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I can recall reading an article years ago which claimed that some languages have unused "royal" pronouns. That is, these pronouns were only used to refer to royalty as a show of respect or reverence, however, such pronouns had apparently fallen out of favor over time with the general decline of monarchies in the world. I can't remember which languages the article claimed had these pronouns nor what the pronouns were.

I am aware of the concept of the royal we, which appears in English as well as a few other languages, however, I would consider this to be a case of an already existing pronoun being repurposed. I want to know if some languages have a pronoun which is only ever used to refer to royalty and has no purpose otherwise. Most likely, if such pronouns exist, I would expect them to be uncommon and modern native speakers might not even know them. It's also possible that I'm mistaken and pronouns like this don't exist in any major language, in this case it would at least be nice to get some confirmation.

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    Supposedly Thai has such a pronoun set. Though I once asked Bill Gedney, a famous Tai/Thai language specialist, about whether they were actually used. He replied that he used to play badminton with a secretary to the King, and had asked him about that, since it's in all the textbooks. The secretary replied that they were too much trouble, and he and the King always just spoke English. – jlawler Jul 24 at 2:07
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    Doesn't your majesty or your highness count as a pronoun? Thai certainly has royal pronouns, and if the secretary mentioned by @jlawler was forced to use English to avoid them, that rather suggests they are mandatory in Thai. I'm sceptical about it being too much trouble to use them, as Thai speakers are used to navigating a complex personal pronoun system. If the secretary's comment was more than a joke, I suspect he was talking about royal language generally - this goes way way beyond pronouns. – rchivers Jul 24 at 9:58
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    @rchivers Even if Thai has complex personal pronoun it doesn't mean that the royal one is always simple to use. Being mostly familiar with LA Spanish I recognize "vosotros" but to use it is weird and clunky. Luckily defaulting to "ustedes" isn't a problem (replacing informal with formal) but going from a royal form to something else might also feel too weird for the King and his secretary. – gormadoc Jul 24 at 14:31
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    Your majesty et al. are just augmented honorific phrases that use regular pronouns (e.g, your). There are as many of these as people want, in every language where vocal politeness has been elaborated. Usually these are languages in places like Japan or Java where population pressure has made avoiding social friction very important. Such elaboration is not limited to pronouns, but extends to virtually every aspect of language use. – jlawler Jul 24 at 15:27
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    @jlawler Just because they're augmentations of regular pronouns does not mean they are not themselves pronouns. They're used as placeholders for proper nouns, ergo they are pronouns. Other similar augmentations may not be pronouns, but that really doesn't change this usage. Saying otherwise is like saying that adding adjectives to a noun results in a phrase that is not a noun. – Austin Hemmelgarn Jul 25 at 2:03
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From what I've heard, Korean has traditionally had two first-person pronouns reserved for royalty: 과인(gwain, 寡人) and 짐 (jim, 朕). They are both borrowed from classical Chinese, I think.

Korea does not have kings any more, and we only had emperors for a very brief period (when it was an empire in name only), so I'm not sure if there were ever consistent rules for these words, but from what I've heard, gwain was reserved for a king, and jim was for an emperor.

Somewhat amusingly, the original meaning of gwain is "one without enough virtue (寡德之人)" - these kings were such fervent believers of Confucianism that it apparently made perfect sense for them to call themselves "someone who still needs to be more virtuous."

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    Both still exist in Chinese as well, although they are now generally limited to historical use since China doesn’t have any royalty or nobility anymore either. There’s also 殿下, which is sort of halfway between a pronoun and a title, à la ‘Your Highness’. There was a whole range of pronouns reserved for conversation involving royalty (for both ‘I’ and ‘you’ on both sides, like 臣 meaning ‘I’ when speaking to royalty, like ‘your humble servant’), but they’ve pretty much all fallen by the wayside except in historical dramas. Of which, granted, China does have a lot. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 at 8:26
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Yep, Korean also has 전하(殿下) but it corresponds to "your/his highness" and (at least in Korean) I don't think it qualifies as pronoun at all. (Korean also has an interesting deficiency(?) in its pronoun system - there's no polite singular "you" in modern Korean! So everybody uses names/titles instead, and 殿下 can be considered as one of them.) – jick Jul 24 at 17:34
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    This isn’t entirely dissimilar to Chinese. The whole pronoun system is a little deficient, and it’s quite hard sometimes to tell whether something qualifies as a pronoun or not. More or less the only way to tell would be whether you can use something and a pronoun: an honorific like 先生 ‘mister’ works fine with a pronoun (先生、您是… ‘sir, you are…’), whereas I think 殿下 doesn’t (so you’d always just say 殿下是… rather than 殿下、您是…). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 at 17:39
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According to Travis' comment in a Language Log blog post titled Royal Language, a first-person pronoun 朕 (chin) was used exclusively by the Japanese Emperor. (I note that this seems to be the same as the 'jim' mentioned in jick's answer.)

This paper suggests that 'I Ratu' is a second person pronoun used when addressing royalty in Balinese, but also mentions its usage when speaking to a person from a higher social stratum. Meanwhile, this paper says 'gelah' is a first-person pronoun that is used by royalty in Balinese.

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  • You can also include Vietnamese, Tamil, and Malayalam, notice. – JdeBP Jul 25 at 10:15
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Malay (Malaysian, Indonesian and Brunei) is one such language/family of languages. Though the use of royal pronouns are not current in Indonesia (considering Indonesia no longer have functioning royalties) they are still used in Malaysia and Brunei.

First Person pronoun

Malay has several first person pronouns (mainly because the modern Malay language/languages developed from trying to standardize the various Malay dialects/languages):

  • I = saya, aku, gue, gua, kita, kamek, kome, koi etc.

  • When talking to a royal, I = patik (sometimes spelled patek) or hamba (literally means slave)

  • King or Sultan talking, I = beta (Note that this is reserved for the monarch, other members of the royal families don't use this)

Second Person pronoun

  • When talking to a king, you = tuanku (literally means my master but spelled as one word. "ku" = myself, "tuan" = master)

However I would like to note that English also does not use "you" when talking to kings and have an equivalent "Your Majesty" instead.

Third Person pronoun

  • he, she = dia (pronouns in Malay are not gendered)

  • Royal he, she = baginda (Note that this is also used to refer to revered religious figures especially when referring to Prophet Muhammad)

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  • Because of this there are specific phrases that when said without any further context can be interpreted to refer to the king such as "Daulat tuanku!" means happiness/power to the king - it cannot mean anything else because the third person pronoun "tuanku" cannot refer to anyone other than the king (though which king still requires context since Malaysia has 9 kings) – slebetman Jul 25 at 5:40
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    While it’s true that English uses Your Majesty (often in a pronoun-like manner) when addressing a monarch, the simple pronoun you is also used alongside it. Generally, too many repetitions of Your Majesty is avoided. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 25 at 10:53

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