by: Gwen Bloomsburg
Immortalized in the elegant lines of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Shakespeare’s plays, the King James Bible, and how my Quaker grandmother addressed her family, the pronoun thou has no place in modern English. Where hast thou gone?
One explanation intuited by many people, particularly if their first language maintains two forms of second person, is that you is the familiar second person. This is congruent with the idea that English is casual, informal. Quite the contrary.
Prior to the 16th century, thou and you coexisted, the former an intimate, familiar form, like tú, and the latter a respectful, deferential version, comparable to usted. English historians disagree whether to label the period—an intense coincidence when the Tudor Dynasty took hold, the printing press spread, and the genius Shakespeare emerged—“early modern” or English Renaissance. Whatever you call it, this is when thou began to disappear, victim of linguistic simplification, printing pressure, or mere etymological accident.
Khayyam, O. (1120 BC). The Rubaiyat. In D. Stevenson (Ed.), The Internet Classics Archive. Retrieved 18 Feb. 2013 from http:// classics.mit.edu/Khayyam/rubaiyat.html
Weiner, E. (2013). Grammar in early modern English. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 18 Feb. 2013 from http://public. oed.com/aspects-of-english/english-in-time/grammar-in-early-modern-english/