Ustedes / Vosotros
September 8, 2021 10:35 AM   Subscribe

I gather only Spaniards use the "vosotros" form in Spanish; everyone else uses "ustedes." How did this come to pass? Is it anything to do with Mesoamerican languages, the way the "to do" construction may come from Brittonic?
posted by musofire to Human Relations (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
According to this article: NOTAS SOBRE LA CRONOLOGÍA DE LA ELIMINACIÓN DE VOSOTROS EN AMÉRICA, it happened in the 19th century and the reason, as I understand it, was that at that point Latin America was more hierarchical and so using an informal plural was a greater risk. Why not use the formal and be safe?

Now of course an inversion has taken place in that "ustedes" is used both formally and informally in Latin American and "vosotros" has completely disappeared.
posted by vacapinta at 11:02 AM on September 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Interesting topic.

The Dummies website stated that "vosotros" is "informal you all" (as opposed to "tu", informal you), whereas formally you're supposed to say "ustedes", but only in Spain.

In Latin America, ustedes is used for both formal and informal occasions. Vosotros may be taught, but is never used.

What's confusing is apparently in SOME South American countries "vos" can be used VERY informally as a "singular you", but is considered ungrammatical.

One theory offered in a Duolingo forum claimed that Spaniards only taught FORMAL Spanish to the conquered, reserving the informal Spanish to their own people. Sounds hokey to me.

According to an archived Reddit thread, most South American Spanish is derived from Andalucia region of Spain, where vosotros were already considered archaic.
posted by kschang at 11:11 AM on September 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Anecdote filter on...I had a pretty fluent level of spanish (I'm a native english speaker) when I moved to Argentina after having lived in Barcelona and Guatemala. When I got to Argentina, I had a couple of local friends who were language teachers (they taught both english and spanish), and they made a big effort to get both "tu" and "vosotros" out of my vocabulary and replace them with "vos" and "ustedes".
Vos isn't considered in any way ungrammatical here. If anything, the Argentines seem to feel a kind of pride in their use of it, in that it sets them apart from most other spanish speakers.
posted by conifer at 2:04 PM on September 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

I will note here that the reason for the change is at the stage of hypothesis. The paper I linked above notes that the drop-off occured in the 19th century and can be seen by decade, by examining Latin American texts from that period. One of the tables has these numbers for usage of ustedes/vosotros.

1800-1810 87% 13%
1810-1820 33% 67%
1820-1830 83% 17%
1830-1840 64% 36%
1840-1850 32% 68%
1850-1860 40% 60%
1860-1870 21% 79%
1870-1880 19% 81%
1880-1890 22% 78%
1890-1900 31% 69%

The decline thus was something that happened in the Americas over time and probably can't be easily explained by stating that it was something intrinsic to Latin American Spanish, such as Spanish deriving from Andalucian.
posted by vacapinta at 11:47 PM on September 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

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