Messages in the ABCs

The One Big Happy in my comics feed today (released to newspapers on 9/4) shows Ruthie finding messages in the ABCs — the letters of the alphabet in their conventional order in modern English (A B C D E F G …):

friendly greeting H I  … descending to prohibitive N O

But wait! Go on a bit further and we get to T U, spelling a pronoun of friendly address in French (and sort of, in Spanish, too). Oh, you changeable ABCs, with your many moods!

So, in French:

2sg informal tu /ty/ vs. formal vous /vu/ (vous is also the 2pl pronoun)

And in Spanish:

2sg informal vs. formal usted (2pl: informal vosotros, formal ustedes)

On the deployment of the “informal” T vs. the “formal” V 2sg pronouns in these (and other) languages, there’s a gigantic literature, springing from

Roger Brown & Albert Gilman, “The pronouns of power and solidarity”, in Style in Language, ed. by Thomas A. Sebeok (1960)

2 Responses to “Messages in the ABCs”

  1. deety Says:

    At some early age, I thought there had to be some connection between the L-M-N-O-P sequence and the word *elementary*.

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