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Formalities Within Teacher-Student Relationships

The Georgian language has a curious specificity in its grammar, an age-old concept known as the “polite second-person plural pronoun.” Although that name may be quite a mouthful, it is more commonly known as the “თქვენობითი” form to Georgians or the “T - V distinction” in the world of linguistics. While it is not exclusive to the Georgian language, it is a concept that has begun to be regarded as outdated by many linguists, and many languages have stopped using the form altogether. 

There are many theories to explain the creation of the polite plural pronoun. Some linguists theorize that the T-V distinction formed when Rome had two emperors at the same time, so when referring to the emperor, citizens had to use the plural pronoun vos, eventually ending up in plurality becoming synonymous with power, leading to plural pronouns being used for other powerful figures. Others believe that it is simply a way to create distance between the speaker and the subject when directness is not appropriate. Whatever the origin, it is generally agreed upon that the plural second-person pronoun is a sign of politeness, because the speaker refers to the subject of the sentence as being greater or superior to them. 

But, as the world of linguistics evolves, many people have been asking the question of whether the T - V distinction is still relevant, or if it is simply an archaic leftover of language that serves no purpose but to demean the speaker. 

This question is certainly applicable to school life. In everyday interactions, students are expected to respect both teachers and their peers. Since early childhood, most students have been taught to refer to adults, especially their teachers, as “თქვენ.” But, as society is reimagining the relationship and boundaries between teachers and students it is important to ask the question: is the polite second-person plural pronoun really necessary, or does it create unnecessary distance between teachers and students?

Some believe that the T - V distinction still holds value in modern semantics, especially in interactions that happen in school. This is because it allows for the creation of a clear boundary that students aren’t allowed to cross. The usage of the plural pronoun is not necessarily to create a certain power dynamic, but to create a system built on respect and professionalism, the foundation of any successful relationship between a teacher and their class. 

On the other hand, many believe that no matter its implications, the “თქვენობითი” form creates an unnecessary amount of formality which only creates distance between the teacher and the student, preventing a truly productive relationship between them. Considering the fact that teachers and students interact every day and therefore naturally become integral parts of each other's lives, it seems artificial to create that kind of boundary in the relationship. There are alternative ways for students to respect their teachers and the way they refer to them should not be the sole measurement of their politeness.

To settle the debate, the Gazette decided to interview some members of our school community and gain some insight on the topic. 

Ketka Topadze holds a strict position saying that not only should students refer to teachers by the “თქვენობითი” form, but teachers should refer to students as such as well: “I believe it’s important to refer to students this way because it signals to them that you view them as an individual and a person. It shows them that you respect and acknowledge them. I feel as though that creates a very positive dynamic between not only the student and the teacher but also the other students in the class. Seeing their classmates being referred to with the “თქვენობითი” form makes them respect each other more. I believe the habit of acknowledgment in our culture, not only at school but in society in general, is very important. Although it does create some sort of barrier between the students and the teacher, that is important so that there are clear boundaries established in the relationship, there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed and this is an indication of that. When you refer to students respectfully, it makes it harder for them to cross those boundaries and disrespect you. Once they feel respected and acknowledged, they don’t have the need to disrespect you either. I like this form and think that it should stay. Although, I don’t like the terms Ms. and Mr. in the school environment, I think it’s unnecessary, “მას” is just enough.”

Illustration by: Nini Tcharbadze

Mariam Khidesheli also believes that students should refer to teachers with the “თქვენობითი” form, but disagrees with Ketka mas on the fact that students should be regarded as such too: “I believe it’s really important for students to refer to teachers with the “თქვენობითი” form, not because I have authority over them, but to establish a clear boundary. Of course, there are cases where students who have already graduated switch to the singular form, and that’s completely fine, but I don’t think it’s acceptable in a school environment. I believe that this is more important to the students rather than the teachers. For example, there are situations where a student refers to a teacher as “შენ” and another student who uses the “თქვენობითი” form might feel as though they’re not as close to the teacher as the other student, creating an uncomfortable environment. It creates a lot of stress and anxiety for many of the students. Obviously, teachers have different kinds of relationships with different students, but some boundaries are universal, just for the sake of maintaining a comfortable environment for all. Also, often when students refer to teachers in the “შენობითი” form, they feel as though they are closer to you than they actually are, causing them to cross more and more lines in the relationship. The “თქვენობითი” form is just a reminder of that existing boundary. But, I don’t believe it’s necessary to refer to students in that form, of course not because I don’t respect my students or that I view them as being below me, but because I think it makes them feel more comfortable. Just because there are some boundaries, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t feel at home in my classroom. Yes, some distance needs to be held between a student and a teacher, but when I refer to a student in the “თქვენობითი” form, that distance gets too big.”

After hearing the opinions of some teachers, the Gazette moved on to the student body. Nina Chiladze, a Junior, states: I think that in school and in academic environments, students should refer to teachers in the “თქვენობითი” form, not because they are below them or should demean themselves in any way, but to show some respect for them and to sustain the dynamic in the class. I don’t think that that boundary creates any problems.” Although this is the opinion the majority of students hold, Salome Tsintsadze, a Senior, doesn’t believe that this form is necessary: “I think that the “თქვენობითი” form creates an unnecessary distance. Of course, people should maintain a level of respect in their relationships, and this form may be needed in extremely professional settings, but I don’t think it should be obligatory with teachers. Speaking in casual terms with teachers should not be an issue as long as it doesn't cross certain boundaries and both parties are comfortable with it.”

Although most people agreed that the “თქვენობითი” form still holds value in the school environment, most agreed that it could be fully abolished without any problems. For example, the English language is able to avoid this by not having the T - V distinction at all, therefore not creating additional confusion in such situations. But since semantics don’t change that quickly, it’s important to open up a conversation regarding this topic and establish clear rules and boundaries between teachers and students. Some teachers may believe that there are other ways of being respectful and do not find the use of the polite second-person plural pronoun at all necessary, while some believe it’s important to still have this barrier. Whatever the case may be, it is crucial that this is communicated distinctly to avoid misunderstandings. 

Edited by: Mariana Chochia

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