thou, thee, thine

I have read somewhere that the big reason for the loss of the familiar form of pronouns was due to the need to differentiate the state-sanctioned relionists from the rebel faction known as the Religious Society of Friends, aka Quakers. Since Quakers believed that everyone was equal in the eyes of God and no more or less worthy of respect in human’s eyes, they scandalized and threatened the status quo of the Church of England, and hence the Monarchy. Amid the social ferment of 17th century England, this tenet of equality was perhaps the most dangerous idea to every institution in existence. No one who was not a Quaker wanted to be mistaken for one and persecuted, or executed, for their new religion. Therefore, the familiar pronouns had to be expunged from daily speech for one’s own preservation. An interesting use of the formal and familiar pronouns (with their implicit undertones) exists in Shakespeare’s Richard III, act 1, scene 2, as Richard verbally insinuates himself into Anne in her grieving. The mock respect of “you” and the angry denigrations of “thou” reinforce the evil and emotion of this confrontation of this assault.
Dost thou possess any info that adds to this?

All that I hast, sir, is a link to the column in question.

What do thou, thee, and thine mean…

Allows others to find the column in question. Thanks for your participation.

The Quaker hypothesis is tempting, but thou was already beginning to be folded into you before George Fox was born. Perhaps the “thou is for God” meme was already emerging.

The use of the second person plural to replace the singular form seems to be a trend in other languages as well. Both French and German have replaced the singular form with the plural for formal use, and retain the singular form for intimate/informal use only, such as speaking to lovers, family, friends, and children. (I recall my boss in the '80s, a dignified Francophone lady in her 60s, coming back from a lunchtime bank visit fuming that the teller had presumed to tutoyer* her.) Give them another century or so and they may lose the singular form as well.

(*address her in the second person singular)

A French friend has told me that there’s an increasing use of “tu” instead of “Vous” in France.

Interesting. I’m sure this parallels increasing “informality”, of many kinds, in many social and professional situations, in recent decades, in much of the world. (Linguist John McWhorter, in his book Doing our Own Thing, documented this as reaching a sort of tipping point around 1968, at least in the US).

Increasing use of “tu” would be a part of all this, I’m sure (and the parallel development of mass media, and now social media, oriented toward youth markets.)

(In the Spanish-speaking world, some countries have long tended to use “tu” more than others – in Mexico, for example, you switch to “tu” pretty soon after getting to know someone, whereas in Colombia, you almost never use “tu” – even your dog is “usted”!).

This development means that Romance languages are returning to where they started. “Vous” (and its cognates) was never meant to be a formal singular at all, but a normal plural! (Still an alternative meaning, in French anyway). If it disappears as a formal singular, the personal pronoun paradigm will be back to a more “rational” form, something it has lacked for around 500 years.

That’s what I’d always been told.
Powers &8^]

Sounds a bit like the way “y’all”, which was once a plural, has become something of a formal, and the plural formal is “all y’all”.

However, I once read a truism for etymology: if it seems reasonable, it’s probably wrong.

I will have to ask for a cite for this. Please not that same old, tired email joke about how southerners speak, either.

I have never heard “y’all” used as anything other than as a second person plural pronoun.

Then you’ve never been around Southerners or you are not paying attention.

See my post in a recent thread relating to this.

Just watch an episode of Paula Deen, y’all.

Maybe that’s a common misunderstanding? Here’s my (former) misunderstanding: Not being from New Yawk, and not speaking New Yawkese, I had always thought they say “youse” for “you”, in any of its declensions. It was only within recent memory that I figured out that “youse” is the specifically plural form. (Uh… Have I figured that out right?) I mean… duh… it struck me that “youse” actually sounds like a plural.

So maybe it’s easy for a non-native New Yawkese speaker just to misunderstand the language, and so maybe it’s easy for a non-native Southernese speaker to misunderstand the language.

Myself, I did understand long ago that we need distinct singular and plural forms for “you”, and early on I picked up on the Southern “you-all” or “y’all” as the easily-understood plural form to use. In my own otherwise-non-Southern speech, I [del]youse[/del] use it regularly.

American Southerner here. I have heard some folks from South Alabama use the word “y’all” to mean the singular “you”. It seems rather pointless to me, but I don’t make up the rules.

Um, yeah. Born and raised in Georgia, where Paula Deen is apparently from. And I can’t remember ever hearing it except on TV shows or from actual rednecks who don’t know any better. She’s a fake. If you hear her kids, who she has on her show nowadays, they don’t have nearly the fake accent that she has. She’s exaggerating and not doing a very good job of it.

Or apparently, she is, since she’s fooling all y’all. :rolleyes:

Perhaps this explains why the stereotypical Quaker usage is “wrong” with respect to the way the pronouns were used when they had still been generally current in the language.

Gosh, kids having a less pronounced accent than one of their parents? Yeah, that never happens in real life. :rolleyes:

Wikipedia quotes H. L. Mencken: “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, to be sure, you-all indicates a plural, implicit if not explicit, and thus means, when addressed to a single person, ‘you and your folks’ or the like, but the hundredth time it is impossible to discover any such extension of meaning.”
Powers &8^]

I’ve think it is sweet that in most languages the language used to address God is the most formal, but in English the familiar form was reserved for communication with a personal Heavenly Father.

Nope, she only uses it as a second person plural too, you’re just misunderstanding her. Down here we all use “y’all” only to groups of people. If someone said “y’all” to you alone (as in “y’all should come to our house”) they were inviting you and your family as well. “Y’all” is never a singular to a Southern person.

It is common, but it’s also quite common that they’d just code switch. Since they don’t, it’s possible she’s the one code switching, if not outright exaggerating for effect.

Good grief. Pay attention some time. Things people have said to me when I’m the only person around:

Clerk at store: “Did y’all find what you were looking for?”

Waitress: “Can I get y’all anything else?”

And on and on. Who could possibly misunderstand this?

And look at the actual Paula Deen quote I gave: “And now we’ll put that in a 350 degree oven, y’all.”

She uses “y’all” over and over as a generic filler like “um” or “you know”.

Southerners are infamous for not obeying rules of grammar, including their own regionalisms.

That “y’all” is only used for 2nd person plural is a complete myth.

It is only a complete myth if you have checked every village in the entire South.