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Changes in German Vernacular Language (1884)
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Apart from that, however, forms of address derived from the third person, singular and plural alike, were also widely used. As a result, German speakers had four forms of address at their disposal at any time. Anyone not even deemed worthy of “Ihr” was called “Er” [he]. Servants, in particular, were usually addressed with “Er ist” [he is] or “Sie ist” [she is], etc. In the past century, rulers often addressed their subjects, even higher-ranking ones with “Er.” The form “Sie” [formal you], on the other hand, was generally used for persons to whom you intended to give full honors. Over the course of recent generations, the forms “Ihr” and “Er” have increasingly dwindled and only “Du” and “Sie” have remained in common use. If one is not on familiar enough terms with a person as to say “Du,” that person will demand to be addressed with “Sie.” At least this is the case in the city. It is peculiar that this respectful address used to be even more widespread than today. Thus most individuals educated in the early part of this century still addressed their parents with “Sie,” which today has become completely outdated.

Among our farmers the address of “Du” is more widespread than in the city, which is obviously due in part to the fact that villagers know each other far better. The village Jew is among those addressed merely with “Du” and a first name. He has to address the farmer with “Ihr” or “Sie,” however. The farmer uses “Sie” only for persons commanding respect, such as the priest, the mayor, and the people in the city. Unless they say “Du,” farmers address each other with “Ihr” (Hessian: “Dee”), in the second person plural. The children also address their parents in this way, and, frequently, a younger (second) wife will use the same in talking with her older husband.

In the past, parents were generally called father and mother. Today, in certain circles, even children well beyond adolescence continue to call them “Papa” [Daddy] and “Mama” [Mom]. Perhaps this represents progress in the sense of a well-known Biblical verse.

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