7

Wikipedia has a good summary of the T-V distinction & the various strategies used across different languages. The singular-plural distinction is just one strategy, and not the most common one. The idea is to emphasize a distinction or distance between speaker & listener. For example, a person with more social power may be addressed in the plural,...


7

The formality distinction you are talking about is sometimes called the "T/V" distinction, because in a lot of the European languages that have a formality distinction in 2nd person singular pronouns have an informal singular with a "t" and a formal singular with a "v" (as many Romance and Slavic languages took the "v" form from the plural, and have similar ...


5

As a partial answer, this dissertation by K. Russell reconstructs verbal morphology of proto-Japonic. Certain morphemes are reconstructed (ch. 4) at the level of proto-Japonic, but others are only reconstructed at a later level such as Old Japanese. The honorific morphemes -as-, -imas-, -tamap- is reconstructed to OJ. No honorific morphemes are reconstructed ...


5

There's an answer here to this frequently-asked question. In fact, lots of people kept using thou and got into trouble for it. This is one reason the Quakers emigrated to Pennsylvania.


3

Yes, in German "sie" means "they", but "Sie" means "you" (polite, singular or plural). Thus also "ihr" ("their") and "Ihr" ("your", polite) and "ihnen" ("to them") and "Ihnen" ("to you", polite). Similarly in Italian "lei" means "she", but "Lei" means "you" (polite).


2

I just remembered that English sometimes uses capitalized pronouns to address or refer to God (Thou, He, etc.).


2

I believe @MarkD's answer is on the right track. I have noticed that in Shakespeare it is quite common for one character to address another as "thou" who in turn addresses him as "you". Particularly I have noticed it between masters and servants and men and women. In contrast, in the novel "The Man Who Ended War" (1912) has this ...


1

Concerning the continental european situation: Addressing an officer in the polite plural can be understood as addressing the office, implying that the actions of the officer are expected to be in accord with their responsibilities, and mostly free of personal value judgement. Consequently, there is--in German or French at least--the same honorific used for ...


1

It seems that, under the common influence of French, and maybe the capitalisation from German, Russian follows the same paradigm as most if not all the Slavic languages, like Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbo-Croatian, and Scandinavian languages, including Finnish, although they are shifting towards using it less anyway. It is not actually clear if Russian ...


1

Note: the usual caveats of asking why about language change apply. All the answers making some social theory about T-V, social class, bibles and so on fail to explain why these factors would not apply to every other language and society with T-V, social class and bibles. In fact, the rise of you - the 2nd person accusative - to replace thou, thee and ye is ...


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