6

In my journey of learning German I’ve started playing my favourite games using the German interface. In one of the games I’ve encountered the following line:

Ihr seid jetzt nicht an der Tastatur: AFK

In English this is something like:

You are now Away: AFK

This clearly is directed to me, the player, so it should be singular. Like you as in the player. But the German translation is using second person plural as in all of you are now Away: AFK which doesn’t make sense in the context of the game.

If they’ve wanted to use the polite formula I think it should had been Sie sind ….

Is this a faulty translation or there is something regarding German language that I didn’t quite understood? Why do they use plural form?

  • 2
    What game did you play? Some magic/medieval setting? – Stephie May 1 '15 at 15:02
  • 1
    Yes, it is world of warcraft, so the game is in a fantasy context. – Memleak May 1 '15 at 15:05
9

Your assessments are correct so far. Modern-day German would unambiguously understand ihr seid as a plural form, with Sie sind being a formal one and du bist being informal.

Usually in games I would expect the du form, unless we're talking economy sims where the employees address their boss (you, the player) with Sie.

So in a Mario game Toad would tell you (being Mario):

Du bist gerade abwesend!

While in Railroad Tycoon, the secretary would tell you (being the boss):

Sie sind gerade abwesend.

But there is a third case. The usage of Sie in formal speech is not very old; the correct polite form used to be Ihr. This usage is now strongly associated with ancient history, the Middle Ages, maybe Renaissance etc. and — most importantly — fantasy contexts. It is used even if not 100 % necessary because it gives the game a fantastic feel. As you said the game is World of Warcraft, so it entirely makes sense to fall into a mediavistic-ish language and to let some lowly troll remind you:

Ihr seid zur Zeit nicht in der Nähe des Bedienkastens.

Think of it as being a German equivalent of

Thou art away from the keyboard.

Or something. (Only that thou is an informal form, while Ihr is formal).

  • 2
    Exactly. I may add that I have a few (literally dying out now...) elder relatives that I still address in second person plural, especially when speaking in dialect (Danube Swabian). But do not try this with the old lady you meet at the bus stop. If you happen to visit one of the medieval fairs, be prepared to be addressed as "Ihr" and respond in kind, if you like. – Stephie May 1 '15 at 15:39
  • +1 for the bus stop :D. Is it possible that Danube Swabian preserved older forms because they were isolated from the rest of the German speaking area? – Jan May 1 '15 at 15:42
  • 1
    Absolutely. There are plenty of "older" versions plus a bunch of loanwords/specific words. I sometimes jokingly say that I grew up with 3 languages: Standard German, Swabian and Danube Swabian... In my experience, the most difficult part is mentally switching the cultural context - my mom occasionally slips up and uses "Ihr" when she wants to be respectful and means "Sie" but it may come across as too familiar (understood as plural form of "du"). – Stephie May 1 '15 at 16:15
  • 1
    Good explanation. It happens that "Ihr seid" remains the only correct formal singular form in Yiddish. – Marty Green May 1 '15 at 19:12
  • 1
    Incidentally, English also settled on using the second person plural “you”. – Carsten S May 2 '15 at 16:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.