Monday, December 17, 2007

Second Person Singular Pronouns

Costa Rica has two main ways to say 'you'. The most common one is Ud. (Usted). Many guidebooks will tell you to use tú. Don't believe them. They only say that because they don't take the time to put in research for each country they cover. Lonely Planet, for example, publishes a book on Costa Rica whose language section is similar to that of Spanish language sections in other guidebooks.

As a blogger on regional dialects and varieties of Spanish, this does not make me happy. Then again, if Lonely Planet did have the resources to pay attention to these details (this "detail" is actually pretty important) what would do with my time?

Anyway, the second most popular second person singular pronoun is vos. This pronoun is used in Costa Rica just as it's used in Argentina (although not quite as prevalently). Vos only a few decades back had been the most common everyday pronoun for 'you', but has recently given up ground to Ud.

Please note that Costa Ricans hardly ever use . It is said that is to be used with your lover and with God. It won't be a big deal if you use it as a tourist, but if you want to fit in with the locals, just use Ud. If you get really ambitious, you can use vos.

I'll write a lesson on vos conjugations soon. If I get ambitious, I'll also speak to the history of vos as a pronoun.

Stay classy. Pura Birra,



Ralph said...

This is such a valuable post. Is it really true that "usted" will never sound overly formal or stuffy? What a relief.

Thomas Carmona said...

Yes, Ud. is perfectly fine in any situation in Costa Rica.

This topic is proof that it's people, and not written convention, who shape language. The use of Ud. (and lack of 'tu') in Costa Rica defies prescriptive Spanish grammar, but it nonetheless exists for millions of Ticos every day.

Popular usage is also what made 'vos' no longer the pronoun of respect in early modern Spain. Formerly used in noble circles, the pronoun lost this "distinguished" status as commoners started using it amongst themselves.

Ralph said...

I am amazed to learn what travails and reversals these second person pronouns have endured. The French "tu" and "vous" now seem absurdly simple and easy to understand now that I've experienced Spanish.