"Thou" and "You". The Pronouns of Address

Term Paper, 2014

19 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Second Person Pronoun(s) - Definition and History
2.1 What is a pronoun? - Personal pronoun
2.2 Old English Period - 450- 1150
2.3 Middle English - 1150- 1500
2.4 Early Modern English - c. 1450- 1700
2.5 Modern English - c. 1700- present day

3 Two theories about the usage of thou and you
3.1 Power and Solidarity by Brown and Gilman (1960)
3.2 Politeness theory by Brown and Levinson (1978)

4 Text Analysis: Hamlet by William Shakespeare, 1601
4.1 The Sentinels: Francisco, Bernardo and Marcellus
4.2 The King, the Queen and the Gentlemen
4.3 Hamlet
4.3.1 Hamlet and the Ghost of his Father
4.3.2 Hamlet and his Mother
4.3.3 Hamlet and Ophelia

5 Conclusion

6 Works Cited

7 Statutory Declaration and Study Skills

1 Introduction

The diachronic development of the English language is marked by the loss of nearly all inflections - except for the pronouns’ inflections. When comparing the Modern English pronoun paradigm to the Old English one, especially the personal pronouns are worth looking at. For a native German speaker, it stands out that in Modern English both “Du” and “Sie” are translated with only one word,you. In English, there seems to be no distinction between familiarity and politeness in the second person pronoun. This is true for Modern English, but not for earlier forms of English. It is interesting to see that between Early Modern English and Modern English the thou, which would be translated into German as “Du”, was gradually lost and replaced by you, the former “Sie”. This paper will have a closer look at the Early Modern English distinction between thou for close personal relationships as well as differentiation between upper and lower class, and you for impersonal relationships, politeness and respect in Drama.

The genre Drama was chosen, because it is not based on actual speech events but is mostly made up from constructed speech (Walker, 2007, p. 18). The main characteristic of Drama is, that it consists mostly of written dialogue. This dialogue is not natural but fictional and therefore highly constructed by the author. Every word is carefully chosen and fulfils an explicit and an implicit function. Therefore no thou or you is accidental and worth analysing. The English author William Shakespeare wrote most his plays during the Early Modern English period and made use of the different notions of thou and you to create a setting and give insight in the characters and their relationships. His tragedy “Hamlet” will be used as the foundation for the analysis of the usage of the pronouns of address.

The following chapter will explain what a pronoun is and more precisely also define the term personal pronoun. The third chapter will introduce and contrast various values of the second person pronouns thou and you and how their use is distributed during the Early Modern English Period. In the fourth chapter, this theory will be used to analyse sections from “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. It will take a closer look at which characters use thou and you, why they do it and what that reveals about the characters themselves and their relationship to the character they talk to. The paper will end with a conclusion about the covered theory and analysis.

2 The Second Person Pronoun(s) - Definition and History

This chapter will provide a short definition of what a personal pronoun is and an overview over its developments from the Old English (OE) period to the Modern English (ModE) period. A special focus will be on the diachronic development of the ModE second person pronoun you.

2.1 What is a pronoun? - Personal pronoun

The term pronoun and with it its definition date back to Latin and Greek. Pronomen (Latin) or antonumia (dvTrovup^a, Greek) can be translated into English as standing for a noun (Wales, 1996, p. 1). This understanding has not changed much over the years and the Oxford English Dictionary picks it up again:

A word that can function as a noun phrase when used by itself and that refers either to the participants in the discourse (e.g. I, you) or to someone or something mentioned elsewhere in the discourse (e.g. she, it, this). (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/152548?redirectedFrom=Pronoun#eid, 06.01.2015)

The emphasis is on the pronoun as a substitution of the real noun (Wales, 1996, p. 1). There are seven types of pronouns, the demonstrative, interrogative, indefinite, relative, reflexive, reciprocal and the personal pronoun. This paper will only deal with the latter, which is defined by the OED as “(...) a pronoun which denotes a grammatical person, as (in English) I, you, and he, in its various genders, numbers, and cases” (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/141482?redirectedFrom=Personal+pronoun#eid11291 8990, 06.01.2015).

The third person pronoun (3PP) fulfils the function as a substitute of a noun best and is therefore often referred to as the prototypical personal pronoun in differentiation to the first person pronoun (1PP) and, even more importantly, the second person pronoun (2PP) (Wales, 1996, p. 1). To successfully substitute a noun, it has to be already known to the speaker or reader to be effectively exchanged with a pronoun; this mostly happens through the co-text (Wales, 1996, p. 2). Whereas there are not many problems with he/she/it, there are problems with the 1PP and the 2PP and what noun they are supposed to be replacing (Wales, 1996, p. 3). As I and you are mostly used in dialogue and represent the speaker (I) and the listener or the addressee (you), those can be replaced by an uncountable number of nouns. Katie Wales (1996, p. 3) refers to them as “inter-personal” pronouns, because they are mostly used in “situational context, and refer normally to human beings”.

All in all the different personal pronouns refer to different objects: The 1PP refers to the person who is currently speaking or the speaker, the 2PP stands for the person spoken to or the addressee, and the 3PP can substitute every other person or thing (http://wmich.edu/medieval/resources/IOE/basicgrammar.html#def_gramperspron, 06.01.2015) . This notion can also be found in the OED’s entry on the word person, which represents “a category used in the classification of pronouns, (...), according to whether they indicate the speaker, the addressee, or someone or something spoken of; (...).” (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/141476?rskey=Nkj90I&result=1&isAdvanced=false# eid30951101, 06.01.2015)

2.2 Old English Period - 450- 1150

During the Old English (OE) period, personal pronouns had case, number and gender markers. The first and second person pronouns were only marked for case and number whereas the third person pronouns also had a gender form. The first and second person pronoun did also have dual declensions for number, which were comparatively rare and died out in the early Middle English period (Smith &Smith, 2006). So all in all there were 44 different cases for the personal pronouns in Old English.

The following table was modelled after information taken from Chapter 3.4.2 Pronouns from Essentials of English: Old, Middle and Early Modern English (2006) by Jeremy J. Smith and Jeremy Smith and shows all forms of the second person pronoun.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1: The 2nd person pronoun in Old English

The dual form of the second person pronoun was used for only two things, but could be replaced by the plural, or for people that were closely associated with each other, e.g. persons living together like husband and wife or persons fighting together like soldiers (http://people.umass.edu/sharris/in/gram/GrammarBook/GramPersPronouns.html, 06.01.2015).

2.3 Middle English - 1150- 1500

During the Middle English (ME) period, the personal pronouns were still inflected for case, number and gender (Quinn, 2005, p. 15). The only difference to OE was that the gender distinction was now based on the actual gender of a person or their sex rather than on the grammatical gender as in OE (Smith&Smith, 2006, p. 109). After the Norman Conquest (1066) at the end of the OE period and the gradually beginning ME period, you began to appear in literature. It was used as a more polite form of thou (Wales, 1996, p. 74). Moreover, there were some changes that brought the ME pronoun paradigm closer to our Early Modern English (EmodE) pronoun paradigm, e.g. the introduction of she from a not fully agreed on source (Wales, 1996, p.15) and the introduction of Scandinavian forms for the third person plural.

This table from Essentials of Early English: Old, Middle and Early Modern English provides an overview of the ME 2PP and its inflections for case and number.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 2: The 2nd person pronoun in Middle English (Smith& Smith, 2006, p. 110)

The main distinction during the ME period between the usages of thou and you was that you was more common in the higher classes of society whereas thou was more used among the commoners (Walker, 2007, p. 40). It was a question of politeness when using you and a question of familiarity when using thou (Wales, 1996, p. 75). This is summed up by Katie Wales in the following table:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 3: The main ‘values’ of you and thou in Middle English (Wales, 1996, p. 75)

2.4 Early Modern English - c. 1450- 1700

By the Early Modern English period, personal pronouns already looked a lot like the later Modern English paradigm. The pronouns inflected for case, number and gender, as shown in Table 4. The difference between accusative and dative case was lost and the pronoun had only one form for the objective case.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 4: The 2nd person pronoun in Early Modern English (http://alt-usage-english.org/pronoun_paradigms.html, 08.01.2015)

Chapter 3 of this paper will have a closer look at the characteristics of thou and you and their perceptive use explained by two theories.

2.5 Modern English - c. 1700- present day

Between the Early Modern English period and the Modern English (ModE) period, there were only few changes to the pronoun paradigm. It is notable that the personal pronouns in general kept some inflections from OE, whereas everywhere else, they were nearly all lost. The personal pronouns still inflect in case, sex and number:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 5: Modern English Personal Pronouns (Wales, 1996, Table 1.1, p. 13)

Katie Wales’ (1996, p.13) table (table 5) presents the Standard English paradigm for personal pronouns that covers the written language only.


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"Thou" and "You". The Pronouns of Address
University of Mannheim  (Lehrstuhl für Anglistische Linguistik)
Diachronic Linguistics
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ISBN (Book)
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Diachronic Linguistics, Hamlet, Pronouns of Address, Thou and You
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Jana Karoff (Author), 2014, "Thou" and "You". The Pronouns of Address, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/310870


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