Tilltalsordet "Ni,"

Date: 1935

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This development [says Wellander] is a quite natural consequence of the conditions of the development of our speech habits in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. If members of aristocratic circles addressed and wrote one another as ni it excited no surprise and was far from being offensive. On the contrary ni was recognized as the equivalent of the French vous and was so employed. Like the French they refrained from the continuous repetition of titles. No feeling of inferiority arose so long as the form of address was reciprocal. But if persons in a socially prominent position, possessing more or less distinguished and high-sounding titles, used the word ni to persons of lower standing and without a title the prerequisite of reciprocity was not in the language of the day. A person with a title, whether hereditary, official, or academic, addressed an untitled person as ni, but he, according to prevailing usage, responded by using the appropriate title, for example, Herr Greven, and at that point the fat was in the fire. Reciprocity was out of the question. Ni was used from above downward, from high to low positions, from officials to the general population, etc., but not contrariwise. Ni as term of address from an official or a lady of the nobility to an untitled person contained in itself no more disrespect than the French vous, but when custom demanded that the one so-called should reply, not with ni but with a title, the consequence was that ni was felt as a mark distinguishing the one so addressed as belonging to the great mass of the untitled. From that standpoint the feeling of inferiority grew among the untitled and a feeling that whoever used ni to another assumed that he himself was one of higher standing.

Under these conditions it is intelligible that ni sank in social value. As early as the eighteenth century, according to Linder, this went so far that persons were taken to court for ni-ing their neighbors. He quotes from a collection of church annals: "He made the most serious outburst against the bishop shortly before Christmas 1707 . . . when he became quite wild, shook his fist in the bishop’s face, called him ni, and threatened to make a complaint to the archbishop." . . .

It is the one-sided use of ni, from above downward . . . which has led to the feeling of injury in ni, which "works like a blow in the face," "sticks like an awl in the nose," especially among those who are not acquainted with a corresponding usage in other cultures. And it is this affect which sometimes calls forth the characteristic retort, "You are ni yourself! I am not ni for you!"

In a communication to a newspaper the writer complains bitterly that in our hospitals the physicians and nurses address the patients as ni. "One would think more consideration would be shown toward these sufferers, who are, in fact, with reference to the hospital personnel, employers. Should not at least the term min herre, min fröken, or min fru be advocated in certain cases? . . . It should be remembered that a patient is in a high degree sensitive to unkind treatment and may take the word ni or er as an expression of contempt or irritation on the part of a physician or nurse, or as a wish to show him his place. Thus, I once heard a poor man react to the house-physician’s ni as follows, ’Herr doctor, call me Johansson or Anders or han or du, but don’t call me ni.’"1

For many years organizations have worked to break down the prejudice against ni, but there is great resistance. One proposal was that reformers should wear a button reading, "Ni is used here." The pamphlet of Wellander quoted above is propaganda for ni and its publication and circulation were subsidized by the Swedish parliament.

In the following chapter it will be seen that naming and refraining from naming are among the devices for fixing claims and obligations in the larger kinship and affinity group resulting from marriage, and in regulating status in the community.

1Wellander, E.n/an/an/an/an/a, 11 (1935).

1Ibid., 9–11, passim.

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Chicago: Tilltalsordet "Ni," in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed June 20, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JGH3DWXT6RHB2K5.

MLA: . Tilltalsordet "Ni,", in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 20 Jun. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JGH3DWXT6RHB2K5.

Harvard: , Tilltalsordet "Ni,". cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 June 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JGH3DWXT6RHB2K5.