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German T/V distinction (was Re: Is the list dead?)

From:Philip Newton <philip.newton@...>
Date:Thursday, April 24, 2008, 12:36
On Thu, Apr 24, 2008 at 9:29 AM, Tristan McLeay <conlang@...> wrote:
> But maybe a slightly more on-topic question: German text books often say > you should use "Sie" when you would address someone as "Mr/s Surname", > and "du" if you would address them by the firstname, but provide little > additional guidance. I assume that "Sie" is not reserved for use by > addressing primary and secondary school students and that therefore > there's an additional unstated cultural difference here. Therefore: > > (a) In Germany, when would you address someone by "Sie"/"Herr/Frau > Familienname", and when as "du"/"Vorname"?
I would address someone as "du" when: - I'm a child up to the age of six or so (leading to the situation seen in some kindergartens where children will say, "Frau Meier, kannst du mir bitte helfen?", since they haven't learned the du/Sie distinction yet but will call their teachers by their family names, which is how they know them as - I'm under 22 or so and addressing someone roughly my age - I'm addressing a child up to the age of about 16 or so - I'm addressing a relative of mine - I'm addressing someone I've known since our shared childhood - I'm addressing someone who knows me well enough that he offered to let me call him "du" (traditionally, this also involved drinking together in order to "seal" this event). Note that this is often, but not always, symmetrical: I might call someone "du" who calls me "Sie" or vice versa, especially if there's a significant difference in age and/or status, but perhaps simply if one person offered the "du" to the other but the other decided not to reciprocate, for whatever reason. - The offer is often phrased as "My name is [given name]", implying "You can stop calling me Mr/Mrs [family name] and 'Sie'; please feel free to call me [given name] and 'du' from now on." Another possibilities include "You ['Sie' or 'du', depending on what you call the other person and on how presumptuous you are that the other person will reciprocate] can go ahead and call me 'du'" or "Shan't we use 'du'?" - The offer is usually made first by the "higher" (in age and/or status) person; offering the "du" to someone higher than you can be considered presumptuous, and it - let alone calling someone "du" without first offering or having received an offer - might result in a response along the lines of "I can't remember having played in the sandpit together with you". - It's an offer and can, therefore, be refused (by continuing to call the person by their family name and "Sie"). I have the impression that it's considered impolite to do so, however. I would address someone with "Sie" in the other cases. So, roughly: when I'm older than six or so and am talking with someone who is older than 16 or so, isn't related to me nor roughly my age, and hasn't offered to let me call him "du" (yet). Also, "given name" and "du" typically go together, as do "family name" and "Sie", but this is not always the case. For example, in schools, it's not uncommon for teachers to address their pupils as "Sie" but continue to use their given name starting from 10th grade (roughly, age 16) - this is sometimes called "Hamburger Sie". It also occurs in companies such as mine, where nearly everyone calls co-workers by their given name, but may use "Sie" rather than "du" if they don't feel especially close to them (especially towards a superior, someone quite a bit older than you, or someone with whom you have little regular contact). I'm told this can also happen when parents address grown-up friends of their children, whom they know by their first name only (from how their child talks to them) but whom they want to use the formal "Sie" to in recognition of their having come of age. And on the other hand, you have situations where someone is called by family name and "du", such as the kindergarten example mentioned earlier, or in a situation (such as in retail) where employees wear name tags with their family name (which is what they expect customers to call them) and call each other with those names (in the presence of customers) but use "du" because they're on familiar terms with one another. (This is sometimes called "Berliner Sie", when the bare family name is used, or the "Münchner Sie", when title ["Mr/Mrs"] + family name is used.)
> (b) In other English-speaking countries, when would you address someone > as "Mr/s Surname"? > (c) How do you introduce yourself? I would normally introduce myself as > just "Tristan"; my surname is only relevant for filling in forms. In > other places, would you sometimes introduce yourself as just > "Firstname", others just "Mr/s Surname"? Would you generally introduce > yourself as "Firstname Surname"?
Still talking about German: I answer the telephone with "Newton", both at home and at work. When meeting someone in a work-related setting, I'll typically introduce myself as, "Newton" or "my name is Newton". Saying "My name is Mr Newton" sounds odd to me. I might introduce myself as "Philip Newton" when giving a presentation, but probably not when greeting a single person and being introduced; since I'd expect them to call me "Mr Newton", I'd just give them my family name.
> Saying "in formal circumstances" merely begs the question, because > there's a picture in one of the textbooks of neighbors meeting over the > fence and addressing each other as "Sie"; I have no idea how that could > be "formal".
Given the "requirement" for an offer to be made before you "may" address someone as "du", this boils down to "in what circumstances do people usually offer the 'du' to someone else" (specifically here: would neighbours tend to do so or not). I don't think I can say any guidelines or "typical" relationships/lengths of time that apply. Cheers, -- Philip Newton <philip.newton@...>


Krista Casada <kcasada@...>
Philip Newton <philip.newton@...>
Mark J. Reed <markjreed@...>