Return PolishForums LIVE
  PolishForums Archive :
Archives - 2005-2009 / Language  % width 46

Formal "you" and Informal "you" : which is which?


Genvieve 1 | 21  
24 Jun 2009 /  #1
I want to write to someone Polish, and say at the end of my letter:

Pamietam o Tobie / Was w modlitwie.

I know what this means (I remember you in my prayers), but I do not know whether I should use "Tobie" or "Was" for this person. My friend told me that "Tobie" is singular and "Was" is plural. I am only writing to ONE person, so from that perspective I should use "Tobie." HOWEVER, this person to whom I am writing was my college professor, so I should use the word of formal respect with him, not the informal. So my question is whether "Was" is also used for SINGULAR FORMAL? Or is it ONLY for plural?

Thanks!
gumishu 11 | 4,895  
24 Jun 2009 /  #2
pluralis maiestatis

WAS is only for plural now

pluralis maiestatis was only used to address very high figures as far as I can tell - i.e. kings/queens, high church figures, top government figures - however it is all gone - it has no use in real life in Polish now (pluralis maiestatis means addressing a single prominent person with plural)
chi 1 | 33  
24 Jun 2009 /  #3
person to whom I am writing was my college professor

If it was my professor I'd just simply write:

Pamietam o Panu (male) / Pani (female) w modlitwie.

cinek 2 | 334  
24 Jun 2009 /  #4
pluralis maiestatis was only used to address very high figures as far as I can tell - i.e. kings/queens, high church figures, top government figures

Not true. Plural was also used this way a few years ago, aspecially when word like "towarzysz" or "obywatel" were in common use during comunism. Sentences like:

Co u was słychać towarzyszu?
or
Zatrzymajcie się obywatelu!. Poproszę wasz dowód osobisty.

are very common in movies from that time. Just watch any commedy by Stanisław Bareja from that time, you'll hear many examples.

Also, my grandmother also used plural when addressing her mother (I heard it many times when I was a small boy), so it was in use in everyday language of ordinary people not so ago.

Cinek
gumishu 11 | 4,895  
24 Jun 2009 /  #5
yes your right cinek

sorry to mislead anyone

but was is not used in the context Genvieve mentioned for quite some time (if ever)
Lyzko  
24 Jun 2009 /  #6
Would then the following statement by a child, such as "Mamusiu! Mamusia jest zła?" mean something on the order of "Mummy! Is mummy cross?", without the child having to actually use the "ty"-form/ "you"-form as in standard English "Mummy? Are you cross?"

I'm finding Polish even more formal and complicated than either French or Portuguese on the issue of formal/informal you!!!!

Marek
-:)
benszymanski 8 | 465  
24 Jun 2009 /  #7
"Mummy! Is mummy cross?"

Yes. This style of using a 3rd person construction as a substitute for the 2nd person takes a bit of getting used to.

It's similar to the way Pan/Pani is used to avoid talking informally using the 2nd person form of "ty".

This is possible too in English (albeit very rarely) - e.g. in a super-posh restaurant the waiter might say "would sir care for some wine?" instead of "would you care for some wine?" even though he is talking to you and not about somebody else.
OP Genvieve 1 | 21  
24 Jun 2009 /  #8
I appreciate your responses, everyone. Thank you. Chi, "Panu" seems to me too formal, because although he was my professor, we also have had a friendly relationship. Maybe I'm just used to the easy, all-are-equal English "You." So, since "Was" is only for plural now, as gumishu wrote (that is very helpful for me to know), is "Tobie" suitable for me to use? This man is also a Catholic priest.

Thank you,
Genvieve
z_darius 14 | 3,971  
24 Jun 2009 /  #9
pluralis maiestatis was only used to address very high figures as far as I can tell - i.e. kings/queens, high church figures, top government figures - however it is all gone

The kings are gone, but not mothers in law, older aunts and what have you. In some areas of Poland it would be common to address an older family member in plural, or pretty much anybody who could no longer be called young. The form smacks of a jargon and archaism and its use seems to be diminishing but it is still not uncommon, mostly in rural/smaller localities.
chi 1 | 33  
24 Jun 2009 /  #10
Genvieve,
"Panu" wouldn't be an appropriate way to address a priest. You didn't mention that before:)
So, if you have had a friendly relationship with that person just use "Tobie" and it should be ok :)
Best regards :)
Lyzko  
24 Jun 2009 /  #11
Thanks too to benszymański for confirming what I thought to be correct.

In English however, a more appropriate analogy might be when referring to the Royal Family: "Begging her Majesty's humble pardon!". cf. "Begging your humble pardon...." etc.

Marek
benszymanski 8 | 465  
24 Jun 2009 /  #12
when referring to the Royal Family:

if you are talking about using the plural form when talking to 1 person then yes absolutely - "we are not amused!" is a famous example.

I was referring more to the use of the 3rd person singular form when talking to 1 person.
Lyzko  
24 Jun 2009 /  #13
Gottcha-:)-:)

"Return of the Spoon" ))))))))
OP Genvieve 1 | 21  
25 Jun 2009 /  #14
Thank you very much, everyone. I am touched by your responsiveness to my query, and also impressed by your interest and knowledge about this subject. Today I called a Polish friend of mine, and she said the same thing that you did, Chi, that "Tobie" for him would be fine. So now I can give him my letter!

I also asked my Polish friend about a subject form of "Tobie" for a priest, and she said that "Ty" would be too informal. I find that perplexing, because it seems to me that "Ty" and "Tobie" are the subject and object (or ablative?) forms of the SAME WORD. So why would "Tobie" be fine for him and "Ty" not fine?

She also said that I could write "Pamietam o Ojcu w modlitwie," because he is a priest. Here we see the use of the third person when addressing someone, in place of the second person. As we have been discussing, that is something unique in the Polish language--though as benszymanski pointed out, in very rare circumstances it might be done in English. I asked my Polish friend whether there are ANY subject ("nominative") forms of "You" that would be suitable for a priest, and she could not think of a single one, other than, as stated, the 3rd-person Ojcze used as a form of "You." In other languages I have studied, the plural "You" can ALSO be used as the formal singular "You." Apparently that is not the case in Polish.

Interesting from a historical point of view this formal and informal "You"--because in previous ages, the world was more divided by class systems. Of course our world still is, but very gradually the strict separations between the classes become less prominent. I think about the American Declaration of Independence: "All men are created equal." This is a liberal ideal from the Age of Englightenment. You can find something similar expressed in the biblical book of Galatians, chapter 3, verse 28, and Ephesians, chapter 6 verse 9.

Native English speakers have no personal experience with the formal and informal "You," so for us it presents a particular stumbling block. Again, I much appreciate everyone's thoughts here. ~ Genvieve
cinek 2 | 334  
25 Jun 2009 /  #15
She also said that I could write "Pamietam o Ojcu w modlitwie," because he is a priest.

Ojcu, Ojciec = Father

I think it's also in English that people refer priests as 'fathers' (even though catholic priests usualy are not fathers ;-) ) In polish you could just also use 'ksiądz' (= priest) instead of Pan or Ty when addressing a priest.

So the alternative versions would be:

Pamiętam o Ojcu - to a priest (not sure if this can be used for any priest, I've no experience in that area)

Pamietam o Księdzu - to a priest (should be generally ok)
Pamiętam o Panu - formal, to any (male) person but a priest, mum, dad, aunt, uncle, grandma, and many others who you shoudl address using words of the relationship between you and them.

Pamiętam o Tobie - informal, to any close person

Cinek
OP Genvieve 1 | 21  
26 Jun 2009 /  #16
Dziękuję Cinek!

You are so helpful and nice to give me all these ways to greet my friend. No doubt he will never guess all the effort I took to do it well! In style! Thanks to people like you.

Another Polish friend who practically lives in church told me that I could also combine, and write: "pamietam o Tobie Ojcze w modlitwie." She thought that would be the nicest way of all.

I see that in Polish you capitalize these nouns and pronouns of address. That is something for me to get used to, since it is not done in English, except in the case of the pronoun "I." (We are such egoists.)

As you no doubt know, however, the hardest part of learning the Slavic languages is learning the changing endings of the nouns according to their case. Oh that one's a killer! A deal breaker! I was in Eastern Europe shortly after Communism ended, so the people then were not used to hearing foreigners trying to speak their language. I provided them with a lot of entertainment and laughs!

Thank you again,
Genvieve
Lyzko  
27 Jun 2009 /  #17
Luckily, most Poles are so grateful you even make the concerted effort to speak their lovely language, they'll gladly overlook those petty 'infractions' of grammar, such as pesky ol' case endings-:)

Polish people don't seem to correct foreigners half as much as the French or even the German LOL

Staraj się dalej, robisz postępy!!!
Marek
gumishu 11 | 4,895  
27 Jun 2009 /  #18
Staraj się dalej, robisz postępy!!!
Marek

Ty też robisz postępy Marku :)
Lyzko  
27 Jun 2009 /  #19
Dzięki, Gumishu-:) Staram się pilnie każdego dnia. Tylko potrzebuję dużego czasu, cierpliwości a pomoc Bogu!!!

Marku
gumishu 11 | 4,895  
27 Jun 2009 /  #20
Lyzko

Dzięki, Gumishu-:) Staram się pilnie każdego dnia. Tylko potrzebuję dużo czasu, cierpliwości iBożej pomocy!!!

OP Genvieve 1 | 21  
28 Jun 2009 /  #21
Lyzko,

I'm pleased to hear about the Poles' tolerance towards those who are learning their language. I love that attitude of tolerance in general. It is so necessary a quality in the pluralistic world we live in. Poland had a long history of religious tolerance as well, allowing freedom to different religions when Western Europe was burning "heretics." In this case it gives me more courage to speak your language!

~ Genvieve
Lyzko  
28 Jun 2009 /  #22
Znowu dzięki! Głupe błedy. Ale oczywiście)))
axid - | 18  
29 Jun 2009 /  #23
'Poland had a long history of religious tolerance as well, allowing freedom to different religions when Western Europe was burning "heretics."'

You don't know what you are saying, honestly.
there is NO such thing as "religious tolerance" in Poland.
(but this is not the proper place to discuss religious matters)

anyway, Genvieve, you said: 'I see that in Polish you capitalize these nouns and pronouns of address. That is something for me to get used to, since it is not done in English, except in the case of the pronoun "I."'

I'm pretty sure, that the old school of teaching English state
that you also capitalise "You" when you address somebody.
I know that this is the way I've been taught. Is it not true?
you can find some capitalised "Yous" in XVIII and XIX C. books,
I'm pretty sure about that. could You ask somebody elder about the subject
and place the answer here?

thanks
OP Genvieve 1 | 21  
29 Jun 2009 /  #24
Witamy, Axid. I see that you're a new member. (I am too.)

I never heard of a rule that "You" or any other pronoun besides "I" be capitalized. Certainly that is not currently the practice. HOWEVER, standardization in the English language came only relatively recently, and before that, norms for written English were nonexistent. People wrote however they wanted, they wrote as words sounded to them. The first English dictionary, which standardized spelling, was compiled in the eighteenth century by Samuel Johnson. Before that, the spelling was crazy! (It still is, but now it's standardized crazy!)

Recently I was looking at a poem by nineteenth-century poet William Blake, and a letter by nineteenth-century poet John Keats. In both of them, I came across capitalized words, which capitals appeared to followed no pattern. These writers capitalized words in the middle of sentences, for which I could find no reason. Their capitalization just seemed random. No doubt part of this was the result of all writing then being handwritten rather than typed. I think that lends itself to more idiosyncrasy. I also noticed bad spelling in Keats, which is maybe surprising for one of the world's greatest poets, but in those days this was not such an issue.

I suspect that the capitalized "You"'s which you found were just part of this pattern of randomness, of writers not much caring about the rules, which were less enforced in those days, if the rules even existed at all. Perhaps these writers you mention capitalized "you" in some places and not in others, just like the random capitals in Blake and Keats I mentioned. Grammarians of the nineteenth or early twentieth century (I forget which) started imposing uniform standards of grammar on the written language, very much along the lines of Latin grammar, which some linguists say does not fit English.

I notice that your own spelling is British, rather than American. I find it humorous that you ask me to ask someone "elder" about capitals in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, as though even the oldest person I could find would have been alive then!

What you write about no religious tolerance in Poland surprises and disappoints me. No, this isn't the place for that discussion--so let me know if you start a new discussion about that (why don't you?) or feel free to send me an e-mail or private message about this here on the site.

Best wishes,
Genvieve
Ziemowit 12 | 3,259  
29 Jun 2009 /  #25
Capitalizing words in English seems to be an ineresting subject. What comes to my mind is that the English language inherited perhaps an old tradition of capitilizing nouns, a tradition that survived within the German language. The British an American press print capitalized nouns in paper headlines, don't they?
axid - | 18  
29 Jun 2009 /  #26
I notice that your own spelling is British, rather than American. I find it humorous that you ask me to ask someone "elder" about capitals in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, as though even the oldest person I could find would have been alive then!

Genvieve,

I didn't realise that the thing is about XVIII C.
I thought that the change could be relatively 'new'
as I'm pretty sure I was taught that you should capitalise 'Yous'.
now I can perfectly understand why you found it humorous:)
maybe my teacher was not competent enough
which would not surprise me.

I notice that your own spelling is British, rather than American.

yes, my spelling is British all the way down. nice that you noticed that
(unfortunately, I tend to use British dialects words, too).
I believe this is a rare phenomenon nowadays within non-natives.

I was looking at a poem by nineteenth-century poet William Blake

as for the books, I wasn't speaking about poems as we all know
that there are separate rules for writing them.
I was talking about prose.

as for religion, I am an atheist and I can tell you a lot about religions
as this is my sort of 'hobby'. by standing aside I'm pretty objective, I believe.
I'm not going to start a discussion because I live in Poland
and I don't know what might or might not be interesting for you.
I am more that willing to participate, though.

if no discussion starts,
contact me via mail, if you wish, and feel free to ask any questions.

The British an American press print capitalized nouns in paper headlines, don't they?

they do but it is not a feature of the language but rather a style of writing headlines
and other press writing rules. same thing with grammar (or, in fact, a lack of grammar)
and many other features of the language which are different in such pieces of writing.
OP Genvieve 1 | 21  
30 Jun 2009 /  #27
Greetings Ziemowit, axid, and all others reading this discussion:

Thank you gentlemen for your recent comments and inquiries!

Ziemowit, the reason nous are capitalized in paper headlines is that in titles, ALL words are capitalized. Headlines are titles, that's all. The exception is that small "insignificant" words like "a," "the," "on," "of," etc. do not need to be capitalized unless the title begins with the word. Otherwise capitalizing it is optional.

The only nouns that are capitalized within regular sentences that are not titles are the nouns called "proper" nouns, which are the names of things. For example, we would write "tall building," but Empire State Building. We would write "a long bridge," but "Golden Gate Bridge." English is NOT like German, where ALL nouns are capitalized.

There is a grey area when it comes to capitalizing proper nouns when they are made into adjectives. My grammar book says, "Capitalize proper nouns (those naming specific persons, places, and things) and proper adjectives (those formed from proper nouns)." However, many people, including scholars, do not capitalize many adjectives formed from proper nouns unless they are place names. For example, they would write "a New York man." But English capitalizes the word "Bible," and most scholars do not capitalize the adjective form. For example they would write, "The biblical book of James says faith without works is dead." I had always learned to capitalize adjectives formed from proper nouns, so I brought this up with one of my college professors, and he told me just to be consistent throughout my paper, whichever way I chose.

axid, as I think I made clear before, I know of no tradition of capitalizing "you." If you are still in contact with the teacher who taught you that, I would be interested to know where she/he got that rule from. I never heard of it. It sounds nicely polite, though!

Your British spelling (note my capital of the adjective "British") does not surprise me, because many Europeans learn British English. Our neighbors to the north, the Canadians, use it also. Regarding British dialect words,I'm not sure what you mean by that, but as long as you are understood by those to whom you're talking, in my opinion that's the important thing. By the way, remember never to make English adjectives plural; in your sentence, you put an "s" on "dialect[s]" to make it match the plural "words," but there is no such agreement in English.

I have noticed random capitalization not only in older poetry, but ALSO in older prose. As I wrote, I recently saw it in a LETTER by Keats. I think he's more regular in his poems, or at least his editors are. (I hope you all look at some of the wonderful poetry in English; I love reading the Polish poets, and would certainly welcome suggestions for Polish poets to look for.)

(Did you notice how I just wrote "you all?" In such a way English speakers make "you" plural, thereby making up for the lack of a plural "you" in English.)

axid it's interesting that you are an atheist, and yet very interested in religions. That seems to be contradictory, and yet I can understand it. Being an atheist does not mean that one is not spiritual. There are different ways of being spiritual. I hope you do start a new discussion about this. This is, afterall, a site for tolerance and discussion. Let me know if you do. If you don't, I'll consider writing you an e-mail if I get less busy than I am now. I'll play it by ear. (Do you know that very common idiom? English has THOUSANDS of idioms.)

A final word to everyone: If these types of language issues interest you, you should have a "handbook," which is a concise guide to what is correct in English. A common one is the Harbrace College Handbook. Most college students acquire this or a similar handbook in their first year of college.

My best to you all ~ Genvieve
Lyzko  
30 Jun 2009 /  #28
Much appreciate the latter post, Gen, fellow language lover!

Whil refraining from comment on any political topics in this particular discussion post/thread, I will say that Polish presents perhaps the greatest challenge to the foreign learner in its inflectional minutia, as daunting in this way as the prospect of the average Westerner having to memorize literally THOUSANDS of Chinese idiographs in order to learn the latter. Polish has separate declensional endings, not only for nouns, but for ALL names (foreign and native Slavic), plus, for nearly every place name, particularly in Poland!! This further depending on whether the root is masculine, feminine, neuter or plural, e.g. 'Katowice', 'Rzeszów', 'Siedlice' etc. This means perhaps over a hundred or so different endings for every city. river, town, village, hamlet etc...

Now that's a challenge! So far I've gone through most of them and am still relatively young (50 next November) and sane. LOL

Marek
Polonius3 1,000 | 12,483  
1 Jul 2009 /  #29
When talking to a peasant farmer, wouldn't you say: "Gospodarzu,może macie jakąś kurę na zbyciu?"
Would anyone say: "Czy pan ma....?"

How about "Tata byli już w kościele?" In some parts of the countryside it is normal to address elders in the third person plural.
OP Genvieve 1 | 21  
1 Jul 2009 /  #30
Lyzko (or do you prefer Marek?):

Wow. Unbelievable. Strangest for me is when proper nouns change, since there seems something inviolable about a name. I guess that certain case declensions are heard over and over, while others rarely. That should make it easier. If you are studying the language in Poland, then the world is your classroom. Obviously you are dedicated, and as you indicated, you are a lover of languages. By your 50th in November, may you be in your mastery of Polish where you have set your goal. I would be interested to know your native language and your motivation for learning Polish.

Archives - 2005-2009 / Language / Formal "you" and Informal "you" : which is which?Archived