Saturday, August 28, 2010
Theory of language
She told me her theory of language: how most languages distinguished the informal you from the formal you - had at least two yous - and how the formal and the plural form were generally the same. She also said that English had lost the informal you (the thou), not the formal one as most people thought, and that this must have happened as a result of a deliberate rejection - a rejection that was occurring right now among the more pretentious of the middle classes in France; how those families in Versailles who wished to seem smart (she had heard) were instructing their children to address them with the formal you only - with vous, rather than tu - and if this rejection had successfully occurred in the English speaking world, where the thou had been banished from everywhere with the exception only of the pubs of Yorkshire, new editions of the King James Bible and collections of old poetry that nobody read - these viral middle classes whose feeling for language was blunt in the extreme - it was only among the supposedly uneducated in Australia that it had slipped in sidewards through a sleight of words, since the plural form youse was being used, she had noticed, not only for the you in the plural but also for formal situations in the singular - a choice of language, she said, which was both intelligent and shrewd. Last week, she was walking along a street which a team of workmen were digging up when she was asked, could youse just cross over to the footpath please? and as far as she could recall she was alone at the time.