0

Suppose someone uses the wrong T-V pronoun in a sentence, e.g. a French person uses "tu" instead of "vous". Is that considered to render the sentence (a) false or (b) without truth-value? If neither, how is the semantic distinction between T and V pronouns characterised?

(I've had to stray from my lane to ask this question, so please be gentle.)

1
  • 1
    Note that in languages where T/V reuses a pronoun that has another function, e.g. in French where vous is also 2cp, you could introduce ambiguity in the interpretation. Not, of course, that that would change the speaker's intended truth values (presumably they only have one in mind), but a different set of truth conditions might be imparted to the hearer... Feb 17 at 18:24

2 Answers 2

11

The choice of register (how respectful you're being) is generally considered a pragmatic matter, not a semantic one. In other words, it could potentially make an utterance infelicitous, but cannot make it untrue.

For an English example, if your boss asks you to come into work while you're sick, saying "fuck that and fuck you, I'm sick as shit" isn't saying anything untrue, but is generally inappropriate for the circumstances. You've violated a pragmatic constraint (the social expectation that you'll use a certain register when talking to your boss), but not a semantic one; you'd reasonably expect your boss to say "that's inappropriate", but not "that's not true".

19
  • 4
    @Remster Those are two contradictory statements. Information about your relative social statuses is semantically irrelevant except as regards respectfulness. It doesn’t change anything about how true or untrue what you say is. Assuming you’re only speaking to one person, the choice between tu and vous is predicated on the level of respectfulness and/or distance your relative social statuses entail (within the scope of the setting and context your particular conversation is happening in). Feb 16 at 18:39
  • 1
    @Remster But whether or not you care about differing social statuses is also pragmatics, not semantics. It wasn’t perhaps a contradiction as such, but if we’re only talking about the semantic (not pragmatic) contents of an utterance, forgetting about respectfulness automatically makes social status irrelevant, because the only place where social status plays any part at all in semantics is the role it plays in selecting an appropriate level of respect (where pragmatics feeds into semantics). The speaker’s beliefs about the world can affect what they say, but whether what they say is true. Feb 16 at 21:28
  • 2
    @Remster Unfortunately, the line between semantics and pragmatics is not always an easy one to draw. I would say register is distinctly pragmatic, not semantic, specifically because it doesn't affect the truth conditions: "I'm sick as shit" isn't an untrue thing to say to your boss, it's just an inappropriate one.
    – Draconis
    Feb 16 at 22:30
  • 1
    @Lambie See the question, where the OP asks about truth values specifically by name. "Meaning" is a term with a lot of different definitions, but "truth value" is one of those definitions, and that's clearly the one the question is about.
    – Draconis
    Feb 18 at 16:35
  • 1
    @Lambie Formal semantics is traditionally considered a part of linguistics.
    – Draconis
    Feb 18 at 16:41
0

Short answer: None whatsover.

  • Tu es allé au marché hier.

  • Vous êtes allé au marché hier.

Both can be true or false or either can. One is the French vous form aka polite form and the other is the tu form aka familiar form. The first shows more social distance from the person and the second is more familiar.

  • The semantic difference concerns only the conjugation of the verb aller in the preterite*. Unlike English, tu and vous take different verb endings.

  • Tu es allé au marché hier.

  • Vous êtes allé au marché hier.

You went to the market yesterday. Both of which are you English.

2
  • 1
    Ah, so if I were to say "Tu es allé au marché hier" to a teacher (say), it would be considered true (assuming the teacher had been to the market yesterday) but rude.
    – Remster
    Feb 16 at 21:05
  • 1
    @Remster You would be being rude, whether it's true or false.
    – Lambie
    Feb 16 at 22:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.