The use of Tu, Vos and Usted from a bicultural mind perspective

A few weeks ago y watched a very funny, but still real video of the uses of Tu,  Usted and Vos in Spanish. In which Sarah, from a life with subtitles interviews her Hispanic husband.   The truth is that as Hispanic, you do not really think in why you use the three different pronouns to refer to the second person (you), until somebody asks. 

tu y vos

The use of the pronoun Tu, Usted or Vos in general denotes,

  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Authority (submission)

I am Hispanic, and I had a similar adjustment that English speaking people have to the question.  I was shocked by the fact that “you” was used when talking to baby girl, to Mr. John,, to the Doctor, to the student(s) and even to the person you just met.  My biggest question was, how come Americans do not use Titles?.  

  • Is it lack of respect?
  • Americans trust more?
  • Americans are less submissive?
  • Is it a region issue?
  • A generational issue?

I went and ask to bilingual /bicultural friends,. 

American perspective with Spanish as a Second Language
I loved that video! It made me realize that most of my Spanish learning has been with people from Mexico, so I was using tu at times when it wasn’t actually appropriate. Embarrassing for me, but a good lesson! I was scheduled to observe at a bilingual Montessori preschool right after I saw Sarah’s video, so pronouns were on my mind, and I smiled when I noticed teachers (native speakers) using usted with the children. Montessori is so big on respecting children and modeling the best of manners with them, so it made sense to see that the teachers were speaking this way. 

As an American, I’m really only used to the generic “you,” and I don’t feel that respect for elders is a terribly important value for my generation, so those things may be related. When I moved from Colorado and started teaching in Texas, I did notice that not only did most of the children call me ma’am, which I was not at all used to, but they tended to be more respectful in general. Again, very likely related!
Melissa Kemendo
Definitely different in different cultures. We are friends with a group of Spaniards who say they would almost never use Ud in their lives. One of my other really good friends is from Nicaragua, who uses Ud even with her husband! My husband is from Mexico and would use it in certain cases- he would probably be between my Nicaraguan friend and my Spanish friends. It’s all so interesting!!!
Becky Mladic Morales
Glad you liked the video! That’s fun to hear.  I will say I probably know LESS now about how Usted and Tu are used in day-to-day life, but when I think about authority and respect, I think of it from a US Southern perspective. I teach my kids to call all my friends by Miss Katie or Miss Laura as a way to show difference between adult and kids. Many of us grew up calling our friends’ parents by their last names, so even this feels a bit casual. Still, some folks don’t care for it and have kids call adults by first name only. It certainly seems like things have shifted a bit.
Sarah Quezada
Colombian Perspective, 
It depends from the country where is used. In Colombia, using ud and tu is about closeness, how close you are to the person, I don’t think is necessarily about respect. Also, in the places where “vos” is used more often as a regionalism and is widespread. Also, I use a different word that convey the feeling that I want to express, if I am super serious, I almost always use usted.
Puerto Rican Perspective
Coming from Puerto Rico, “usted” is used as a way to respectfully address our elders and in the work place to your superiors. ¿Abuela, usted está bien?; ¿Sra. Cuevas, usted me llamaba? For everyone else we use “tú.” Also in the workplace any written communication, memo, etc. will always go out with “usted.” Personal letters we use “tu.” Now, “vos” on the other hand, we never use that word! Also living in the South (South Carolina) as Sarah mentioned the use of “miss/mister” is widely used, and of course, the “ma’am” and “sir” as well.
Costa Rica,
In Costa Rica, at least with my husband’s family, the Usted. form is much more common, even between husbands and wives – even used with babies! You do occasionally hear “vos.” I’ve mainly heard it among family members when they are joking around.
And a very interesting opinion from Annabelle
“This sounds like Brazilian Portuguese where they use the polite form much more often, even with kids (compared to European Portuguese) 
From the opinions I have learned,
  1. Tu, Usted and Vos vary according to where in Latin America you are.
  2. English uses you (singular or plural)
  3. The use of titles in English, vary according to region (North vs South)
  4. It also varies according to Country versus City.
  5. And my most important conclusion.
The people make the culture and the culture shapes the language.
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