Thee, Thou, and all that (Part 2)

Yesterday, I blogged about the English pronoun “you.”

Here is part of the post:

Often you will hear people say things like, “I can’t read the King James Version of the Bible.  I get tired of the formal ‘thee’s’ and ‘thou’s.’”

Funny thing is, those words are not formal.  They are informal.  In Old English, you would have used those words with close friends or relatives.

A few hours later a reader left this comment:

I grew up in the U. S. Virgin Islands, and in high school once attended a church youth conference in Puerto Rico.  

I remember asking a friend why they used “tu” instead of “usted” in prayers, because it seemed informal to me.  She explained that it was because of the close relationship with God.  That was the first time I realized the true nature of “thee” and “thou”.  In Little Men, Jo’s German husband uses those forms with her, too, and explains that it’s because of the love he feels for her.

In Little Men, Jo’s German husband uses those forms with her, too, and explains that it’s because of the love he feels for her.

I’d like to add to this, but first things first.  You grew up in the Virgin Islands?  Sigh.  Now I’m depressed.  And jealous.  I grew up in places so cold, my thoughts would, from time to time, freeze inside my brain.

She is right.  Many modern languages have several forms of the pronoun “you.”  Jo’s German husband is using the English pronoun as it was once used.  He has a deeper insight into this forgotten feature because he is German.  Even today, German possesses two options.  If you are speaking formally, or if you are speaking to a stranger, or if you are speaking to someone in authority (a teacher, for example), you would use the formal “Sie.”

On the other hand, if you were to address a child, a relative, or a good friend, you would use the word “du.”

This feature, once so common in the English language, is gone now.  If you decide to study other languages, though, get your head around this concept.  You will encounter this often.