English and (I believe) Brazilian Portuguese have to varying degrees lost T-V distinction via adoption of the formal second-person pronoun for both formal and informal situations. English completely lost "thou" and "thee", and Brazilian Portuguese largely lost "tu". I ask because modern languages seem to be gradually expanding use of the informal second-person pronoun to cover more situations traditionally using the formal, losing T-V distinction in the opposite way.

It's easy to imagine a cultural decrease in formality leading to a protracted loss of the formal pronoun, but it's fairly difficult to imagine the forces that would lead to a loss of the informal. Was there a period of increasing formality that saw loss of the informal pronoun in English and Brazilian Portuguese?

  • Also Spanish vos and Ustedes Sep 22 at 6:53
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    Why is it difficult to imagine forces leading to the loss of the informal pronouns? Increased formality is one way to word it; another is to suppose that informal pronouns gradually became more and more familiar (used with family and close friends, but with everyone else it’s safer to use the formal ones lest anyone take offence), eventually becoming derogatory (oi, you there!) and being ousted completely. That’s roughly the opposite of what’s currently happening in many societies, where the formal is becoming distant and cold, so the informal is safer, but both are perfectly likely. Sep 22 at 7:49
  • Thou and thee were 2nd person singular in English. We now extend the use of the 2nd person plural in English to the 2nd person singular.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 22 at 9:15
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    @PerryWebb the loss of the 2nd person singular in English seems to have occurred after English (at least fashionable London English) adopted a T-V distinction (possibly under French influence), so at the time of its loss (in the de facto contemporary standard) it was a loss of the informal singular
    – Tristan
    Sep 22 at 9:40
  • Formal pronouns appeared in European paradigms around the 18th and 19th century. There was always flattery of nobles, but with more nobles one needed paradigmatic flattery.
    – jlawler
    Sep 22 at 15:08


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