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Politeness

Various languages have different levels of politeness for speaking with other people. The forms of the Politeness depend on the culture and in the native language

There are various levels of politeness. This may be expressed in the type of words/vocabulary that one uses, or it may also be an integral part of a language’s grammar.

Languages with only one level of grammatical politeness

Nowadays English only uses one level of grammatical politeness. When speaking to someone, you always use the form “you”. You can use it while speaking with your little sister, and also with the queen. English used to have two levels of politeness, thou and you. However, over time, “thou” became less and less used, until it disappeared entirely and “you” was left to serve as the pronoun of choice for all situations.

Languages with two levels of grammatical politeness

Indo-European languages use two level of grammatical politeness.

For example:

  • French uses the word pair:  tu/vous
  • Spanish uses:  tu/Usted
  • Portuguese uses:  tu/você
  • Italian uses:  tu/Lei
  • German uses:  du/Sie
  • Russian uses:  ты/вы.

Because the verb often changes form, for example between 2nd person singular and 3rd person plural, you also have to know how to change the verb accordingly.

Politeness in Polish is based on using an appropriate word (eg pan/ pani ‘sir/ madam’ or państwo‘sir and madam’) and a verb always in the third person, eg: Czy chce pani, aby otworzyć okno? ‘Does madam want to open the window?’

Languages with multiple levels of grammatical politeness

Japanese politeness is famous for its array of bewildering politeness levels. The most common formal version is the verb ending -mas(u) at the end of a verb, or the use of suffixes such as -san or -sama, or prefixes such as o- or go-.
Depending on whether the person you are speaking with has a higher or lower social status, you would use different personal pronouns or verbs.

Korean politeness is definitively complex. In Korean, you mainly have 3 forms of politeness: the impolite form, known as (Banmal), the informal polite (most used) and the formal polite. These rules apply for most of the words in the vocabulary. The termination of the verb conjugations depends on those rules, with the use of suffixes such as YO, DA, KA.

 

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