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As I understand it, вы-words are used to show respect. They're used when speaking to elders, teachers, officials, and so on. I understand that ты-words are used when speaking to friends, family, animals, and people who are deemed disreputable. So why do Russians use ты-words in their national anthem (Государственный гимн Российской Федерации) to address Russia? I'd think they'd use respectful language to the country they're proud of.

Here are some examples:

"Твоё достоянье на все времена!"

"Славься, страна! Мы гордимся тобой!"

"Одна ты на свете!"

  • 2
    It is impossible to use "вы" to an inanimate thing in any context. – Anixx Mar 12 '16 at 12:43
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There's respect, and there's reverence.

The English you is a universalised polite form, and yet one traditionally addresses God with the singular, and originally informal, thou.

The V-address has an upper limit of respect, as it were. It's precisely because entities like God and country and worthy of supreme respect, that you wouldn't address them in the language of trivial good manners, and the T-address comes back full circle as the higher-sounding one.

  • +1, very well put! – Quassnoi Mar 11 '16 at 21:38
3

We use ты to address inanimate single objects and the god.

In addition to your examples:

Не валяй дурака, Америка.

Что же ты, власть, делаешь?

Боже, да святится имя твоё.

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Вы is used to show formal politeness to a human being only. Both parts are essential here: neither family, nor friend, nor enemy, nor sun, nor moon, nor God, nor country etc.etc. may be addressed by using "Вы". Of course, rules may change from time to time: say, a century ago children had to say "Вы" to their parents; but nowadays it's like this.

So using Ты while talking to country has even two meanings here: (a) country is not a human (actually, more than a human), and (b) a deep personal feeling, which excludes any formality (i.e. true sympathy and love).

That's normal for Russian language: you have to be highly lyrical if addressing to any formal concept or inanimate object.

  • 1
    Enemy can be addressed with "вы". It is the default form to address enemy in offiocial context. Say, in war, diplomacy, duel etc. Yet, say in hand fighting it would be rather "ты" given the same age. Enemy officers are likely to use "вы" to each other, soldiers (say, when taking POWs) can use both depending on age and respect. – Anixx Mar 12 '16 at 12:37
  • @Anixx Yes, you're right, but all of these belong to official language, which is always about "formal respect" and "feel nothing"-rule. Even an anthem doesn't follow this, as lyrics is always above formality. – Matt Mar 12 '16 at 12:54
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Вы, - it's a consequence of french invasion to Russia. After Napoleon, many french words and sayings became common in Russia.
Before french invasion, in Russia, it used to be always Ты (just like an english You), even when you addressed the King or the God. Вы, was used only, when you addressed more, then one.
In french, you use plural version, when you address somebody, who you want to show a respect and when you address more, then one person. They popularized it in Russia.
Now, there is actually a movement to get back to the source. Many people, especially recently, started to say Ты, even to whom they respect. I, personally, started doing the opposite - saying Вы to whom I don't respect. Often Вы, sounds cringy, then respectful in our times, especially, that it is a foreign construct, that Russians outlived and trying to get it out of their system.

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