Our language and how it changes . . . and doesn’t

Our language is changing all the time and is probably changing faster than at any time in its history. We now tweet things and Google them and have LOLs AFAIK.

In any event there are some things our language is stubborn about. It doesn’t like innovation deep in its operating system. We don’t have lots of basic words which we should have. The word ‘whose’ works for a person, but not, strictly speaking for a non-person. So you can say “that person whose property was stolen”. But not really “That company whose property was stolen” – though lots of people do say things like that. If you want a non gender specific pronoun for a person – because you don’t know their gender, you can’t say ‘it’ – or you can but it’s both strange and rude. There are lots and lots of examples, and I know you can’t wait to point to some in comments.

Sometimes when things get political we fix things like this – as we did with “Ms”. But it’s a pity we can’t fix the other stuff. Why can’t we? And what could be done about it? (Actually I know the answer to the second question – not much. But not the first.) So O Troppodillians what dost thou reckon?

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63 Responses to Our language and how it changes . . . and doesn’t

  1. Antonios says:

    We don’t have to do anything. The English language already handles both situations, and has done so for ages.

    Whose has always been used to refer to inanimate objects. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for us: http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/23541/can-whose-refer-to-an-inanimate-object

    Same thing with they and their being used with singular antecedents. Shakespeare again approves:

    • GrueBleen says:

      I dunno mate, Will Shakespeare isn’t exactly a universally accepted authority on modern English. And we Angloparles don’t have an Academy which could make him so.

      It almost makes me pine for a single, standard form of the possessive – which, apart from plurals, and occasionally gender, is the only form of declension that has survived in English. So, for example, we’d say “he’s” instead of his, as we (almost) say for “hers”. Then we could simply say “The company which’s property was stolen …”.

      Or, we could just simply use that standard English approach of using a phrase (or clause) such as “The company from which (its) property was stolen …”.

      And that’s something up with which I could put !

  2. Alan says:

    Umm, Nicholas, ‘thou’ and ‘dost’ are singular. The correct syntax would be:

    So O Troppodillians what do you reckon?

  3. Paul Bamford says:

    We don’t have lots of basic words which we should have.

    Such as?

  4. Robert says:

    Shakespeare aside, there is plenty of support for “whose” in that context; eg: “the notion that whose may not properly be used of anything except persons is a superstition; it has been used by innumerable standard authors from Wycliffe to Updike, and is entirely standard as an alternative to of which the in all varieties of discourse.”

    Same goes for singular they.

  5. Don Arthur says:

    The word ‘whose’ works for a person, but not, strictly speaking for a non-person.

    According to Bryan Garner this claim marks you as a ‘pseudo-snoot eccentric’. According to Garner’s Modern American Usage:

    Whose may usefully refer to things. This use of whose, formerly decried by some 19th-century grammarians and their predecessors, is often an inescapable way of avoiding clumsiness …

  6. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Don, I agree that my objection to ‘who’s’ is snooty – perhaps pseudo snooty, and also perhaps eccentric. But language is a logical thing and it just feels wrong to me. Am I the only one?

    I’d much rather use “which’s”, as that’s logical – just (for no good reason) in current use. But would Bryan Garner like that? If not, is he a bit snooty himself?

  7. Antonios says:

    Language is only partially a logical thing. It’s another battlefield in the eternal war between Apollo and Dionysus, i.e. the logical and the intuitive.

    You’re right in that which’s is more logical, but to me it sounds absolutely terrible — the intuitive side says no. Whose is perfectly fine. If we used logic to sweep through the inconsistencies in the English language, we’d have a completely different language, and one that would be far less appealing overall.

  8. Julie Thomas says:

    “But language is a logical thing”

    Language logical? Have you talked to a poet or a song writer?

    As Antonios said, language is also emotional; for some people, probably more than we think – sounds are associated, inextricably through brain connections – with feelings; eg synaesthesia.

    You acknowledge the role of emotion when you say that some words feel wrong. The words and usage you object to feel wrong to me also, or they sound wrong, I think, because they sound ‘ugly’. It’s an aesthetic judgement about the way the sounds go together.

    • john r walker says:

      ” It’s an aesthetic judgement about the way the sounds go together.”

      ‘Aesthetic’ judgements are interesting, aesthetic judgements are quick( much quicker than logical judgements). Aesthetic judgements often involve ‘taste/sense’ For example his proposition stinks, is fishy or is a bit to too purple… I don’t buy it. Or alternatively this is ‘graceful/beautiful’ … I really want/love it. These sort of judgements are far more important/frequent in our social lives than logical evaluations.

      Its interesting how much of aesthetic/social judgement seems to be a sort of synesthesia to ‘taste , smell, color ‘.

  9. meika says:

    languages are crap because they are primarily ‘designed’ by babies as they learn them, and then teenagers hyperventilate over what they have forgotten as their brains re-wire in their search for their cool selves. Languages are fractal at all levels, and self-similar with a pretence to logic which said teenagers acquire a preference for once they are old enough to become curmudgeonly grammarians. Lojban is the answer, not because it’s based on a machine readable logical system, but because it removes the babies and the teenagers, and as a bonus the grammarians have nothing to add.

  10. TimT says:

    Language isn’t particularly logical. It does rely on rules to be coherent (grammar) but there’s nothing logical about these rules. And they have many many exceptions.

    This act of common consent does actually work to fix some things. The old plural form of address was ‘ye’; this gradually fell into disuse along with many of the other old forms of address (‘thee’, ‘thine’, etc). But by the time the old rules regarding formal address were forgotten in English, they were already beginning to be replaced – the southern American ‘y’all’ effectively replaces ‘ye’. Jeff Fenech also bought to attention an Australian version of this plural address: ‘youse’, as in ‘I love youse all.’

  11. Alan says:

    The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage cheerfully quotes the King James Bible:

    Ye have not chosen me; I have chosen you.

    Purely for Nicholas’ benefit the singular would have been:

    Thou hast not chosen me, I have chosen thee.

    Which tells us how the plural second person worked when the KJB was translated (or written depending on who you talk to). It’s typical that plural subject form ‘ye’ looked very like the singular object form ‘thee’.

    There seem to be some ‘places’ in the grammar space that languages try to fill, so you get people trying to re-invent a numbered second person. If the process was logical they’d be looking at ways to singularise ‘you’ as well as ways to pluralise it, but (contrary to the original post), ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ are not going to make a comeback.

    • TimT says:

      I don’t think the ‘thous’ and ‘thees’ have quite gone away but it’s true that we’ve lost many of the old rules that go with them.

      • derrida derider says:

        Of course “thou” was not only the singular but also the familiar form. In Shakespeare’s time there was even a name for the act of deliberately dissing someone by calling them “thou” – to tutoyer (from the French of course). When God kept saying “Thou shalt not …” the old greybeard was tutoyering us.

        At least we don’t have the social awkwardness that is common in countries with languages that retain that familiar/formal distinction in the second person. It can be sometimes be very tricky in much of Europe to decide which form to address someone with, especially as the boundary varies from language to language.

  12. Alan says:

    If only thou wert right, john.

    • john r walker says:

      ‘If you can’t draw a man in the time it takes him to fall from the third floor of a building, you can’t do the big machines”.

      I have read that a structure of unusually shaped neurons in our brains seems to play a key role in our making rapid social situation judgements, the interesting thing is that this structure seems to have been adapted from similar structures in other non social mammals that seem to be used for making very rapid responses to changing smells taste in that animals environment.

  13. desipis says:

    What about using “that’s” rather than “which’s”? As in:

    The company that’s property was stolen.


    The car that’s tail light was broken.

    Also, there have been numerous attempts at resolving the gendered pronoun issue. Of course using those without sounding like a pretentious gender-studies student is another problem…

    • Alan says:

      I think the numerous attempts are pretty much at an end. singular they has triumphed. To argue otherwise is to find that unlikely creature, a pretentious gender studies student employed by the London Daily Telegraph. The headline deserves quoting in full)

      If someone tells you singular ‘they’ is wrong, please do tell them to get stuffed

    • TimT says:

      In Sweden where they take ideas about gender neutrality very seriously one political party at least is pushing a gender-neutral pronoun. I’m not sure if that’s on the Wikipedia list.

      It all sounds incredibly naff of course. People have tried to change language for political purposes many many times over; but they’ve had few successes – the one undoubted success I can think of is the introduction of ‘Ms’ as a replacement for ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’. (Still not sure how you pronounce it though.) If there’s so many proposed gender-neutral pronouns, and such a small amount of people really caring about it (ie, gender studies students) then it’s little wonder they’ve made so little impact on the language.

      And if it’s so hard to introduce one or two little words into the language – well, imagine how much harder it would be to get people to accept a whole new language. Sorry Meika: Lojban, like Esperanto, is doomed. But I offer a compromise: Klingon, perhaps? Or maybe Elvish? ;)

      • Alan says:

        And yet Swedish is one of the examples of politically motivated language change.

        Maria Zijlstra: In Sweden, or in the Swedish language, there is a different story. It is also political but, in this case, much more latter-day, dating from the 1970s.

        Anders Ahlqvist: Yes, when I grew up, Swedish had a system very much like that of French, and perhaps even slightly more like that of German. But, in any case, ‘du’—which is the Swedish word for ‘you’ singular—was only used for speaking to reasonably intimate friends and members of the family and people one’s own age, and other ways were used then to show respect, not just the use of the plural pronoun ‘ni’ but also using titles and surnames and so on.

        But then, towards the end of the 1960s, of course there was a lot of upheaval of various kinds and this was felt to be less than democratic, I think, and efforts were made to change the system and they actually worked. And today what actually goes on when people speak Swedish is very much, on the surface of it anyway, very much like what happens in Irish.

        Maria Zijlstra: And in English?

        Anders Ahlqvist: Yes, except that English—as we said earlier—doesn’t really, yet anyway, have standard English. That is, it doesn’t really yet have a word for ‘you’ plural, although I think it’s coming in, as I said earlier.

        Simply repeating that inclusive pronouns are used only by gender studies students does not make it true.

        • john r walker says:

          What happens in Irish?

        • Alan says:

          Same link:

          Maria Zijlstra: Okay, so in Irish—or Irish Gaelic, as some people call it—how many kinds of ‘youse’ are in use?

          Anders Ahlqvist: It’s quite simple really. When speaking to one person, regardless of status, the word ‘tu’ is used, and when speaking to several people, the word ‘sibh’ is used, and that’s all there is to it.

          English, Irish and Swedish are the only European languages without separate polite and intimate forms of second person.

        • john r walker says:

          Would English, Irish and Swedish being the only European languages without separate polite and intimate forms of second person. Come down to historical links?

        • TimT says:

          I’ll cop laziness in my repetition of the ‘gender studies students’ phrase. Okay, fine. But the people who ARE interested and motivated by the idea of such changes to language are an extremely small and unrepresentative minority – even if we take the case of Swedish politics.

        • Alan says:

          I suggest you re-read the material above which shows that Swedish dropped the formal/intimate distinction at the end of the 1960s for purely political reasons.

          I suggest also that in a world where authorities as diverse as the London Dally Telegraph and the Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage disagree with you about inclusive pronouns it may be time for you to either: (1) abandon your claims about inclusive pronouns or (2) redefine ‘tiny unrepresentative minority’ in the manner of Humpty Dumpty.

        • TimT says:

          Come on Alan. When was the last time you used ‘ver’ or ‘thon’ or ‘ve’ or ‘xe’ in a sentence (the gender-neutral pronouns included in Desipis’ Wiki link?) These many suggested gender-neutral terms just aren’t going to be any more than fringe terms for a long time, if ever.

          And if you actually read my comment you’d see that I included a link to the Swedish example because it was an example of language being changed for political reasons. I wasn’t disagreeing with you there.

        • Alan says:


          Never, as you know from reading my previous comments. I have, by contrast, used ‘singular they’ quite a lot, especially in written documents.

        • john r walker says:

          Any idea how you/youse was treated at the time of Danelaw?

        • Alan says:

          The plural/formal thing is thought to have come from the Byzantines, who got it from the Middle East. There was no plural/formal thing in Old English. I’d guess that’s true of Old Norse as well, but I don’t know for sure.

        • john r walker says:

          Ah so it was the Varangians . i.e the pan Norse culture that stretched from Ireland to Miklagard.
          It sort of suggests that the adoption of you/youse in Swedish was more recent than the actual time of the Varangians. Any idea when?

  14. mary jenkins says:

    I have the feeling that our language is being hijacked. Watered down to the lowest common denominator. It is too much trouble to teache real analysis of sentences in our schools. No one has time today for the finer details. Text is taking over and causing great communiction problems.

    • john r walker says:

      You are not alone, 1984 was all about language.
      And this from V.S. Naipaul at the 1984 Republican National Convention , could have been written now about our current political language situation , no?

      At the climax of the great occasion, as at the center of so many of the speeches, there was nothing. It was as if, in summation, the sentimentality, about religion and Americanism, had betrayed only an intellectual vacancy; as if the computer language of the convention had revealed the imaginative poverty of these political lives. It was “as if”- in spite of the invocations and benedictions- “as if inspiration had ceased, as if no vast hope, no religion, no song of joy, no wisdom, no analogy, existed any more.”
      The words are by Emerson; they were written about England. English Traits, published in 1856, was about Emerson’s two trips to England, in 1833 and 1847, when he felt that English power, awesome and supreme as it still was, was on the turn, and that English intellectual life was being choked by the great consciousness of power and money and rightness. “They exert every variety of talent on a lower ground.” Emerson wrote, “and may be said to live and act in a submind.” Something like this I felt in the glitter of Dallas. Power was the theme of the convention, and this power seemed too easy- national power, personal power, the power of the New Right. Like Emerson in England, I seemed in the convention hall of Dallas “to walk on a marble floor, where nothing will grow.” -Among the Republicans

  15. TimT says:

    When I wrote this poem – the character ‘speaking’ is a kind of parodic Elizabethan – I found that I was correcting myself when it came to the use of the middle English pronouns, ie, ‘thee’, ‘thine’, and ‘thou’. For me at least the ‘rules’ regarding this largely defunct part of the language still seem to be active, perhaps owing to my reading habits – but my knowledge in the area is also quite imperfect. So I could have made more than one mistake. Anyone who wishes to read through the poem (it’s quite short), feel free to point out mistakes I have made.

    Only pointing this out because it’s relevant to the discussion. (Oh yeah and I am a link whore*….)

    *This term used advisedly, in a gender-neutral kind of way….

  16. meika says:

    Constructed languages make more sense I feel the more languages one learns. I am only on my third or fourth. In many slavic languages one has to make the gender of the past tense verb agree with the object’s grammatical gender. (Polish has 3.5 genders, an extra posh one for real men).

    This is crap.

    Esperanto was doomed because it sounds ugly, too much like Italian with the nouns ending in ‘O’.


    People consciously change their languages all the time, much like they seek to preserve archaic hi-faluting forms because they are a persecuted national language (Polish). Change might be improbable because people are linguistically lazy or identity-proud, but not impossible. New languages can be encouraged, witness modern Herbrew or Indonesian, so you can change your language if identity-proud too, this might be a factor in New Guinea’s massive language collection. Just shrugging leaving it up to babies, teenagers and grammarians is not necessary. Certainly such proposals would give easy work to jocks like Alan Jones to grump on about to his aging cohort but like whatever.

    Politics is always with us, but need not always put us off.

    I used to think constructed languages were stupid, I was pro-natural language. I now see this as wrong, and lazy. Reminds me, must find time for more lojban…

    • TimT says:


      Heh, way to feminise a language. Though shouldn’t that be ‘Shebrew’?

      PS Heroic attempts at making a completely ‘scientific’ or ‘logical’ language have obvious analogies to heroic attempts at making completely ‘scientific’ or ‘logical’ societies, eg communism. An inspiring idea to many, perhaps – but just not an idea that has much to do with reality.

      • meika says:

        Doesn’t have to be scientific or logical, just not full of crap.

        • TimT says:

          Most of the time we wouldn’t even notice similar ‘crap’ in English though! I don’t feel really motivated to make a value judgement about redundancies/odd rules/senseless exceptions in language really – for me they’re just something to accept.

          One analogy I could make could be to the structure of a poem like a villanelle. This poem is 16 lines long and has two lines repeating constantly throughout the poem. You could argue that ‘this is crap’ and try and ‘simplify’ the villanelle by removing all or most of that repetition – produce a sort of three line summary of the poem, even. But that a) makes the poem much less beautiful and b) makes the poem less expressive by doing damage to its overall structure.

          In a paradoxical way the illogical, senseless, and ‘crap’ parts of language make it more capable of expression and play. For instance, if you remove the capacity for dangling modifiers from English, wonderful jokes and playful ambiguities like the following

          One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.

          …. are negated.

        • meika says:

          One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.

          In pseudocodic slavic this would be. (and doesn’t include any other declensions and conjugations).

          “One morning I sh-he-man-ot an elephant in my pajamas. How he g-he-man-ot into my pajamas I’ll never know.”

          This is beyond redundant. It is crap.

        • TimT says:

          Ha. Think the Pseudocodic Slavs were on something when they invented that? :)

    • john r walker says:

      St. Cyril (or more likely a team of monks scholars) is credited with creating the Cyrillic alphabet, it was needed to write bibles in slav/Russian languages . So I suppose you could say that Cyrillic was sort of constructed by a smallish design committee .

  17. meika says:

    I think I meant subject.

  18. derrida derider says:

    Actually one of English’s strengths is its redundancy, which is a product of its very mixed roots – we often have several words for almost the same thing because we’ve borrowed the words from elsewhere. We have lots of words that are almost synonyms. I can (AngloSaxon) ask for something, or I can (Norman French) demand something – sorta the same, but there’s a difference. En Francais, je le demand seulement.

    That’s why made up languages like Esperanto sound terrific for writing legislation (no ambiguity) but hopeless for a difficult conversation. Another reason they never succeed.

    • TimT says:

      Yep that’s the other thing I was going to mention – the flexibiity (synonyms, etc) and also playfulness inherent in natural languages like English make it much more useful in so many circumstances than made-up stuff like Lojban. I’d also suggest the eccentricities and exceptions make it much more congenial to people/personalities. Logic is one part of language, but only one part – and ‘man cannot live on bread alone’.

  19. desipis says:

    I do have to wonder if all this discussion about sentence structure and grammar is a bit outdated given we live in a world that converses with animated GIFs.

  20. meika says:

    For another view as to why languages are deliberately fill with crap (and so IMHO can then be also deliberately supplied with a sewerage system) see Mark Pagel:

    Languages have acted as a powerful social anchor of our tribal identity throughout modern human history, but between 30 and 50 languages are being lost every year as the inhabitants of small tribal societies adopt majority languages. It is inevitable that eventually there will be one single language. So concludes Mark Pagel, Professor of Evolutionary Biology, in his article, War of Words, in this week’s New Scientist. Drawing on his ERC research project on the evolution of language and material from his recent book, Wired for Culture, Professor Pagel explains in the article how languages have evolved since modern humans emerged in Africa 200,000 years ago and why today’s 7000 languages are probably a fraction of those spoken throughout that history. His research has demonstrated that the greatest diversity in human societies and languages has arisen where people are most closely packed together, near to the equator, rather than when they are geographically scattered, as might be expected. As an example, he points to Papua New Guinea, which is a relatively small country but home to 15% of the languages spoken across the world. Why, he asks, would people living so close together have become incapable of talking to one another? He points to continual battles in human history as a reason for linguistic diversity. In the New Scientist article he says; "We have acquired a suite of traits that help our own particular group to outcompete the others. Two traits that stand out are ‘groupishness’ – affiliating with people with whom you share a distinct identity – and xenophobia… In this context, languages act as powerful social anchors of our tribal identity." He cites, as evidence, anthropological accounts of tribes deciding to change their language, with immediate effect, to distinguish them from neighbouring groups, and in modern times, the differences between American and British English. The rate of loss of languages in modern times exceeds that of biological diversity decline, he says. Globalisation and electronic communication is creating cultural homogeneity, which will inevitably lead to a "mass extinction of languages to rival the great biological extinctions in Earth’s past." However, this trend is happening more slowly than it could due to the psychological role language plays in identity. Foreign words are still sometimes viewed with suspicion and nationalist agendas foster policies to save dying languages. In the long-run, however, "it seems virtually inevitable that a single language will replace all others….English is already the worldwide linguafranca, so if I had to put money on one language, this would be it." His article War of Words appeared in New Scientist (8 December 2012) and draws on material from his ERC research project and recent book, Wired for Culture, Origins of the Human Social Mind (Penguin UK). Mark Pagel is a Fellow of the Royal Society and Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Reading.

    via New Scientist article War of words: The language paradox explained.

  21. john r walker says:

    Its only a guess, I would hazard that the adoption of byzantine you/youse into Swedish most likely came via Russia, provably around about 1600-1700 when Russia was becoming a big player in world affairs and especially in the Baltic area (or maybe even later). In other words the recent changes to Swedish you/youse might be as much a reemergence of roots as a radical change.

  22. Alan says:


    I doubt it can have been that late. I’d put the Latin Conquest in 1204 as the latest possible time because after that the Byzantine empire rapidly shrank to the status of a very minor power. The recruitment of Scandinavians to the imperial bodyguard appears to end in 1203 and there is certainly no record of the Varangian Guard after that time. Even after the reconquest of Constantinople itself, Byzantium was just no longer in a position to hire a great number of foreign mercenaries from Scandinavia or anywhere else. After 1453 and the Ottoman conquest there is no longer a Byzantine court language for anyone to copy.

    You’d also have to show why Swedish gets the formal plural through Russia but the other languages spoken round the Baltic, including the other North Germanic languages, get it from somewhere else.

    • john r walker says:

      The last stand of the literal Varangian guard was from memory in about 1220 ish. By that time very few of the guard were ‘vikings’.

      “You’d also have to show why Swedish gets the formal plural through Russia but the other languages spoken round the Baltic, including the other North Germanic languages, get it from somewhere else.

      That is true if the formal plural was in use in Norse at the time of the peak of both the Norse spread generally and its highest exposure to Byzantium I.e around 950-1100AD. Otherwise it suggests that it was acquired later and not directly from Byzantium.
      Given the rather foundational influence of Byzantium on Russian and the Russian church it seems reasonable to think it might be that languages spoken round the Baltic, including the other North Germanic languages were influenced by Russia, in relatively recent times, no?

  23. Alan says:

    There is no evidence of a majestic plural in Old Norse. There is no evidence of a majestic plural anywhere in Western Europe before about 1100. If, as the original source tells us, the Byzantines first used the formal plural to the emperor and only later as a generic marker for high status, than you’d expect to see the royal plural before the formal plural. The royal plural came into English only in the 1200s as a borrowing from the papal chancery, which makes a much likelier transmission belt than Russia for the early adoption of the royal plural or the formal plural.

    None of the North Germanic languages show any great Russian influence. I do not know about the other Baltic languages. Before you can construct a theory you need some actual evidence.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Alan, we are not amused.

    • john r walker says:

      Alan it strikes me as odd that the ‘byzantine usage’ came so late , after the peak of Byzantium’s power. And it is also after the period when the norse were really into adventure travel.
      It is reasonable to ask questions/ posit a theory that can be tested when the evidence-explanation looks odd.

      • Alan says:

        You’re assuming the Byzantine usage goes directly from Constantinople to London or Uppsala. More likely it goes to Rome and Palermo and spreads onward from there. These things take time. Consider the extent to which Australians were still taught British usage in language until very recently. The highpoint of British language influence in Australia did not correspond to the high point of Empah.

        Actually there was a time when it appeared that England and Denmark could become a single kingdom, but that is not at all the same as saying that England and Scandinavia could become a single kingdom. Sweden a separate entity and Swedes, not unexpectedly, tended to go east into what is now Russia while Danes went south to England. The separate kingdom if Norway behaved differently again. You can’t reasonably conflate Denmark with all of Scandinavia, especially when you are claiming a different provenance for a feature of Swedish than the same feature in Danish, Icelandic and Norwegian.

        Before any of this is even worth debating you need to show some evidence that the royal plural, followed by the formal plural, came into Old Norse hundreds of years before it came into any other European language. You would also need to explain why Old English shows no sign of either when the Varangian Guard included as many Anglo-Saxons as Vikings and after the 1066 probably included many more Anglo-Saxons than Vikings.

        • john r walker says:

          As I said Russia being so shaped by byzantine culture, looks a quite likely and more direct source of influence on cultures that traded in the Baltic.
          I agree is that youse/ you is pretty unlikely to have been adopted until quite some time after 950-1200 AD .

          I presume there must be some actual research into when Swedish adopted you/youse?

  24. john r walker says:

    alan Facts : around 1000 to 1030 AD England and Scandinavian were not that far from becoming a single kingdom, it was also the time that viking varangian guardsmen were constantly near the emperor … the apparent absence of you/youse from Norse and English language of the time… come on .

  25. meika says:

    I don’t know why I am getting involved at this late stage but…. can’t help myself. “Russia” as used in the above comments… I assume you mean Kievan Rus, as destroyed by the Mongol invasion in the mid 13th century, , or even the Novgorod Rus which was spared, and not the Moscovite Rus, who after their tutelage by tribute in slaves to the Mongol Golden Horde decided to do Empire for themselves (late 14century), as dominator of all the Russias and by extension later, all Slavs, and much like the “One China” which is so all-inclusive as to be meaningless (which was also a function of Mongolian expansion, particularly the claim to Tibet.)

    (Most speakers of an indo-european language in Europe speak Slav.)

  26. john r walker says:

    On reflection its likely that widespread formalised usage rules went with widespread formal education and its uniform text books , a fairly recent develpoment.

    As a few have pointed out English is not lacking in special ways of saying you, there are plenty of ways of letting one know your place.

    And ‘we have adopted irish usage’ is a spinney way of saying we have adopted the usage of the language of world trade and Adam Smith , english.

  27. All this talk of grammar is heartening, to say the least.

    I have striven mightily to ensure that my three sons are bi-lingual: they
    were raised in the Peloponnese, and the youngest, unlike his Melbourne-born
    brothers, was born in Athens.

    They have imbibed the Australian English of my parents, by and large, with
    many a dying expression included. The day when my youngest son got up from
    lazing about on the couch and said, ‘Well, this won’t buy the baby a new frock,’ was a day I will always remember.

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