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You In Other Languages: What People Call Each Other Around the World

To English speakers, “you” seems like it should be one of the easiest words to translate. But languages are quirky. In English, “you” is “you” no matter who you’re talking to. But other languages have more options when it comes to second person pronouns. Knowing which version of “you” to use can be trickier than it might seem at first.

With that in mind, here are 3 ways “you” in English is different from “you” in other languages.

Formality and the many different ways to say you in other languages

In English, if you’re speaking directly to someone, you’d say “you” whether you’ve known them for 5 minutes or your entire life. The President is “you”, your child is “you”, your friends are “you”, and your boss is “you.”

But that’s not the case in every language. In some languages, there are multiple possible pronouns depending on your relationship with the person you’re addressing. The pronoun you choose for “you” can signal politeness and deference. It can indicate familiarity or intimacy. And it can even signal contempt.

Linguists call this “T-V distinction,” after the Latin pronouns “tu” and “vos.” And actually, English used to have a T-V distinction. Starting in the 13th century, ye was the formal, respectful version of “you,” used to address the upper classes. Thou was more informal and used for the lower classes.

Over time, ye became you, and people stopped using thou altogether.

The T-V Distinction in Translation

Sometimes, in languages where the formal form of “you” is no longer in general use, it will still be used for translations from languages that maintain the distinction. Read more

The Spanish-Language Rule Book Gets a Much-Needed Update

Spanish is spoken all over the world. It is the official national language in 21 countries, but in each of those countries, it sounds just a little bit different.

For example, according to Wikipedia, in Spain, butter is called mantequilla. In Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, it is called manteca. Coche means car in Spain and Mexico, but almost everywhere else Spanish is spoken, it means “baby stroller.” There are also variations in which verb forms are used when.

Historically, the Spanish Royal Academy has determined what “proper” Spanish sounds like, but since they only focused on the language as it was spoken in Spain, their guidelines were out-of-step with the way Spanish is spoken by the majority of the world’s Spanish speakers. That’s why the Spanish Royal Academy’s new guide, the Nueva Gramática, is so important.

To write the  Nueva Gramátic, Spanish-speaking scholars spent more than 11 years looking at how people speak Spanish in every country where it is commonly spoken. The result is a 3,000 page, 2 volume guide that describes Spanish in all of its many regional variations. Since the last grammar guide was released in 1931, this represents a much-needed update.

According to the Latin American Tribune, in a presentation ceremony for the new book, the Spanish King Juan Carlos called the work “an historic service to the unity of Spanish and, overall, to better cohesion among the Hispanic peoples.”

The director of the Spanish Royal Academy, Victor García de la Concha “comes from the people and seeks the people. Here are all the voices, all the ways of speaking forming a great polyphony. Within the lines of scientific analysis a discourse of humanity circulates throughout (its) 4,000 pages.”

Irregular Verbs Don’t Like Us

Nobody likes irregular verbs. When it comes to learning a new language, these verbs dance to their own drummer, running roughshod over all of the conjugation rules you worked so hard to memorize. Even native speakers sometimes have trouble with them.

As Dr. Spock would say:

“Humans make illogical decisions. So, why do these “illogical” verb forms persist in the language? New research from Oxford University provides us with some clues toward the answer. In a write-up of the study published on the Science Daily website”

Professor Martin Maiden adds:

“Many people will remember groaning at school when faced with irregular French or Spanish verbs and wondering why they were the way they were. Our work helps to explain why they, and their equivalents in many related languages, not only exist but are even reinforced and replicated over time.”

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