A Multivariate Study of T/V Forms in European Languages Based on a Parallel Corpus of Film Subtitles

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Abstract

The present study investigates the cross-linguistic differences in the use of so-called T/V forms (e.g. French tu and vous, German du and Sie, Russian ty and vy) in ten European languages from different language families and genera. These constraints represent an elusive object of investigation because they depend on a large number of subtle contextual features and social distinctions, which should be cross-linguistically matched. Film subtitles in different languages offer a convenient solution because the situations of communication between film characters can serve as comparative concepts. I selected more than two hundred contexts that contain the pronouns you and yourself in the original English versions, which are then coded for fifteen contextual variables that describe the Speaker and the Hearer, their relationships and different situational properties. The creators of subtitles in the other languages have to choose between T and V when translating from English, where the T/V distinction is not expressed grammatically. On the basis of these situations translated in ten languages, I perform multivariate analyses using the method of conditional inference trees in order to identify the most relevant contextual variables that constrain the T/V variation in each language.

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