1 of 4
1
‘How are you’ and other strange greeting habits
Posted: 13 February 2007 07:26 AM   [ Ignore ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2344
Joined  2007-01-30

The title of an interesting entry in a blog that’s new to me, Notes from a Linguistic Mystic.

Here’s the opening:

Greetings are really fascinating to Linguists, as they’re often culturally specific, quite colorful, and sometimes very elaborate.

For one of my classes, I (along with five other people and professor) am working with a speaker of Zarma, a language of Niger. The goal of the class is to study the language and create a working grammar, then focus in on one particular aspect of the language we find fascinating. Right now, we’re in the process of translating a narrative about the marriage rituals of the Zarma people, and we stumbled across an interesting little tidbit.

To start off this narrative, our professor offered the speaker a greeting in Zarma, fufu, which is roughly equivalent to our simple “Hi!”. The speaker responded with ba:n sami wo:la (the colons indicate long vowels, “baan samee woluh”). This is a much more complex phrase, translating down to something roughly like “God be praised, my health is without problems”, or, more succinctly, “I’m doing fine”. The speaker explained to us that the fufu, ba:n sami wo:la interaction is a normal way of carrying out a greeting in Zarma. After the Ba:n sami wo:la, he went straight into the narrative.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 February 2007 08:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  710
Joined  2007-02-07

Thanks for the link, aldi, it’s an interesting site.

After reading the article, I was thinking how you can often use the amount of formality in greetings to gauge how someone feels about you. The less formal, the more likely they think of you as a friend. In German (and other languages) one can use the formal form as a reply to a familiar form greeting (sie vs. du) if one wants to make a point about one’s feelings and even though English doesn’t have the same forms as German, one can easily make the same point. We use greetings to establish our social relationships as much as anything else.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 February 2007 04:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  341
Joined  2007-02-17

In German (and other languages) one can use the formal form as a reply to a familiar form greeting (sie vs. du)

I don’t understand what you mean. Could you give a German example?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 February 2007 09:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  710
Joined  2007-02-07

I took German in High School so I’m pretty rusty, but I was taught that if someone addresses you in the familiar form using “du” and you reply to them in the formal form using “Sie” then you’ve let them know that you don’t consider the relationship to be on a first name basis. If someone asks, “Kommst du mit?” Are you coming? You could reply, “Nicht mit du” or “Nich mit Sie” and while both would translate as “Not with you” using the second form would also send the message that you don’t consider the person addressing you as someone who should be speaking to you in the familiar form. When travelling in Germany many years ago, I was careful to always use Sie.

I found the idea of familiar and formal forms interesting. In English we have familiar and formal ways of speaking and one can certainly use word selection to convey this feeling, but I don’t think it’s really the same as in German.

I was always careful in Britain about using first names. I never addressed someone I knew on a business level by their first name unless asked to do so or if they addressed me by my first name. In American business, first names are the rule and using “Mr Someone” as a form of address is usually considered being haughty or unfriendly while in Britain it is considered due respect. As always, YMMV and I suspect that things in GB have loosened up a bit since I was there.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 February 2007 09:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  341
Joined  2007-02-17

while both would translate as “Not with you”

No, they wouldn’t. That would be ‘nicht mit dir’ or ‘nicht mit Ihnen’.

The familiar form is fairly widespread nowadays.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 February 2007 08:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  429
Joined  2007-02-14

The situation with ‘du’ and ‘Sie’ is very similar to ‘je’ and ‘u’ in Dutch. Getting it wrong e.g. at a job interview, means you may not get the job at all. Your choice for either of the two is a strong social statement when introducing yourself (or being introduced) to a stranger.

I’m a bit of a conservative in this respect and I get irritated when somebody starts saying ‘je’ to me when I used the polite ‘u’-form in first instance. It is a complicated matter that has to do with status and age and much more.

A nice example is my dentist. When I see him he start with ‘u’, so I answer with ‘u’ (we’re about the same age). He soon changes to ‘je’ which means to me I can address him with ‘je’ as well. That makes him feel uncomfortable and he will then change back to ‘u’. He did that a couple of times. Silly man.

When politicians are being interviewed, they are usually addressed with ‘u’ (a sign of respect or knowing your place) although some interviewers may use ‘je’ (meaning “in here we’re equal"). In return the politician makes a statement when he uses either ‘je’ (hey, I’m cool, I’m down with you) or ‘u’ (I AM a minister after all and I don’t want you too close).

I know that some Dutch people are not too pleased with the (anglo-)american habit to start using first names right from the beginning. Especially in business we feel more at ease with a rather remote approach reflected in the use of ‘u’ in Dutch. It is different of course when you meet someone in say a bar, when using ‘u’ (or last names) would create a distance that would not be understood.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 February 2007 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1190
Joined  2007-02-14

Are there situations in German or Dutch where one person would use Sie and the other Du representing an upward vs. downward social status?  E.g., where a corporate executive would duzen to his Turkish gardener who would, in turn, use Sie to his boss.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 February 2007 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  429
Joined  2007-02-14

There are in Dutch, Faldage. Like I said, it is a complicated matter and it changes per person and situation.

The example that I gave of the politician being interviewed could be a good illustration. A rather conservative minister might expect to be addressed with ‘u’ even if he uses ‘je’ in his replies. An old fashioned doctor might say ‘je’ to his patients and be offended when his patients don’t say ‘u’ to him.

A customer can get away with saying ‘je’ to the sales person that says ‘u’ to him. The other way round could mean an end of the business relation.
In the army you say ‘u’ to an officer and he will say ‘je’ in return. You know you’re in real trouble when he starts saying ‘u’.

In my youth many children said ‘u’ to their parents. Nowadays that is the exception. However, in high school (in the mid ‘70s) it was normal to call a teacher ‘je’ and by his first name. My daughter, who went to the same high school as I did and even had some of the same teachers, didn’t know any better than to call them ‘u’ and ‘meneer’ (sir) or ‘juf’ (miss).

A policeman will insist on saying ‘u’ to a civilian even when he in turn is called ‘je’ which is coming close to an insult or at least a taunt.

I could go on a while, but I think you see the pattern.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 February 2007 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1373
Joined  2007-01-29

Afrikaans also uses polite “u” and familiar “jy”.  There are also examples of repetition of the senior person’s title, as in, eg:
Mr Jones, I like Mr’s car, not “your” car.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 February 2007 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  429
Joined  2007-02-14

Interesting, Eliza. That is reflecting an archaic way of how a servent would talk to his master in Dutch. I can imagine a butler saying ‘kan ik meneers jas aannemen?’ (may I take your coat, sir).
Actually, in certain fancy restaurants the waiters might use this kind of phrasing as well. “is meneer klaar om te bestellen?” (are you ready to order, sir?). Although I think it is way over the top and it is a bit would be.

For those getting confused: ‘je’ and ‘jij’ (’jy’ in Afrikaans) are synonymous albeit not entirely interchangeable.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 February 2007 09:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  311
Joined  2007-02-17
jimgorman - 18 February 2007 01:14 PM

He asks on that form “How would you like to be addressed?” I answered, “However the doctor would like me to address him.”

What will you do when Dr. Smith calls your bluff by calling you Dr. Smith? (^_^)
On most forms I see, there’s barely room to write my proper name, you must have very fine handwriting to put all that in.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 24 February 2007 12:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  590
Joined  2007-02-22

It seems to me that in the UK, many people are unhappy with the (US?) custom of addressing strangers or introducing themselves by their first names, but find surname and title (Mr Smith) too formal, with the result that they either use first name and surname or nothing at all.  At school, as on the internet, this problem was avoided by the use of nicknames, which was tough if you ended up with one you didn’t like.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 24 February 2007 01:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  341
Joined  2007-02-17

Who on earth uses first name and surname? The only example I can think of is a character in Aldous Huxley somewhere, and this is thought so strange it’s remarked upon.

There used to be an intermediate stage, at least for men, which was surname-only. I don’t suppose anyone uses it nowadays apart from the odd retired major, but I remember that someone I knew who went up to university in the early ‘70s was offended at receiving letters from his tutor-to-be of the type ‘Dear Brady’. He was aggressively working class in those days, so it may have been something of a middle-class thing.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 24 February 2007 04:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3525
Joined  2007-01-29

n the UK, many people are unhappy with the (US?) custom of addressing strangers or introducing themselves by their first names

I’m in the US, but I’m unhappy with it too.  Not much one can do besides glare, though.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 25 February 2007 06:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  590
Joined  2007-02-22

Well, I use my first name and surname when introducing myself, faute que mieux, and find that most prople I come across at work do the same. Surname alone or title and surname are too old fashioned and/or formal for most work occasions and I’m damned if I’m going to use my first name only.  I used to work for a boss who would receive a letter addressed “Dear Sir” and reply “Dear John”. I often wondered what the recipients made of it.  OTOH that was the least of his eccentricities.
The main problem seems to be that here in the UK, egalitarianism has rendered us unhappy with referring to strangers as Mr Smith, or whatever and we do not have the contineltal custom of using the title on its own, like the French “m’sieur”.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 25 February 2007 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  590
Joined  2007-02-22

I’ve never heard Tony Blair say that on the media, but it’s very much his style, yes.
On the use of Mr. etc, there seems to be a point where someone becomes so well known that the title is dropped, eg “Herr Hitler” before WWII has become plain “Hitler”, similarly Churchill, Eisenhower and other leaders of nations.

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 4
1
 
     Orangutan? ››