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In English, you is used both in the second-person singular and in the second-person plural (thou is now only used in some old proverbs and old expressions).

At the opposite, French (my native language) has a T-V distinction: tu is always used when addressing to only one person, but vous is often used when addressing to multiple people; however, sometimes, vous is used for only one person despite being always syntactically plural. When addressing to only one person, vous is reserved for strangers, or people older than oneself, or authority figures.

In my world (in the sense of a fictional universe I want to create), in the most spoken language used by therianthropes (their scientific name is Homo pilosus, so they are humans, just not Homo sapiens) (Homo pilosus means "hairy human"), Di is exclusively used in the second-person singular (even when addressing to a monarch, a president, a stranger, a deity, an elder, etc.) and Wos is exclusively used in the second-person plural (in their language, pronouns are always capitalised) (if you ask me, in the most spoken language used by therianthropes, the w is pronounced like the English w as in "world").

So, I wonder why would a language have a second-person pronoun system opposite to English.

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    What do you mean by "opposite to English"? May 30, 2022 at 9:34
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    I was taught that "tu" was familiar and "vous" was formal. But in Québec, "vous" is rarely heard. May 30, 2022 at 13:08
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    I would get rid of a lot of the parentheticals here. You don't need to tell us how <w> is pronounced, or that pronouns are always capitalized, or what "pilosus" means, or even what you mean by "my world". About the only one that actually is important is that therianthropes are not Homo sapiens, which fact I use in my answer but edges it into the scope of se.worldbuilding.
    – No Name
    May 31, 2022 at 17:24
  • I second the question by @OliverMason . To me, the opposite of the English system would be to use the singular pronoun to address a group. In Sweden this is be the natural state of affairs. We have one pronoun for addressing singular people and one to address multiple people, and use them accordingly. The king is usually addressed as "the King", as "Would the King like to see?". There used to be a system for polite plural, sometimes used by people trying to be overly formal, almost but not quite like English "thou". More recently, we used the 3rd person singular instead to address strangers.
    – Edvin
    Jun 1, 2022 at 6:20

2 Answers 2

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I agree with most of No Name's answer, but I disagree with "this is a significant departure from human psychology".

Look at this map (via linguisticmaps.tumblr.com) showing which languages in the world have a T-V distinction—that is, a formality distinction in the second-person pronouns.

map showing distribution

A T-V distinction is common in Europe, and more elaborate formality systems are more prominent in Asia, but large parts of the world (and in fact most of the world's languages) don't have such a distinction. In Swahili, for example, a single person is always wewe and a group of people is always ninyi (or nyinyi depending on dialect), whether you're showing respect or not. Instead, respect can be shown in other ways, such as adding a title like bwana (the equivalent of English "you" vs "you, sir"). Even in Europe, in Classical Latin the plural pronoun vōs (presumably the source of your Wos) was primarily used for groups of people; the T-V distinction was a later development in Romance.

So you don't need any justification at all for your language to work that way; it's how most languages on earth already work.

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You don't really need a reason to not implement a T-V distinction. Just because your native language does, doesn't mean every language does.

But if you insist: In German, "du" (the T pronoun) is used to address God, suggesting that they (or rather, the people in charge of these things want them to) think of God as more a friend than a ruler. Perhaps your therianthropes have a populist leader who insists he's "just one of the guys", so pluralis majestatis (i.e., the royal we) never got off the ground. No royal we, no royal you; no royal you, no T-V distinction.

Of course, this is a significant departure from human psychology, as plural=power is an old, old cheat code, and we love power and flaunting it. But you've already stated that these people are Homo, but not Homo sapiens. Different species within a genus can have significant psychological differences, such as that between Pan troglodytes (the chimpanzee) and Pan paniscus (the bonobo). All of this, however, is worldbuilding - I'd suggest any follow-ups go there.

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    Also, I wouldn't call a language with a T and a V pronoun the "opposite" of English - that honor would go to a language with only a T pronoun, as opposed to the V pronoun of English
    – No Name
    May 31, 2022 at 17:16
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    To complicate things further, the standard formal address in German is not the 2nd person plural (ihr) but the 3rd person plural (Sie). 2nd p. pl. ("ihrzen") can be used in some contexts (e.g., dialects in rural regions) as a semi-formal address, but this is non-standard.
    – Sir Cornflakes
    Jun 1, 2022 at 11:11
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    the use of T-pronouns for God is a historical accident, although it has been subject to later rationalisations. Hebrew has no T-V distinction and so uses singular pronouns for God. Latin and Greek also did not generally make use of a V-pronoun as a respectful 2nd person and so the early translations used by Christians preserve the use of the singular from Hebrew. Later translations T-pronouns largely because that's what's always been done. If Greek or Latin had had a robust T-V distinction, chances are we would see God referred to with V-pronouns today
    – Tristan
    Jun 10, 2022 at 10:04
  • @Tristan That makes sense, but the fact remains that the church decided to rationalize rather than retranslate (admittedly, mostly due to the belief that the Bible was God's word and even merely translating it was borderline sacrilegious, but still)
    – No Name
    Jun 10, 2022 at 10:12

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