T/V* forms of Address

We know instinctively that what we call one another is important. Take, as an example, my great friend Dr. Robert P. Mueller III. I might call him Dr. Mueller, Dr. Robert, Bob, Bobbykins or anything in between. the choice of name says a lot about our relationship, at least as I see our relationship. How we address people reflects our social distance, our affection for one another and even our mood. Those choices are important, and they may change over time.

Here is a real life example.

During the 2008 presidential election, I wrote a letter supporting my candidate and sent it off to the local paper. it was published, but there was a typo made in the letter that bothered me. I contacted the editor of the paper, and we had the following exchange, reprinted here with his kind permission.

Over the course of our correspondence, you can note a gradual change in formality both in how we address one another and in the style and complexity of our greetings and signatures. You might also examine this from a conflict resolution perspective to see how we avoided getting nasty with one another. (Note that I have taken the liberty of omitting most of the letter itself here to avoid potential distraction).

From: Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen
Sent: Tue 10/7/2008 7:45 AM
To: David Miller (Editor)
Subject: problem with letter to the editor

Dear Mr. Miller,

I am happy you chose to print my letter to the editor: pasted below. However, the Sentinel introduced an error into the letter that rendered it slightly incoherent at best and unreadable at worst. These are important times, and it is essential that we express ourselves clearly so that we can, as a community, discuss our options.

I've highlighted the portion of the letter which was printed incorrectly. A 'not' was introduced into one of the last sentences making it impossible to figure out my main point.

What is the Sentinel's policy when a mistake of this nature is made? Will you be reprinting my letter?

Looking forward to hearing from you and with thanks,
Sheri Wells-Jensen

[letter snipped]
Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen
Bowling Green

From: David Miller (Editor)
Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2008 8:55 AM
To: Sheri Beth Wells-Jensen
Subject: RE: problem with letter to the editor

Dear Dr. Wells-Jensen:

I apologize for the error. It obviously should not have happened.

I am willing to rerun the entire letter, but possibly rerunning just the last two paragraphs with an explanation of the error might best emphasize your main point. Let me know which you prefer.

Dave Miller

From: Sheri Beth Wells-Jensen
Sent: Tue 10/7/2008 10:00 AM
To: David Miller (Editor)
Subject: RE: problem with letter to the editor

Hi, Dave,

I respect your editorial judgement; you know better than I do what will reinforce my essential point. If you think that rerunning the last bit will do the trick, then that's perfectly fine with me, and once again I thank you.


From: David Miller
Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2008 4:43 PM
To: Sheri Beth Wells-Jensen
Subject: RE: problem with letter to the editor

Hi again:

Here's the wording of the correction, under the heading: "Error corrected on [...] letter"

"Editor's note: A typesetting error by the Sentinel-Tribune changed the meaning of a sentence in a letter to the editor written by Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen and published in Monday's newspaper. The word 'not' was mistakenly introduced into one of the last sentences. The last paragraph should have read as follows:"


Again Sheri, I'm sorry for our mistake.

- Dave

From: Sheri Beth Wells-Jensen
To: David Miller (Editor)
Date: Wed, 8 Oct 2008 09:35:41 -0400
Subject: RE: problem with letter to the editor

Graciously done. Thanks!

* Some of you are still wondering what "T/V" is supposed to mean. It's a shorthand way of referring to variations in forms of address that indicate formality, social distance, power, etc. Many languages have two separate second-person singular pronouns to express these differences. In French the forms are "tu" (T) and "vous" (V). The corresponding forms in Spanish are "tu" and "Usted", and earlier forms of English had both "thou" and "you". To add to the confusion, in Indo-European languages the "V" form often doubles as a second-person plural pronoun.