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.
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).
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.