The Complex Task of Translating the English Word ‘You’ Into Other Languages

In a linguistic Ted-Ed lesson, volunteer translator Krystian Aparta explains, through animation by Avi Ofer, how translating the English word “you” into different languages can be rather a complicated task due to specific rules of culture.

To start with, how familiar are you with the person you’re talking to? Many cultures have different levels of formality. A close friend, someone much older or much younger, a stranger, a boss. These all may be slightly different “you’s.” In many languages, the pronoun reflects these differences through what’s known as the T–V distinction. In French, for example, you would say “tu” when talking to your friend at school, but “vous” when addressing your teacher. Even English once had something similar. Remember the old-timey “thou?” Ironically, it was actually the informal pronoun for people you’re close with, while “you” was the formal and polite version. That distinction was lost when the English decided to just be polite all the time.