Social Question

janbb's avatar

Should a French dinosaur address a small boy as "tu" or "vous"?

Asked by janbb (44099 points ) March 11th, 2014

This question is (arguably) less silly than you may think. I painted a picture of a dinosaur for my grandson and I want to caption it. Gail and I have been discussing the issue and I wonder if any French speaking Jellies have opinions as well.

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57 Answers

rojo's avatar

Doesn’t it have to do with familiarity?

ragingloli's avatar

If my memory serves me right, tu is the informal form and should be used when addressing a child.

janbb's avatar

Oh yes! “Tu” is the informal form but the question is should an animal use it to a child. And one that is not necessarily known to him. But since the recipient is a child, perhaps so.

zenvelo's avatar

If it’s a friendly dinosaur that smiles and wags its tail, “tu”.

If it’s going to chomp on him, “vous”.

longgone's avatar

Question of the day.

janbb's avatar

@rojo I was about to answer something snippy like, “I know the difference” and then I clicked on your links! Perfect!!! My dinosaur is somewhere in between the two.

CWOTUS's avatar

Is the French dinosaur a republican (small “r”) Frenchman, or rump royalty? Old (one would presume), or young? And have they previously met? Is the dinosaur a stickler for formality, or quite informal or playful?

I would think that after you resolve those questions in your mind, the answer would become obvious.

Symbeline's avatar

Oh that’s what this was about. Gail PM’d me about this, she’ll probably tell you what I said then. But quickly told, again, they can say tu if they both know one another. If it’s for your grandson, saying tu makes it more personal and is acceptable, as vous is for remaining polite and formal. But out of respect, if the dinosaur and boy don’t know each other, they will address one another as vous, whether the meeting is friendly or hostile. (in this case, friendly)

This applies to France, and probably most other European places where French is spoken, but here in Québec, that rule is pretty much thrown out the window. We tutoie everyone here.

thorninmud's avatar

Kids are pretty much always addressed as “tu”

janbb's avatar

@Symbeline I was leaning toward the “vous” since they don’t know each other and it would be the dinosaur addressing small boy in my caption. Perhaps in further communication, they could move on to “tu.” Or even tutus.

CWOTUS's avatar

This reminds me of my first trip to Europe, when the employer I worked for in Michigan was integrating a business management system with its sister plant in the Netherlands. (A Y2K project, if anyone recalls them.)

While in the Netherlands on the first 6-week training trip I took the time to learn a bit of Dutch and get out and about a little. Some of us (there were three Americans in the group) frequented a local pub, where the owners and we had a mutual friendship. We started to adopt the Dutch custom of ending the evening by saying “Dooie!” as we waved goodnight. (I assumed, NL being such a small country, that this was a more or less “universal” version of “See you later!” or an equivalent, throughout the country. Everyone we worked with said it to each other and to us at the end of the day, so it was one of the first words we picked up.)

Later on, during another trip when we became friendly with another bar owner, we did the same thing – once! He actually turned rather frosty as he upbraided us – politely but firmly – “They only say that in the southern part of the country.

We did manage to hold off laughing out loud until we had gotten out of earshot, I think.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

I thought we were suppose to tell children dinosaurs did not exist on the earth with humans. Might be a cause for them to start rejecting fact and conjecture for something unscientific.

They do have online translators, you can run it through some of them, and the phrase or article that comes up in the majority has to be the one. Or go to Barns & Noble and scope out a French language book; problem solved.

gailcalled's avatar

When and if I get @Symbeline‘s permission, I will send along her detailed PM to me.

There is Le Petit Prince; in chapter two, the little boy asks the pilot/narrator (probablythe little boy as an adult) to draw him a sheep.

Dessine-moi un mouton.” The small boy speaking to his future adult-person?

Symbeline's avatar

He’s tutoying him in that part. (lol, tutoying) Otherwise, if it was vouvoying, it would be ’‘dessinez moi’’. (lots of verb rules running around and switching places, and I’m real bad with all that)

gailcalled's avatar

@Symbeline says:

In most cases both the dinosaur and dog would vouvoyer the one they are talking to, and the other way around as well. This rule (pretty much based on mannerisms) is allowed to change if the dinosaur and boy know one another personally. Then they can tutoyer. Say the dinosaur always knew the boy but the boy didn’t, out of respect, the dinosaur would vouvoie him anyway. (for whatever reason that only one would know the other, not important)

Mostly you only tutoie people if both know each other, like a couple, close friends, siblings.
The puppy and small boy can be forgiven because both are young, so they can tutoyer. (zomg trying to insert proper French verbiage into the English language ow my brain lol) You know, they’re both young and innocent, so it’s cute, not impolite.

So if I stay with your children’s book idea, most children’s books will say vous and not toi, regardless of just about what’s going on in the book or who is speaking, since it’s part of the culture’s traditional importance on being all snobby and polite. XD I mean for France, although I hear Belgium is much the same.

Québec is the exception. Although all French books here are pretty much like ones from France, people here rarely vouvoie one another unless it’s something like a job interview, or meeting your boyfriend’s parents. And even then.

But I hope this helps. :)

gailcalled's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central: This is positively not a translation issue but one of tradition, style, usage and manners. See Symbeline above; she is bilingual. The default online translator will always use the “vous” form and not address the actual question that Jan raises

janbb's avatar

Yes – nothing to do with translation.

@Symbeline So you are going along with my instinct to use “vous” for this.

I will post a pic of the dinosaur if I can figure out a way to do it without posting a penis pic as well.

longgone's avatar

“I will post a pic of the dinosaur if I can figure out a way to do it without posting a penis pic as well.”

If I didn’t know about your recent troubles, your son would get a worried call right now :D

janbb's avatar

Let’s see if I did it right this time:

http://oi57.tinypic.com/mhcyg1.jpg

No bones!!

dappled_leaves's avatar

Is that dinosaur chasing a bone?

gailcalled's avatar

In Le Petit Prince, the fox also uses “tu” when addressing le petit prince.

“Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.”

I wish I had a copy of the book but seem to have lost mine.

janbb's avatar

@longgone The penis reference was to a link I posted to a pic of my dog in this question. I pulled a boner.

rojo's avatar

@janbb pun intended?

Symbeline's avatar

Yup, this has nothing to do with translating anything. In fact, I believe that unless you’re just wondering about one single word or perhaps a simple phrase, translators are probably the worst things to rely on for understanding something about a language that you don’t speak. Exceptions would be translation books you can buy for when you’re traveling in another country and need to know how to ask common things. Then, things like traditions and cultures will be considered in the translations, but for this issue right here, running things on Babelfish or whatever will get you nowhere.

@janbb Yeah, sorry forgot to comment on that, but yeah I’m going with vous in this case rather than tu. It is what is most applicable to the situation when considering mannerisms and tradition. (unless your grandson is in Québec and is familiar with the language and traditions here, than tu would be much more common)

@gailcalled I got both the French and English versions. Haven’t read either in years though. As I say, the tu VS vous is a general rule, but it’s not set in stone, either. It has to be said, Le Petit Prince is something special and centers around individualism and shit, and was a little bold at the time.

janbb's avatar

He is Parisian.

Cruiser's avatar

He should call him “Le Snack”

Symbeline's avatar

@janbb Yeah so maybe stick with vous. But if you did use tu, it’s not considered offending or anything, unless the family really cares about such formalities, which not everyone does. (but some do)

gailcalled's avatar

If I met that dinosaur on a lonely plain, I’d be calling him, “Your Royal Vousness” while groveling a lot.

janbb's avatar

@Symbeline Well, my French is not the best and they know and forgive that. When I used to travel in France and they lived in the States, I would write post cards in French to their Brittany spaniel (long story.) One time I wrote something like “Je voudrais te baisser” thinking it meant “I’d like to kiss you” but instead means “I’d like to fuck you.” Think the French post people must have had fun with that one!

Symbeline's avatar

LOL nice. ’‘Je voudrais vous/te donner un baiser’’ would have worked. But yeah, that’s pretty funny.

Is this dinosaur thing an ongoing story or something, or just the one time deal?

janbb's avatar

So far just a one time thing to send to him because he is on a dinosaur kick. May send other paintings of dinosaurs across in the future.

Other ideas have been being kicked around by a friend and I for some children’s stories and I have thought of trying some Frodo stories at some point as well.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t know French, but Spanish has the same type of situation. I think it would be sweet to use the formal, but not necessary. It’s like when an adult addresses a card to a child with Miss Sally Smith. Or, a very young boy Master John Smith. Or, shakes a child’s hand when they meet them, even though that is typically an adult behavior.

When I meet children I always use the informal, but the odd situation of an animal meeting a boy might make using the formal a nice touch.

Seems like you can’t go wrong either way.

ragingloli's avatar

It is the same in German.
You address a child with “du”, no matter who you are.

Stinley's avatar

Gosh, I really disagree with most of the answers that vous is better. I’m polishing up my french at the moment having studied it through high school, and I would say that the rule is always to address children as ‘tu’. Even a younger child would not call an older child ‘vous’.

To say ‘vous’ to a small boy is not right, unless you are actually going for the effect of the dinosaur calling him ‘Sir’, ‘The Honorable Gentleman’ or ‘Master John’ but I think that it would have to be a major theme of the dinosaur’s message. Eg the dinosaur, though fierce, is actually a servant or a very posh dinosaur or something. It would need to be explicitly explained why the dinosaur was being so very formal with the child. It’s very hard for us to understand as there just isn’t the equivalent in English!

@Symbeline I don’t mean to be rude by disagreeing with you – maybe french french is different to canadian french?

Symbeline's avatar

I don’t mean to be rude by disagreeing with you – maybe french french is different to canadian french?

Nah I’m cool bro. :) But no, in Canada we NEVER use vous, as I’ve said before. Or it’s barely used anyway. But while answering this, I was going on a children’s book approach, which they always all say that, vous. (since they’re meant to teach manners and all, or at least set a good example, and yes, vous will be used on kids) If Jan personally knew her grandson, she could use tu as it would be more personal, but since it appears she doesn’t, I suggested vous, as this IS a big thing in France, and I’m not sure how close or how well she knows everyone down there, and to the kid to who she’s sending the picture. She could probably get away with tu I’m sure, but I’m staying on the formal approach.

Even a younger child would not call an older child ‘vous’.
And I have to disagree on that. Many kids in France are taught at an early age that you have to do this, most especially for people they don’t know. I mean, your parents or siblings doesn’t matter, but otherwise it’s pretty big down there for that.

janbb's avatar

I do know my grandson personally but the point in question is that the dinosaur doesn’t.

ragingloli's avatar

Does not matter if the dinosaur knows the kid or not.

gailcalled's avatar

vvv Why I remain a jelly.

Symbeline's avatar

@janbb Ah ok, but your grandson will know it’s from you anyway. :) (wasn’t clear on the relationship, although I was sure I asked that)

@gailcalled What’s vvv lol? she’s making up letters

gailcalled's avatar

vvv is the opposite of ^^^: My answer was directed at whatever you were wriing. You are the star of this thread.

Symbeline's avatar

Well, for the record, vvv SHOULD be a letter. :D The capital could be VvV. yeah okay lol

CWOTUS's avatar

To add to the record, WV is already a state. To turn it into a letter would be a denigration of its status. Or it’s status, as some prefer.

janbb's avatar

@CWOTUS @gailcalled Totally irrelevant to the question but I just found this delightful sentence on CNN:

“From his vantage point on the scene, CNN’s Don Lemon sees a backhoe removing debris, and manpower, too.”

CWOTUS's avatar

Yeah, you definitely want to be out of the way of that backhoe when it’s removing manpower. That’s the hard way, for sure.

The mods are going to get me if I don’t stay on topic, so I’m going to cast a generalized vote for vous, along the lines of @Symbeline‘s comments.

janbb's avatar

Seems kind of counter-productive.

Oh but we’re in Social so let’s have a cup of tea and chat intelligently.

Symbeline's avatar

Well I’m sticking with vous in this case, especially if the painting in question is a story book approach deal.

dappled_leaves's avatar

As others have said, since it is a child being spoken to, it should be “tu”. I can’t imagine a circumstance under which a child would be addressed as “vous”. Perhaps for comedic effect.

Well… unless it is more than one child.

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb What did you decide?

gailcalled's avatar

@janbb; Whatever you decide, have the dinosaur ask Jake to write back. I have had spirited letter conversations with very young relatives. It was really fun… even the “Deer ant Gail, thank you for the munny. lov, Kate.”.

@dappled_leaves; News to me but fun; ”Speakers use tu when… (..shouting at their computer..). Christians also use tu when addressing God (and tu forms are embedded in the French version of the Lord’s Prayer).

dappled_leaves's avatar

I didn’t know that – very interesting!

janbb's avatar

@JLeslie Haven’t decided yet what to write on it. I’m not tu worried; Gail and I had been discussing it and I thought it would be fun to raise. I appreciate all the answers.

Stinley's avatar

I’m just going to throw ‘on’ into the mix now! On va jouer au tennis?

janbb's avatar

Update: Wrote it out today and I did use the “tu” form.

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