old-english

Evolution of the English Language
  • Old 

Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

  • Middle 

Ye seken lond and see for your wynnynges,
As wise folk ye knowen all th’estaat 
Of regnes; ye been fadres of tydynges
And tales, bothe of pees and of debaat.

  • Early Modern (early phase)

So whan the duke and his wyf were comyn unto the Kynge, by the meanes of grete lordes they were accorded bothe. The kynge lyked and loved this lady wel, and he made them grete chere oute of mesure – and desyred to have lyen by her. But she was a passyng good woman and wold not assente unto the Kyng.

  • Early Modern (later phase)

Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

In Old English, thou (thee, thine, etc.) was singular and you was plural. But during the thirteenth century, you started to be used as a polite form of the singular - probably because people copied the French way of talking, where vous was used in that way. English then became like French, which has tu and vous both possible for singulars; and that allowed a choice. The norm was for you to be used by inferiors to superiors - such as children to parents, or servants to masters, and thou would be used in return. But thou was also used to express special intimacy, such as when addressing God. It was also used when the lower classes talked to each other. The upper classes used you to each other, as a rule, even when they were closely related.

So, when someone changes from thou to you in a conversation, or the other way round, it conveys a different pragmatic force. It will express a change of attitude, or a new emotion or mood.

— 

David Crystal, “The Language of Shakespeare” — as included in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Second Edition.

I found this incredibly fascinating and informative, in regards to the difference between the Old and Middle/Modern English “thou” and “you” forms.

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