Changes of form of address in 18th century English

Nov 2016
1,351
Germany
In Samuel Richardson´s highly influential novel "Pamela" from 1741 several speakers sometimes change the form of address in the middle of a dialogue by alternating between "you" and "thou". The "you" form seems to be, in the England of that time, the normal form of address in dialogues between people of the same or of different social statuses. However, in certain situations the speakers seem to be emotionally motivated to change from "you" to the more intimate "thou". Such emotions can vary from aggression via mockery to cordiality. I list some examples below.

So how can these changes of the form of address amid a sentence, sometimes in a bidirectional manner, be explained? Was it normal in the England of that time that, in certain emotional contexts, speakers would say "you" in one sentence, "thou" in the next sentence, and again "you" in a third sentence? Is there a certain code ruling such changes?

***

Why, said he, thou art the veriest fool that I ever knew. I tell you I will see your father; I'll send for him hither to-morrow, in my travelling chariot, if you will; and I'll let him know what I intend to do for him and you.

***

And then, getting a little more hard-heartedness, he said, Well, you may be gone from my presence, thou strange medley of inconsistence! but you shan't stay after your time in the house.

***

She hugged me to her, and said: I'll assure you! Pretty-face, where gottest thou all thy knowledge, and thy good notions, at these years? Thou art a miracle for thy age, and I shall always love thee. But, do you resolve to leave us, Pamela?

***

O how my heart throbbed! and I began (for I did not know what I did) to say the Lord's prayer. None of your beads to me Pamela! said he; thou art a perfect nun, I think.
 
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Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,776
Australia
This may not be correct, but I seem to recall reading something that stated that these 'Olde English' forms of address were simply differences in spelling, not pronunciation. For example 'ye' is old spelling for 'the' utilising letters now long gone from the English alphabet and would have been pronounced in the modern way - 'the', not 'yee'. Same for thou and you - both pronounced 'you' but for some reason people reading the old spelling began pronouncing as it was spelled, not as it was said, and this became accepted.
 
Sep 2012
932
Prague, Czech Republic
This may not be correct, but I seem to recall reading something that stated that these 'Olde English' forms of address were simply differences in spelling, not pronunciation. For example 'ye' is old spelling for 'the' utilising letters now long gone from the English alphabet and would have been pronounced in the modern way - 'the', not 'yee'. Same for thou and you - both pronounced 'you' but for some reason people reading the old spelling began pronouncing as it was spelled, not as it was said, and this became accepted.
The difference between ‘ye’ and ‘the’ (as in ‘Ye Olde Englishe Pubbe’) is indeed just a matter of spelling. It wasn’t originally a ‘y’, but a ‘þ’, which is simply an old letter for the ‘th-‘ sound.

That’s not the case with ‘you’ and ‘thou’, though. These are different words, one starting ‘y-‘ and the other starting ‘þ-‘. They were the formal/plural and informal singular second person pronouns, respectively. Most European languages still retain two second-person pronouns (or three, in some cases), but in English the informal form gradually died out in most dialects.
 

Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,776
Australia
The difference between ‘ye’ and ‘the’ (as in ‘Ye Olde Englishe Pubbe’) is indeed just a matter of spelling. It wasn’t originally a ‘y’, but a ‘þ’, which is simply an old letter for the ‘th-‘ sound.

That’s not the case with ‘you’ and ‘thou’, though. These are different words, one starting ‘y-‘ and the other starting ‘þ-‘. They were the formal/plural and informal singular second person pronouns, respectively. Most European languages still retain two second-person pronouns (or three, in some cases), but in English the informal form gradually died out in most dialects.

Thanks. I knew there was something to this, even if I did not have it quite right.
 
Nov 2016
1,351
Germany
Thanks for the replies, but I don´t see any reference to my actual question regarding the change of ´you´ and ´thou´ in literary texts.