thou, thee

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by mathman, Jan 12, 2018.

  1. mathman Valued Senior Member

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    Thou and theewere in general use as second person singular pronouns, along with the verb art. Why, when, and how id their usage die out, being replaced by you (which had been only plural) are.
     
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  3. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    I think that thou & thee were used to refer to close friends and relatives, while you was used for folks who were known but not close friends or relatives.

    BTW: The Quakers (Society of Friends) always used thou & thee, refusing to imply that most folks were less worthy of being considered friends.
     
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  5. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    The linguists say the movement of a plural into an area of singular but not specified from a multitude is a common pattern.

    It's been happening with "they", moving into "he/she unspecified", for a while now - probably would have completed a while ago had English grammar not been formalized and enforced during the spread of literacy.
     
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  7. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, it's the same with French, tu and toi being reserved for close friends and relations - though it has to be said that modern "compulsory" intimacy is leading to wider use of these terms than a generation ago. So maybe the French are moving in the opposite direction today, with the singular form becoming more widespread at the expense of the formal use of vous.
     
  8. mathman Valued Senior Member

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    Shakespeare's plays and King James bible, both ~1600 use thou and thee throughout. I suspect a gradual evolution to today's usage.
     
  9. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I think the usage still exists today in Yorkshire dialect.
     
  10. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    I think that "thou" was used along with "you". "Thou" was the singular "you", or addressing just one other person, whereas "you" was the plural, when addressing more than one person. However, I think that "you" was also used to address individuals in a formal way, which muddied the waters. Gradually, usage changed until people used "you" exclusively, to address both individuals (formal and informal) and groups.

    French still distinguishes between tu (singular) and vous (plural/formal). German, too, makes a distinction, I believe. Japanese apparently has a whole bunch of different modes of address, with various degrees of formality.
     
  11. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    And don't forget French Canadians, who pronounce it ptoo! (like the sound of spitting out flecks of cigarette butt).
     
  12. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    It possibly also had something to do with the dying out of the letter "thorn" from English, which toward the end of its life looked more like the letter Y. So while "Thou" would have been pronounced as we might imagine, it would have looked more like "You" (although the Y was not quite the same as the Y we have now).
    When you see the sign "Ye Olde Shope" the Y is more correctly the letter thorn so should be pronounced "th".

    I don't think this was the cause of "thou" and the like dying out but may have contributed to the ease at which they were lost. Or whether the loss of the letter was caused by the loss of those words... Cause or effect? No idea. Just think it is worth raising,

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  13. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    This I knew.

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