Saturday, August 4, 2012

Just Between Thee and Me...

As I was on pilgrimage in Greece for the last eight days, I was thrust into a linguistic experience in Romanian of which I have little practice, namely, the formal register. When speaking with someone you aren't close to, you use the 2nd Person Plural and the pronoun dumneavoastră (which basically translates into "You Lord"). 

I'm usually with people I know quite well, and so I have ample practice with the familiar 2nd Person Singular. Like all Romance languages, the word for you singular is tu.

Suddenly needing to call everyone dumneavoastră and use the plural when I'm talking to a singular human being was exhausting. And on the bus rides from Church to Monastery to Church, the Priest Guide would lead us in Akathists connected to our next point of arrival. And I found myself relieved in those prayers, directed to God and the Saints, to find the familiar 2nd person singular again. To hear, tu, te, cu tine... it was salve to my tired soul.

And the experience really convinced me that we've sadly lost something in English. The singular/familiar cognate for tu was thou. And it died in English, replaced by the plural you now use for singular and plural. Even more sadly, we've taken what was once an intimate way to speak with God as with a friend and exalted it into "Church Talk." So where I was really was speaking to my Father when I said "who art in Heaven," now I'm using the "Holy Register."

Having been raised on the Thees and Thous, I'm not inclined to let them go. And I want to find a way somehow in English to revive them with the understanding that I use them because God loves me and wants me to speak with him as with a Father, not a stranger on a bus.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely. Just lovely.
    Note that the Rumanian 'vous' is not an isolate, elaborate though it sounds: Spanish "usted" is likewise originally phrasal: vuestra merced.