6.0202 Rs: Pronouns (1/36)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 17 Aug 1992 21:35:51 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0202. Monday, 17 Aug 1992.

Date: Fri, 14 Aug 1992 15:05:07 -0400
From: "David A. Hoekema" <hoekema@brahms.udel.edu>
Subject: Socially inflected pronouns

The most elaborate example I know of--making "du" and "Sie" seem like
very coarse distinctions indeed--is in Thai, and it is emphatically not
egalitarian. When I learned spoken Thai (as supervisor of an overseas
study program 10 years ago) I learned the masculine firsrt-person
pronoun suitable for speaking to social equals. For women there is another
form; but women professors often used an alternate instead when they
spoke to male colleagues, a term indicating deference and inferiority
and literally meaning "little mouse." (Not "I would like to discuss
these papers with you" but "Little mouse . . ") In fact there are
many different sets of pronouns designating different social
relationships. To speak to the King and Queen one must employ
an extremely elaborate archaic form of language used solely in
those circumstances--not to mention that one must enter the room
crawling forward with one's forehead pressed to the floor. One of
my faculty colleagues was a shirttail relative of the royal family,
and I was advised to speak with him only in English to avoid
insulting him. In fact he was very accommodating--as, indeed, is
the King himself. People I knew who had contact with him (in
diplomatic circles and relief work) report that on meeting a
foreigner he thrusts his hand forward to shake hands, forestalling
any temptation at bowing, and speaks in French or English, in which
the pronouns are not fraught with perils for the uninformed.

One irony of the European pronouns is that, where in English one
customarily speaks to God using archaisms that to most ears denote
great formality and pomp, in German, Dutch, and French (and doubtless
many more) one uses the terms used for one's spouse and children. And
the forms are, of course, precisely parallel, except that those in
English have passed out of use except in (a few) religious contexts.
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