An LA Times story, “To Know You Is to Love You” by K. Connie Kang, discusses the Korean-born reporter’s love affair with the English pronoun you (and the difficulties others have with it):
You was an ally that empowered me.
It freed me from the encumbrances of my mother tongue, which is one of the world’s most complicated and nuanced languages, laden with honorifics. You pushed me out of the confines of Confucian-steeped, hierarchal Korean language into a world of egalitarian impulses…
Korean has no fewer than six speech levels — each with a unique set of verb endings to indicate the degree of formality, ranging from extremely polite to actively impolite — and many gradations in between…
“You represents the essence of democracy,” said attorney Tong S. Suhr, a community leader. “You liberates us from that [Korean] caste system, and it makes life so much easier.”
Korean-born Kay S. Duncan, director of production with Jarrow Formulas in West Hollywood, says you helped transform her from a shy Asian woman who preferred to sit in the back of the room to an assertive executive equal to those around her.
“You can say, ‘You did this, or you did that,’ even if you’re addressing the CEO of your company,” Duncan said.
By contrast, Ho-min Sohn, professor of Korean linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says he has never felt at home with this three-letter word.
Sohn, who came to the U.S. in 1965 from South Korea to work on a doctorate in linguistics, managed to get his degree without once using you when addressing his professors. It seemed so out of place for a student to claim equality with his professor.
There’s further discussion of Korean and its pronouns, and a pleasing anecdote about a mixed couple’s solution to the problem (“Dangshin sounded cold and distant” to him, while Honey gives her shivers). Thanks for the link, Eric!