Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ty and Vy

In Czech, there are two ways of saying "you".  There is the informal ty which is used among family members and close friends.  Vy is the more polite, formal "you" used between strangers.  Vy is also used as the plural "you" both formally and informally.

French does the same thing with tu and vous

German has Du and Ihr as the singular informal and plural informal "you" while Sie is the formal version of "you" for both the singular and plural.

Spanish has and usted for the singular informal and formal "you".  European Spanish uses vosotros as a plural, informal "you", while outside of Spain, ustedes is the plural "you" both formally and informally.

English used to do this a long time ago.  We used you as the formal form and for the informal form we used thy, thee, thou, thine, etc.  Fortunately we got rid of all of this and the only time students come across this now is when they read Shakespeare.

When you enter a shop in Czechland you are greeted with Dobrý den (the formal 'good morning').  You will never be greeted with ahoj because this is the informal "hi" which is only used among close friends and family.

Using the ty form with a stranger is very rude, especially when speaking to someone older.  Using the vy form comes across as very formal, reserved and polite.  When in doubt, I find it better to use vy.  I would rather be thought of as overly formal than as too familiar.

"Shall we use ty?"
When do you make the switch from vy to ty?  It's better for the other person to suggest it.  An older person will suggest it to a younger person.  A boss will suggest it to employees.  A woman will suggest it to a man.  In Czech, it's like a rite of passage when someone suggests switching from vykání to tykání

I use vy when I speak to any of the people in my building.  My landlady told me that since she knows in the USA we don't have formal forms of address, we should use the informal ty with each other.  At work, I use ty with all of my colleagues, those above and below me, but I switch to vy when asking for a coffee in the canteen.

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