother was also offended when a patient of hers, who was a checkout lady, told her at the till: "Alors, elle veut quoi, la p'tite dame" ! ("So, what does the lady wants?" or something like that), as if she didn't know my mother. That just sounds distant, detached, patronizing and therefore, rather insulting.
     

    MarX

    Banned
    Indonesian, Indonesia
    I completely agree with Grop. Once, I went to the post office & as I looked young, but not as if I was 8 either, I guess she was uncomfortable & referred to me as "she": "Alors, elle veut retirer de l'argent ?" "So, she wants to withdraw money?"). What? Who is "she"? Oh, wait, there is nobody else in the room (yes, it was in a small village), we haven't mentioned a third person... That must be me!!
    Honestly, I was kind of hurt. As if I didn't deserve a simple "vous". I do think in this case, it was because she didn't know what pronoun to use but in this particular case, the result was disastrous as I felt insulted & humiliated... (of course, the "tu" would have insulted me as well)

    Also, the case of nurse/patient has been mentioned. I also find it far too patronizing & insulting (I'm looking forward to being in an old age house... :rolleyes:)
    "Il a bien pris ses petites pilules bleus, le débile mental" :rolleyes:
    "Has the dumbass taken his little blue pills"


    My mother was also offended when a patient of hers, who was a checkout lady, told her at the till: "Alors, elle veut quoi, la p'tite dame" ! ("So, what does the lady wants?" or something like that), as if she didn't know my mother. That just sounds distant, detached, patronizing and therefore, rather insulting.
    Apparently it doesn't happen only in German.

    In Indonesian there is also a way to address people using a pronoun that means something like "the it" (situ), I consider it impolite, but I can understand if someone simply doesn't know how to address the other person. As I said earlier, in Indonesian there is a much more complicated system than just tu vs. vous. Even I as a native speaker sometimes don't know how to adress someone in certain situations.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Well, in Portuguese addressing a person who's standing in front of you as "he" or "she" is also very disrespectful. When I say that people are addressed in the 3rd. person, I do not mean as "he" or "she", but as "the madam", "the gentleman", "father", "mother", "grandpa" and so on.

    Even if you are speaking to someone else, referring to a person who is present in the room as "he" or "she" will come off as rude unless you're speaking to friends in a very colloquial register. (One exception is children, who are routinely referred to in the 3rd. person even when they are present.)

    There's an interesting thread about Spanish in another forum: La señora.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    By the way, I thought Pluralis Maiestatis is about replacing singular pronouns with plural, but not with 3rd person pronouns, among the nobles.
    So Wir instead of ich, Ihr instead of du.

    Yes of course, you are right here certainly: instead of 1st person singular Pluralis Maiestatis uses 1st person plural, in referring to oneself.
    And His or Her Majesty is spoken to from chancellors, servants etc. in plural too (2nd plural in German, "Eure Majestät").

    But second person gets changed, in case that the monarch is speaking, not to second plural, but to third persons, so when a monarch will adress a servant it is (or should be, in Pluralis Majestatis) 3rd person singular, an example in German: Er bringe mir ...
    With this, many times conjunctive is used (for whatever reason; seems to be just that little bit more distanced, and polite).
    In any case Pluralis Maiestatis is something similar to adressing your interlocuters in the 3rd person, but essentially not the same, of course.
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    I don't consider this as true 3rd-person usage, but rather as friendly shop-keeper language. I would be most surprised if the butcher did not switch to the 'vous' form during the conversation.

    I don't think this is so friendly. Maybe some shopkeepers think they sound cheerful, reassuring, traditional... but there is something patronising and sexist about this way of speaking - even if it is maintained in a more correct way than in the context DearPrudence mentioned.
    I think "Qu'est-ce qu'il veut, le (petit) monsieur ?" is not only seldom heard but also rude. However, I agree, the rudest part here is 'petit'.
     

    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    I often wondered about that, Nanon. As a stranger, you hear it so often, you get the impression that it is a "standard" term.
    Although I was most surprised once when I answered to a particularly disagreeable person that "I am not anybody's 'petite dame' " that she was not offended at all; so I began to doubt seriously any "good will" behind the term from that on. :)
     

    viera

    Senior Member
    English/French/Slovak
    Back when we were teenagers, a Slovak friend of mine told me that she always addressed her grand-mother in the third person. Slovak has the standard tu and vous forms, but also a form using the third-person plural pronoun oni: tykať, vykať and onikať. This was the only time I had ever heard of it and I don't suppose it's much used any more.
     

    Jocaste

    Senior Member
    Français
    Some people do it in France, but it is not common: I have only experienced it a few times and found it very impolite. I am tempted to think I misunderstood something, but some people have confirmed it happens.
    In fact, in Charente but rather in Charente Maritime in France (I speak for the localities I know), people do use the third person instead of the 'you' because it's part of the dialect here.
    I've often heard it in some pubs when the barman asks if I want something to drink : "How is she today ? What will she have ?".
    People might feel uncomfortable or ill-at-ease if they're not used to it, but it has nothing to do with impoliteness, at least in this region of France, as I can't tell for the others.
     

    Flaminius

    hedomodo
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Japanese has a few personal pronouns for each person but none of them is appropriate when one is referring to one's interlocutor in a formal language. In fact, most second and third person pronouns are impossible to use without sounding angry or reproachful.

    Instead, general nouns that indicate what the interlocutor is to one is used. A shopkeeper often addresses her customer by okyakusan (literally, honourable customer). Friendlier address forms are; father, mother, elderBrother or elderSister, which are used for older men and women, younger men and women. Customers in return address those who service them by their occupations or job titles: honourable grocer, honourable fish vendor and so on.

    President, director, department head and other words meaning positions are good references in companies and organisations. One can also refer one's interlocutor by his family name. Given names are reserved for private conversations but people often get into very friendly relationships without knowing each other's given name.
     

    jazyk

    Senior Member
    Brazílie, portugalština
    This is very common in Portuguese, and it's a mark of formality.
    I'd agree with you if you said very common in Portugal, since it's not common at all in Brazil. I do, though, have a cousin who talks to my aunt in the third person, which I found extremely odd (O que a tia vai fazer? - What is aunt going to do?). I guess he does that because he doesn't want to say a senhora - which is literally speaking third person but is felt as second person, because my aunt hates that form of address and he would feel uncomfortable with using você - which in Brazil is an informal pronoun. We do, though, make fun of him for talking like that and even my aunt once was exasperated at it and told him that, but he still won't change.

    P.S. The strange thing is that he's 26 years old. I can't possibly think where he heard somebody talk like that and he's not the kind of person who reads much, much less books written in Portugal.
     
    This form of address used to be very common, indeed normal, in Swedish, until not that awfully long ago!

    If you had the Bishop's wife to tea, for instance, it would be quite normal to ask her: "Would the Bishopess like another cup of tea?"

    It would be much more polite than using "ni" (corresponding to the French "vous") - which you would use to people you didn't know, like someone you met in the street.

    To avoid the problem of using everybody's titles, sometimes, more familiarly (but less politely) used the passive form instead, like:

    "Skas de has litet mera te?" (Shall it be had some more tea?) - where, incidentally, not only the main verb (to have) but also the auxiliary verb (shall) was put in the passive form!

    All this became SO ridiculous that it led to a leading Swedish newspaper proposing the "Du Reform", that is, that everybody should simply call everybody "du" (corresponding to the French or Spanish "tu", or the old English "thou", or the German "du").

    (In the olden times, only the people from the Province of Dalecarlia were known to address everybody, including the King, with "du"!)

    This simple solution appealed to the Swedes, who were fed up to the teeth with the traditional convoluted way of addressing people (which meant that you had to know their proper title, for starters!), and it was universally adopted very quickly - and, these days, you just simply address everybody with "du", and nobody bats an eyelid!

    But it just shows the power of the press and the media, donnit, to be able to change a whole culture, and a whole nation, practically overnight? ;-)
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    But it just shows the power of the press and the media, donnit, to be able to change a whole culture, and a whole nation, practically overnight? ;-)

    A very interesting story indeed!
    Incidentally, the formal address of Pluralis Maiestatis was widely used in Austria till the end of monarchy I'd guess (this would have been 1918, but if it wasn't in use so long then at least till the end of the 19th century): but only from (and to) very high members of the nobility if not only the royal family (I am not very familiar with the proper etiquette at the time, and what I know from films and books might actually, to a degree, be not correct use according to the proper etiquette at the time but later imagination).

    Also, in everyday life it was very important to use the title when addressing a person (we had a great many honorary titles for civil servants, and we still have some), and parents in the upper classes were addressed with 'Sie - vous' by their children.
    This all has changed very much towards more use of 'Du' while 'Sie' still is widely used (two Swedish furniture chains yet haven't succeeded in using the 'Du' in their shops even though one has tried very hard).
    The use of third person in Austria really is nowadays completely restricted to:
    - doctor-patient-speech (1st plural would be more usual: "now how do we feel today?" but 3rd singular still is possible, I guess, though certainly old fashioned: "how does Mr XXX feel today?")
    - with children, as seems to be the case in many languages
    - and only ironically in Pluralis Maiestatis (there was a 'Emperor-Show' recently here in Austria, kind of political cabaret, which is why this style has gained some popularity recently, for ironical use)

    By the way, very interesting fact about Charente (Maritime), Jocaste ... I guess I would have thought that the locals were making fun of me, would I ever have travelled there before reading your post. ;-)
     
    In fact, in Charente but rather in Charente Maritime in France (I speak for the localities I know), people do use the third person instead of the 'you' because it's part of the dialect here.
    I've often heard it in some pubs when the barman asks if I want something to drink : "How is she today ? What will she have ?".
    People might feel uncomfortable or ill-at-ease if they're not used to it, but it has nothing to do with impoliteness, at least in this region of France, as I can't tell for the others.

    Now, this is very interesting, since I also remember this particular turn of phrase from my early days in my native Sweden - long before the "du reform", of course! I think it was very probably dialectal rather than general there too, but I vividly remember being addressed in just that fashion, using exactly the same kind of wording!

    And, regarding addressing children in the third person, and elderly people in the first people plural with the Royal We: this must be general, for I have heard the same wordings both in Sweden and in Britain!
     

    susantash

    Senior Member
    Español de Uruguay
    You suppose rightly: você issued from the contraction of vossa mercê

    Exactly! "Vuestra merced"-in spanish-required the use of the third person, since it was considered VERY rude for a peasant to adress a lord in the second person. A peasant was not worthy of speaking to a lord, but the need for communication did exist; so a solution was to adress the latter in the third person, as if the lord wasn't there and the peasant was just talking about him, instead of to him.
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    I haven't been in a Yiddish-speaking environment since I was a child, but I believe that it is still polite to use the third person when addressing a person of rank or one to whom you want to show respect.

    In Hebrew, you don't hear this much any more. I don't think children still address their teacher as "Hamorah" (The teacher), but you can sometimes here "hanahag" (the driver) on the bus when the rear door doesn't open or something. Some sales staff in shops, usually older people, still say "What does madam/sir want?"

    Speaking of oneself in the third person when addressing children is done in Hebrew, too, but I think only by close relatives.
     

    palomnik

    Senior Member
    English
    Japanese has a few personal pronouns for each person but none of them is appropriate when one is referring to one's interlocutor in a formal language. In fact, most second and third person pronouns are impossible to use without sounding angry or reproachful.

    Instead, general nouns that indicate what the interlocutor is to one is used. A shopkeeper often addresses her customer by okyakusan (literally, honourable customer). Friendlier address forms are; father, mother, elderBrother or elderSister, which are used for older men and women, younger men and women. Customers in return address those who service them by their occupations or job titles: honourable grocer, honourable fish vendor and so on.

    President, director, department head and other words meaning positions are good references in companies and organisations. One can also refer one's interlocutor by his family name. Given names are reserved for private conversations but people often get into very friendly relationships without knowing each other's given name.

    You can probably take this a step further and say that in formal situations (and maybe even in informal ones!) in Japanese the person who is speaking, and who is being spoken to, is indicated by the choice of verbs and verbal endings as much as by the actual pronouns used.

    Bear in mind that Japanese verbs have no personal endings; the choice of verbs and the the endings used with them indicate the level of respect accorded and the closeness of relationship to the speaker.
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    This form of address used to be very common, indeed normal, in Swedish, until not that awfully long ago!
    Even me, slightly younger, remembers it!

    If you had the Bishop's wife to tea, for instance, it would be quite normal to ask her: "Would the Bishopess like another cup of tea?"

    It would be much more polite than using "ni" (corresponding to the French "vous") - which you would use to people you didn't know, like someone you met in the street.

    To avoid the problem of using everybody's titles, sometimes, more familiarly (but less politely) used the passive form instead, like:

    "Skas de has litet mera te?" (Shall it be had some more tea?) - where, incidentally, not only the main verb (to have) but also the auxiliary verb (shall) was put in the passive form!
    I'm not so sure that the last example is a correct recollection, but if not, it's a near miss. My take would be "Får det lov att vara lite mer te" (Would it be allowed to be some more tea).

    My mother (now 92) never used the familiar thou to her parents. It had to be "Would Mother like some..." etc. I remember at my wedding party in 1970, being used to using 'du' to retired professors and whatever, I accidentally used it for my maternal grandma, then 83, and got a scolding that should have been saved for posterity.

    All this became SO ridiculous that it led to a leading Swedish newspaper proposing the "Du Reform", that is, that everybody should simply call everybody "du" (corresponding to the French or Spanish "tu", or the old English "thou", or the German "du").
    To be more exact, the one person credited with the "du" reform was the first Director-General of the National Board of Health and Welfare, Bror Rexed. On his first day of office, he announced that the form of address between him and any employee and between them should be "du". He got the nickname "Du-Rex"; Durex being the best known brand of condoms...

    (In the olden times, only the people from the Province of Dalecarlia were known to address everybody, including the King, with "du"!)
    A standard story is when the then crown prince was visiting the province, and asked a native "Is it true that you address everybody using 'thou'?" Answer (clumsily translated): "Yes, everybody but thou and thine father'."
    This simple solution appealed to the Swedes, who were fed up to the teeth with the traditional convoluted way of addressing people (which meant that you had to know their proper title, for starters!), and it was universally adopted very quickly - and, these days, you just simply address everybody with "du", and nobody bats an eyelid!
    But... now the 3rd person you "Ni" is returning, especially among younger shop assistants, to show some reverence. Not everybody accepts it, though! Some addressees feel an unnecessary distance created.
     

    MarX

    Banned
    Indonesian, Indonesia
    But... now the 3rd person you "Ni" is returning, especially among younger shop assistants, to show some reverence. Not everybody accepts it, though! Some addressees feel an unnecessary distance created.
    "Ni" is still 2nd person.
    3rd person would be "hon", "han", or "dom".

    I honestly can't remember hearing "ni" used as a polite form when I was in Sweden. But I can't really judge since I was not in Stockholm. It seems to be a Stockholm thing and is perhaps spreading. I've no idea.

    Interestingly, here, the IKEA shops use du as well. Something that is otherwise quite unusual. I don't think it's bad nor good. Just interesting.

    Salam
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    "Ni" is still 2nd person.
    3rd person would be "hon", "han", or "dom".
    Of course. I'm embarassed. Also, 3rd hon or han for addressing disappeared in the fourties/fifties.
    I honestly can't remember hearing "ni" used as a polite form when I was in Sweden. But I can't really judge since I was not in Stockholm. It seems to be a Stockholm thing and is perhaps spreading. I've no idea.
    I have no idea of where it started. It is there, though. Just last week, when booking a hotel room on the phone, there was an amusing hesitation from the receptionist before deciding on "Ni".

    Interestingly, here, the IKEA shops use du as well. Something that is otherwise quite unusual. I don't think it's bad nor good. Just interesting.
    IKEA would be the last setup to revert to Ni. Even site managers are undistinguishable from the apprentice hired yesterday. Same dress, same name badges.
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    Speaking in 3rd person in Finnish was adopted from Swedish but obviously it has been used in a different way. Generally it was used only between different social classes. An upper class speaker would use the name of a lower class interlocutor ("Hasn't Maria washed the dishes yet?") or pronoun ("How can she use so much time for dishwashing!") but a lower class speaker would address an upper class person by his/her title ("Can doctor give me an advice?").

    Today you can hear somebody use the 3rd person only for joking (make-believe class difference) except one special case: When a politician (or a high rank businessman) is interviewed by a reporter and he/she wants to oppose the claim of the reporter, he/she most often uses the 3rd person: "Does reporter really believe that..." or "I think that reporter has got wrong information...". Note that he/she is using the title of the interviewer although he/she obviously thinks that the reporter is a lower class person.
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    Hi all

    South Africa is made up of different communities, and in the community where I come from we never address our parents (and others holding a high rank) with "you", "your" or "yours" which in Afrikaans translate as "jy", "jou", and "joune" respectively. The moment you address someone using these pronouns, you are suggesting that you are addressing an equal. So saying to your parents, for example, "jy" , "jou", or "joune" is to suggest that you not my parents but my equal. In English, it would sound less disrespectful but disrespectful nevertheless. Children might have quarrels with their parents, but they won't start addressing their parents as "jy", "jou" or "joune" or even "julle" for the plural. It is just not done. Also, older people you don't address with the 2nd person pronoun. Now, when I think about it, I also don't address my aunts and uncles with 2nd person pronouns.

    I can't talk for other communities in South Africa, and I can't recall either as I've been mostly abroad of late. I would assume that if they speak Afrikaans it would be the same. This also applies to English in my own community which is nowadays more dominant than Afrikaans esp. amongst the newer generations.
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Hi all

    South Africa is made up of different communities, and in the community where I come from we never address our parents (and others holding a high rank) with "you", "your" or "yours" which in Afrikaans translate as "jy", "jou", and "joune" respectively. The moment you address someone using these pronouns, you are suggesting that you are addressing an equal. So saying to your parents, for example, "jy" , "jou", or "joune" is to suggest that you not my parents but my equal. In English, it would sound less disrespectful but disrespectful nevertheless. Children might have quarrels with their parents, but they won't start addressing their parents as "jy", "jou" or "joune" or even "julle" for the plural. It is just not done. Also, older people you don't address with the 2nd person pronoun. Now, when I think about it, I also don't address my aunts and uncles with 2nd person pronouns.

    I can't talk for other communities in South Africa, and I can't recall either as I've been mostly abroad of late. I would assume that if they speak Afrikaans it would be the same. This also applies to English in my own community which is nowadays more dominant than Afrikaans esp. amongst the newer generations.

    How do you handle it when speaking English to parents/elders?
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    How do you handle it when speaking English to parents/elders?

    I don't recall speaking to my parents (or uncles and aunts) in English, only in colloquial Afrikaans. However, I remember in Australia when I was teaching at one of the schools I would refer to some of the senior staff in the third, and they would look around thinking who am I referring to. I wasn't sure whether or not they were joking. In English, I think, I've grown out of it somewhat. I do remember recently that I felt somewhat bad when I referred to an elderly professor as "you". I think, though, that in English you can speak to someone respectfully if you use in addition to "you" a respectful title, e.g. "Professor So-and-So, how do you feel about ...?" I think using the title make the use of "you" less disrespectful.

    Should I address, for example, one of my Aunts in English, I would say:

    "How is Aunty Kaamilah going home this evening? Is Rashied (her son) coming to fetch Aunty Kaamilah? Otherwise I can always take Aunty Kaamilah home. But if Aunty Kaamilah prefers that Rashied must come, then that's also fine".

    I don't think that I'll say: "Aunty Kaamilah, how are you going home this evening? Is Rashied coming to fetch you, Aunty Kaamilah?" Yes, I won't use this way of address when I come to think of it.

    I hope that answers the question somewhat.
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    So, how do you address your elders in Afrikaans? :)

    Wherever "you" is used in a conversation you would put the person's title or name that he is respectfully known by. A nextdoor neighbour of ours goes by the name of "Moos" but we refer to him as "Boeta Moos". "Boeta" is used as a way to prevent an elder or senior from being directly referred to by name. So to "cushion" the use of the name we say "Boeta So-and-so". So wherever one would normally use "you", "your" or "yours" we would use "Boeta Moos" instead e.g. "Waar het Boeta Moos Boeta Moos se kar geparkeer?" (Where did Boeta Moos park Boeta Moos's car?).

    Similarly, I've only ever referred to my mother as "Ma", "Mammie" or "Mamma", e.g. "Wie kom vir Mammie haal vanoggend?" (Who is coming to fetch Mammie this morning?).

    I hope this answers your question.
     

    MarX

    Banned
    Indonesian, Indonesia
    Hi all

    South Africa is made up of different communities, and in the community where I come from we never address our parents (and others holding a high rank) with "you", "your" or "yours" which in Afrikaans translate as "jy", "jou", and "joune" respectively. The moment you address someone using these pronouns, you are suggesting that you are addressing an equal. So saying to your parents, for example, "jy" , "jou", or "joune" is to suggest that you not my parents but my equal. In English, it would sound less disrespectful but disrespectful nevertheless. Children might have quarrels with their parents, but they won't start addressing their parents as "jy", "jou" or "joune" or even "julle" for the plural. It is just not done. Also, older people you don't address with the 2nd person pronoun. Now, when I think about it, I also don't address my aunts and uncles with 2nd person pronouns.

    I can't talk for other communities in South Africa, and I can't recall either as I've been mostly abroad of late. I would assume that if they speak Afrikaans it would be the same. This also applies to English in my own community which is nowadays more dominant than Afrikaans esp. amongst the newer generations.
    I don't recall speaking to my parents (or uncles and aunts) in English, only in colloquial Afrikaans. However, I remember in Australia when I was teaching at one of the schools I would refer to some of the senior staff in the third, and they would look around thinking who am I referring to. I wasn't sure whether or not they were joking. In English, I think, I've grown out of it somewhat. I do remember recently that I felt somewhat bad when I referred to an elderly professor as "you". I think, though, that in English you can speak to someone respectfully if you use in addition to "you" a respectful title, e.g. "Professor So-and-So, how do you feel about ...?" I think using the title make the use of "you" less disrespectful.

    Should I address, for example, one of my Aunts in English, I would say:

    "How is Aunty Kaamilah going home this evening? Is Rashied (her son) coming to fetch Aunty Kaamilah? Otherwise I can always take Aunty Kaamilah home. But if Aunty Kaamilah prefers that Rashied must come, then that's also fine".

    I don't think that I'll say: "Aunty Kaamilah, how are you going home this evening? Is Rashied coming to fetch you, Aunty Kaamilah?" Yes, I won't use this way of address when I come to think of it.
    Wherever "you" is used in a conversation you would put the person's title or name that he is respectfully known by. A nextdoor neighbour of ours goes by the name of "Moos" but we refer to him as "Boeta Moos". "Boeta" is used as a way to prevent an elder or senior from being directly referred to by name. So to "cushion" the use of the name we say "Boeta So-and-so". So wherever one would normally use "you", "your" or "yours" we would use "Boeta Moos" instead e.g. "Waar het Boeta Moos Boeta Moos se kar geparkeer?" (Where did Boeta Moos park Boeta Moos's car?).

    Similarly, I've only ever referred to my mother as "Ma", "Mammie" or "Mamma", e.g. "Wie kom vir Mammie haal vanoggend?" (Who is coming to fetch Mammie this morning?).
    That's exactly what we do in Indonesian!

    That's why I said that we use words that translate directly to "you" only to the persons of your age you know, or sometimes to inferiors.

    I never say "you" to my parents, not even to my older sister.

    Neither do I say "(s)he" or "they" when talking about my parents. I always say either Papa, Mama, or Papa Mama.
     
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