jaderabbit (jaderabbit) wrote in linguaphiles,

Second person pronouns among family in Spain, especially with large age differences

I'm researching for a story about a fictional family that speaks Castilian Spanish at home in the U.S. The family spans several generations, with a matriarch who's near the century mark. I have never been to Spain--just to Mexico, which has rather different dialects--and my Spanish is rusty besides.

I'm not clear about where the usted and divisions fall in Spanish Spanish (and I understand there's some argument as to what qualifies as castellano). Would the elderly woman be to everyone because they're family, or would she be usted to everyone because she's the oldest? Does run both ways between parents and children, or do parents remain usted even to adult children?

I'm aware of vosotros, but I've never used it outside of a classroom. I understand that it's something like "y'all," but I'm not clear as to when it would be appropriate to use it in a family group. Can you use it even if you're the youngest adult addressing a group of older ones?

Any guidance would be most welcome!
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I'd say it will all depend on the timing and origin of your characters. Nowadays they all say TU, to elderly people in the street, to teachers, etc. If your family has moved to US recently they'd probably all say TU to each other. If they have moved there at least 30 years ago, they might use usted for elderly people including parents.
Also, it's important to know where the family comes from. In big cities like Barcelona and Madrid TUTEO has been popular for much more, while people in small towns (pueblos) might still say USTED talking to their parents.
My brother's in-laws are Spanish, but they've been living in this country for at least 30 years. Some years back, while visiting Madrid, my sister-in-law's mother was shocked to be addressed with by a young clerk at El Corte Inglés. Her response was, "You haven't been in my living room!"
I use TU when talking to my parents, but I used USTED to talk to my grandparents and still use USTED when talking to my great-uncle. To make things more complicated, even though he is my mum's uncle, she uses USTED when talking to him, but my dad uses TU.

I think if the lady is very old she would be USTED, because that's what she would expect from the way she was brought up, particularly if she is the matriarch, the leader of the family and not just a sweet old lady.
We usually throw those rules away when it comes to family. Castillian Spanish is nowhere near as polite as South and Central American Spanish! :P

However as a previous post mentions, it does depend on when you set your story.
"Vosotros" is like "ya'll" only in the sense that it is the way you informally address a group of people. I say informally because technically, in Spain, "ustedes" is its formal equivalent. (So, "vosotros" is the plural of "tú" whereas "ustedes" is the plural of "usted.") However, the level of formality that would require "ustedes" is extremely rare in Spain and thus, only "vosotros" is used for the most part. I don't think I've ever heard a Spaniard use "ustedes" in any situation. In Latin America, by contrast, "vosotros" is not used at all and only "ustedes" is used to address a group of people, whether it's formally or informally.

The use of "usted" vs. "tú" is tricky, though. I don't have enough experience with Spaniards to know how they would address family, but I do know that the use of "usted" for the most part has been diminishing in Spain over the years. I have heard from various Spaniards that being called "usted" makes them feel old and thus is almost offensive in a way. I am Latin American and where I'm from, family is never "usted", but I do know that in parts of Latin America, it is customary to address a grandparent as "usted"... sorry, not much help, I know. But for what it's worth, I always address people in professional capacities (so, waiters, store clerks, janitors, professors, landscapers, etc.) as "usted" and when I visited Barcelona recently, nobody seemed offended by that.
I hear some use Usted when they address a pet! :)
Thank you all for the advice! It's very helpful.