l’Académie française: Has Micro-blogging Killed le Vouvoiement?

Disclaimer: this post is probably more for myself than anyone else. 🙂

Remember that terrible 80’s song by The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star”?

Well, if video killed the radio star, I’m pretty sure that the evolution of web 2.0 – with my figer pointing at micro-blogging in particular – has killed le vouvoiement.

French 101

For anyone that doesn’t know, vouvoiement refers to the French use of a formal “you” to address someone with respect. It is often the default “you” when meeting someone for the first time, in business relationships and when in doubt. Vouvoiement naturally creates a distance and establishes a hierarchy between two people – which isn’t found in English.

Micro-blogging: guilty as charged.

I don’t think web 2.0 as a whole is to blame. I highly doubt many people on Linkedin are going to dare to immidiately bypass vouvoiement when initiating contact, for example. Generally, the closer we get to an email-type format, the more traditional the language gets. But Twitter and the integration of micro-blogging on various platforms (Facebook, Linkedin…) has dramatically changed the hierarchical communications patterns.


What I can’t seem to figure out is why. Is it because, with the 140 character restriction on Twitter, “vous” is simply illogical (4 letters versus 2)? Is it the combination of realtime web and the @whoever function, which creates a more chat-like and casual environment? What?

Yo, Monsieur le Président.

Part of reason may be a result of the current French demographic currently using social media and various micro-blogging platforms. At the end of the day there may be certain people – like, oh, Sarkozy – that will never shake off their protective layer of respect, even on Twitter. Or maybe they will, who knows (we’ll need to get him on Twitter to figure this one out, perhaps).

L’Académie franglaise.

In a way, I think it could be beneficial to shake off the hierarchical power structure. At the same time, we are talking about messing with a linguistic tradition. What’s funny to me is that the Académie française (which some jokingly call the “French language police”) sits around making up a French version for the word for “email” (“courriel”, which nobody uses) but has turned a blind eye to the lack of vouvoiement on micro-blogging platforms.

For any French companies that use Yammer, on the other hand, I’d be interested to know if the same phenomenon is observed.

5 thoughts on “l’Académie française: Has Micro-blogging Killed le Vouvoiement?

  1. “Vouvoiement naturally creates a distance and establishes a hierarchy between two people”

    I really disagree with that. There is no idea of hierarchy with vouvoiement at all. Between two person at the same level in the same team it’s usual to use “vous” for example.

    The tu on twitter (and yammer) is more a tribal question than something else. People on twitter want to looks like young, dynamic, up-to-date, etc.

    If you say tu to someone in the street, you will still shock him even if he won’t say it (it’s not polite to say someone is not polite) and even ih he would say tu on twitter 😉

    It’s just virtual dressing.

  2. Great comments. I agree with you that perhaps it is how people want to be perceived on Twitter.

    But you don’t think there is hierarchy in vouvoiement? Really? Think about the people you address as vous…maybe I am wrong.

    I’m not saying that vouvoiement will die on the street – ha! That would be crazy. But it’s funny that Twitter/microblogging platforms are the one place where nobody seems to care. Emails, blogs, Facebook even are not at this point necessarily…

    I love the expression “virtual dressing”. 🙂

  3. 😉

    For the hierarchy : some people may feel it in a different way but I don’t feel a hierarchy with vous. I use it for people with the same rank, with inferior rank, with superior rank.
    Not so many years ago, it was not unusual for a husband and her wife to say vous. I don’t think there is a hierarchy (but that’s possible however)
    Something is true, two child (since two generations) won’t say vous to talk another child they don’t know but will say vous to who they consider an adult. Based on that, a young person can feel the vous as something linked to the authority but I don’t think it is/should be.

    I use vous by default in emails, I use vous in blogs/forums where I don’t know the people but facebook is definitely the place to tutoyer 😉 since it’s just your friends :p

    Anyway, nice thematic

  4. Pingback: Liensdumatin 03/13/2010 « Ray's liens du matin

  5. Pingback: France’s Twitter Problem « TechBaguette

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