Politeness in Romania

Address Forms

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007
34 Pages, Grade: 2+


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definitions

3. General Information on Romanian Pronouns of Address

4. The Questionnaire
4.1. Concept
4.2. The Respondents
4.3. Romanian and German Responses to the Questionnaire
4.4. The Governing Principle: Power vs. Solidarity

5. Insecurity: Playing it Safe

6. The Role of Status
6.1. Appellatives Revealing Marital Status: Miss/Fräulein/Domnişoară
6.2. The Expression of Differences in Status

7. Conclusion

8. References

1. Introduction

In this term paper I will examine the use of address forms and especially the pronouns of address in the Romanian language. The main part of this paper consists of the evaluation of a questionnaire on the use of Romanian pronouns and its comparison to an equivalent questionnaire on German pronouns. In my analysis I want to investigate the hypothesis that Germans lean more towards the principle of “solidarity”, while for Romanians “power” is the decisive factor for the choice of address forms. This thesis will be extended by saying that for Romanians not only “power” but “status” in general is a very important feature of communication. To show this I will compare the courtesy titles Miss, Fräulein, and the Romanian equivalent domnişoară, and provide further examples illustrating the importance of expressing social status in the Romanian language.

I chose this topic for a number of reasons. What first gave me the idea was that in Leo Hickey and Miranda Stewart’s book Politeness in Europe Romania is not included. The chapter “Eastern Europe” only contains Estonia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. I felt that there was a gap to be filled. So I called my paper “Politeness in Romania” following the pattern of their book. What encouraged me was that I can speak, read, and understand Romanian well enough to dare working with Romanian academic texts. My interest for the topic grew even more when I found out that on Romanian politeness there is relatively little literature available in German or English. I wanted to add something to this rather small assortment, hoping to raise interest for the Romanian language, especially since Romania has become a member of the European Union on the 1st of January 2007. The special topic of address forms I chose on the one hand because the presentation I did on the article by Roger Brown and Albert Gilman “The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity” motivated me to do so. On the other hand, the Romanian language provides a great field of study when it comes to pronouns of address because it has a remarkable diversity of address forms. I found this especially interesting since being a German I am used to the two-dimensional scale of “siezen” and “duzen”, but in Romanian, there are quite a number of nuances in between these two. Above that, the Romanian language has several different terms (e.g. politicos, cumsecade, cuviincios, de treabă, de omenie, cu bun simţ) to translate the English term polite (cf. Roceric 1995:101), which might already imply that it is a fruitful field of investigation for a term paper on politeness.

All examples, glosses, translations, charts, etc. that occur in this paper without a given reference were done by myself.

2. Definitions

Starting out I will provide definitions of some of the main terms that I will base my paper on, namely “politeness”, “formal”, “informal”, and “familiar”. Further terms such as “politeness pronoun”, “power”, and “solidarity” will be defined later on.

There is a wide range of definitions for the term “politeness”, which makes it hard to decide for one to work with. “The basic substance of the notion [politeness] is that it consists of mutually shared forms of consideration for others” (Watts 2003:50). For a definition to base this paper on, I will use one that describes the term in a general sense and does not lead away too much from the basic substance. I will understand politeness as “the set of social values which instructs interactants to consider each other by satisfying shared expectations” (Sifianou 1992, cited by Watts 2003:53). Talking about forms of address, the term can be confined: Being “polite” when it comes to the use of address forms means “getting the linguistic expression of social distance right as far as your addressee is concerned” (Holmes 2001:271).

Talking about pronouns of address, I will use expressions such as “more formal pronoun” or “more informal pronoun”. Referring to the German language with “formal pronoun” I will always mean Sie, with “informal pronoun” I mean du. For the Romanian language the matter is more complicated. So these terms need to be defined in a more general way. “Formal” is a characteristic of or befitting a person in authority (cf. AHD 2003) that adheres to traditional standards of correctness without casual, contracted, or colloquial forms and that has an impersonal touch to it (cf. KLUGE 2002:309). So “formal pronouns” are normally used to strangers or persons of “superiority” and they are often seen to be more polite than “informal pronouns”. Such “informal pronouns” foster a warm or friendly and informal atmosphere (cf. AHD 2003), and are used in unofficial or casual contexts. I will use the term “informal” interchangeably with “familiar”, whereas a “familiar pronoun” is one that is used for friendships, intimacy, or persons with mutual interests or affections.

3. General Information on Romanian Pronouns of Address

The Romanian language (limba română) is the official language of Romania and “is also called Daco-Romanian” (Maurice 2001:229). It is a Romanic language that allows for two basic ways of addressing someone. On the one hand, there exists a two-dimensional system similar to the German “siezen/duzen”-distinction. On the other hand, this system is enriched by a number of “politeness pronouns” that can be used to express a certain level of politeness. This series of pronominal forms, whose only purpose lies in expressing respect and familiarity in various nuances, is a Romanian particularity that distinguishes it from other Romanic languages (cf. Vârlan 2004:4).

At first, I will explain the underlying two-dimensional system (without “politeness pronouns”). It provides two possibilities: a familiar way of address and a formal way. These appear in various realizations, the most common one lies within the verb form: To address one person in an informal way, the 2nd person singular form of the verb is used. To address a single person in a more formal way, the 2nd person plural form of the verb is used (cf. Salzer 2004:5), just like it is the case in French but not like in German where we use the 3rd person plural form of the verb. Here is an example:[1]

Câţi ani ai? Câţi ani aveţi?

Câţ-i an-i ai? Câţ-i an-i aveţi?

how.many-PL year-PL have.2SG how.many-PL year-PL have.2PL

‘How old are you?’ ‘How old are you?’

‘Wie alt bist du?’ ‘Wie alt sind Sie?’

This two-dimensional system, which forms the basis of Romanian address forms, does not always rely on the verb form, though. The next example does not work with the form of the verb, but achieves this distinction by the choice of the accusative pronoun.[2]

Te rog. Vă rog.

2SG.ACC beg.1SG 2PL.ACC beg.1SG

‘Please.’ ‘Please.’

‘Dich ich bitte.’ ‘Sie ich bitte.'

It needs to be stressed here that in this case does not count as a “politeness pronoun” as such, but as a simple personal pronoun in the accusative which is required by the verb, whereas the “politeness pronouns” are always optional.

So what exactly are “politeness pronouns”? The Romanian grammar system, just like the German or English one, provides for a variety of different kinds of pronouns, for example possessive pronouns, reflexive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, etc.. The Romanian language has, above these, specific pronouns called pronume de politeţe ‘pronouns of politeness’ (or pronume de reverenţă ‘pronouns of reverence’) (cf. DRG 1998:21). These pronouns are to supplement the basic two-dimensional system of address. In the “DEX online. Dicţionare ale limbii române”, I found a formal definition:

Pronume de reverenţă (sau de politeţe) = pronume personal de persoana a 2-a şi a 3-a, întrebuinţat în semn de respect faţă de persoana căreia ne adresăm sau despre care vorbim.

In English this means:

Pronouns of reverence (or politeness) = personal pronouns in the 2nd and 3rd person, used as a sign of respect with regard to the person who we address or who we talk about.[3]

The Romanian politeness pronouns allow to express different degrees of politeness, formality or familiarity. The table below shows a series of pronouns in the 2nd person that ranges from low respect and high familiarity on the left to high respect and low familiarity on the right. The pronoun tu I added in this grid just to get a better outline. In the Romanian grammar system it is not considered to be a politeness pronoun (cf. DRG 1998:21), but is simply the 2nd person singular nominative pronoun.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The most formal politeness pronoun is dumneavoastră. It is composed of the two semantic units domnia + voastră, where domnia is the definite form of the noun domnie ‘lordship’, and voastră is a possessive pronoun meaning ‘your’ (plural) (cf. Braun 1984:152). So dumneavoastră literally means your lordship, in German Eure Herrschaft. Dumneata is composed in a very similar way, that is of domnia + ta, where ta is a possessive pronoun meaning ‘your’ (singular). Its literal meaning is again your lordship (but this time in the singular), in German deine Herrschaft.[4]

Mata is simply an abbreviation of dumneata. Matale derives from mata by appending the Romanian vocative suffix –le. The other forms mătălică, mătăluţă, tălică, are diminutives of matale (cf. Făgărăşanu 1989:19).

Dumneavoastră is always used with the 2nd person plural form of the verb (cf. Braun 1984:152). All the other politeness pronouns require the 2nd person singular form of the verb. Here it is important to mention that even though dumneata is used with a singular verb form, it is usually regarded to be more polite than just the usage of the plural form of the verb but without politeness pronoun.

The situations that these pronouns are actually used for will be investigated more closely in my analysis of the questionnaire. For now I will present only a rough overview. As Vârlan (2004:5) writes, the pronoun dumneavoastră has an emphatic sense. It expresses distance and is mostly found in rather official contexts. Roceric (1995:100) adds that dumneavoastră is used for strangers, expresses respect, and has an elegant touch to it. Children should use dumneavoastră or at least dumneata when speaking to adults, as Sandu (2001:264) explains. The pronoun dumneata is not so emphatic but very flexible in its usage. It is found more often in rural areas and is prevalent in the speech of older speakers or within family context (cf. Vârlan 2004:5; Salzer 2004:70). The diminutive pronouns mătălică, mătăluţă, tălică are also used mainly in a family context and are said to have “o evidentă încărcătură afectivă” ‘an obvious portion of affection’ (Făgărăşanu 1989:19). But depending on the situation they may also be interpreted as ironic; they may indicate that the power of the addressee is actually doubted, but in a way that allows both persons to maintain their social roles given by the familial hierarchy (i.e. niece-uncle).

Generally, the usage of the above compiled politeness pronouns is “o chestiune de preferinţă individuală” ‘a question of individual preference’ (Ionescu-Ruxăndoiu 2000:22). Regulations are not firm enough to prescribe a definite pronoun use for every given situation. As people get closer, they can go through a whole process starting out with dumneavoastră and ending up with tu (cf. Făgărăşanu 1989:21).

The Romanian language has yet another peculiarity that should be mentioned here: There are even “polite” pronouns for the 3rd person singular, such as dânsul and dânsa.[5] Actually, the 3rd person singular nominative pronouns in Romanian are el ‘he’ and ea ‘she’.[6] Dânsul and dânsa are a more elevated form of saying he or she, which are used especially in the regions Moldova and Muntenia. They are generally considered to be more polite than el and ea (cf. Vârlan 2004:6), and Romanians find it impolite if someone talks about an absent person simply with el or ea, especially if that person is older than the speaker (cf. Salzer 2004:70). So in this case, dânsul and dânsa are required by the societal norms that demand respect for other persons, even in their absence.[7] Officially, these pronouns do not belong to the list of politeness pronouns though, but some scientists proposed to include them (cf. Făgărăşanu 1989:21). The official politeness pronouns for the 3rd person are dumnealui and dumneaei (cf. Braun 1984:156). They imply a lot more respect than dânsul and dânsa and are used to talk about persons of superiority, especially in formal conversations. Here, the use of such a 3rd person pronoun does not only have to do with the person that is talked about, but also with the relationship between speaker and hearer. With the use of dumnealui and dumneaei the speaker clearly shows the hearer that he or she very much respects the person in question (cf. Braun 1984:156).


[1] Usually, speaking Romanian, the personal pronouns in the nominative are not employed (except to emphasize the person) (cf. Salzer 2004:5). The form of the verb already displays number and person. So for example the first person singular pronoun in the nominative is I in English and eu in Romanian. But if I want to say I want a sandwich, I would not say Eu vreau un sandviş, but simply Vreau un sandviş because the verb form vreau already makes clear that the subject is of the first person singular. (A scheme with the Romanian nominative personal pronouns and a complete conjugation of the verb a vrea ‘to want’ in the present simple tense can be found in the appendix.)

[2] The Romanian language has five grammatical cases: nominative/accusative, dative/genitive, and vocative (cf. Maurice 2001:231).

[3] If the German language has anything like this, I would assume it could only be Sie, Ihr, Ihnen etc. with a capital initial.

[4] A scheme with the Romanian possessive pronouns can be found in the appendix.

[5] Here I wrote “‘polite’ pronouns” instead of “politeness pronouns” because in the normative Romanian grammar system dânsul and dânsa are not considered as politeness pronouns (cf. Vârlan 2004:6).

[6] See also the table with the Romanian nominative pronouns in the appendix.

[7] These Romanian 3rd person pronouns should not be mixed up with German impersonal constructions in the 3rd person such as Er möge seinen Mantel dort drüben aufhängen or Sie möge sich setzen, where the 3rd person singular pronoun is used to express distance when directly addressing a person. Dânsul and dânsa on the other hand cannot be used to address somebody, but only to talk about a person in a respectful manner.

Excerpt out of 34 pages


Politeness in Romania
Address Forms
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Institut für England- und Amerikastudien)
Politeness in Language
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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A fine paper, it is well-structured and clearly written, it succeeds in working out some important differences between Romanian and German.
Politeness, Romania
Quote paper
Rebecca Leugner (Author), 2007, Politeness in Romania, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/120510


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