You, of All People

Oh, hi there.

It’s been a while, I know. I’ve been busy, and I think I wanted a little break from writing.

But then an idea comes, and here we are!

I’ll be moving to Italy next month, Palermo, to be precise. And I was going to write a post on Facebook asking people for any advice they might have. And, I was going to write this post in Italian. But when I was thinking about writing it, I paused.

I would obviously use the second-person mode of address (you) in this post, as I would in English: Do you know any good restaurants, for example. Easy.

Except not though.

You see, Italian, like a lot of other languages, has separate singular and plural forms of verbs and pronouns for the second person. Like English used to. And I began to think: which one should I use? In English of course, we don’t need to think about it, because we don’t change either pronouns or verb forms.

But in Italian, should it be singular or plural, e.g. conosci or conoscete? I don’t know the convention (yet). And logically, it’s hard to figure out which one makes sense. In such a post, would I be addressing all my Facebook friends? Or is the idea to create the impression of a personal address, that I’m addressing the individual reader? And maybe I’m being Anglocentric in assuming Italian uses the second person in this way, and not something like the impersonal one (I’m pretty sure it does though).

And thinking about this, I realised that I actually don’t know what the case is in English. If you write something for an audience of multiple people, and use you as a form of address, is it singular or plural?

I suspect it’s more than likely singular, for most writers at least, to create that sense of personal connection. But then, doesn’t English give us the luxury of not having to decide? Whether consciously or otherwise, we don’t have to decide whether we’re addressing one person or many. And even if we’re consciously trying to use one or the other address, the simple facto of being restricted to using you means that our readers are free to interpret it as either a singular or plural address.

But in Italian I don’t have that luxury. I can of course just look it up, or ask a friend, and I probably will, but I’ll think about it first, as that’s the most fun part!

6 thoughts on “You, of All People

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