The formal second-person pronoun survived the attacks of the advocates of linguistic égalité then (as it did after the French revolution, nearly two centuries earlier), but the latest threat to its place in communication comes from the internet, and social media especially, where the informal “tu” form “seems to be taking over”, writes the BBC News Magazine’s Rebecca Lawn.
“When you’re communicating through @ symbols, joining networks and tweeting under a pseudonym, a formal ‘vous’ can seem out of place, even to someone you’ve never met,” she writes.
Not everyone is letting tu conquer without a fight, however. Laurent Joffrin, of the news magazine Nouvel Observateur, caused a stir when he upbraided a Twitter user who addressed him that way.
Joffrin, who has since quit Twitter, tells Lawn:
It was unpleasant. There’s a group of people who think they are superior because they know a way of talking [on Twitter] that others don’t. I don’t like the hierarchy. They want to impose their codes.
It doesn’t bring people together, it heightens tensions. It’s an appalling culture. People on Twitter would never dare to go up to someone in the street and call them ‘tu’ because it’s a form of violence – you see drivers insulting each other using ‘tu’.
In big cities especially, you need respect and courtesy. And on Twitter, there isn’t respect.