The system of East Slavic honorifics is used by the speakers of East Slavic languages to linguistically encode relative social status, degree of respect and the nature of interpersonal relationship. Typical linguistic tools employed for this purpose include using different parts of a person's full name, name suffixes, and honorific plural.
The most important, grammaticalized distinction is between plain (T) and honorific (V) form, the latter being expressed through honorific second person plural, reflected both in personal pronouns and verb declension. Historically, it used to be accompanied by slovoyers (enclitic -s added to one or several words of a phrase) and analytic verb form “изволить + infinitive”, both of which gradually fell out of use.
The choice between T and V forms is influenced by a number of factors, such as relative age and position, relationship between the speaker and the addressee, as well the general formality of the situation. Generally, T-form is reserved to informal communication between friends and family members. Depending on the corporate culture, it may also be used between colleagues of the same age. Sometimes T-form is used unilaterally to address one's inferiors, e.g. by a boss addressing employees or by a teacher addressing students, or by and elder addressing junior.
V-form is used in all formal circumstances, to address elders and superiors, or just to express respect and politeness. It is characterized by using second plural form of second person pronoun (often capitalized in writing to distinguish from actual plural) and second person plural verb forms in all moods. Hortative mood has special polite form ending with –те (-te): пойдёмте (poydemte) instead of пойдём (poydem).
Modern East Slavic names are tripartite, consisting of family name, given name, and patronymic. Each of these components can be used alone or in different combinations; additionally, most given names have suppletively derived short form, which can be further suffixed to produce a number of diminutives conveying different emotional meaning and applicable in different contexts.
Much like other languages, in East Slavic one can address a person by words other than name or nickname, which can be divided into polite (e.g. господин (gospodin), “sir”), vernacular (e.g. братан (bratan), “bro”) and codified (such as military ranks and styles of office). Some of them may serve as titles, prefixing a person's name.
Styles in Russian Empire
From the time of Peter the Great, forms of address in the Russian Empire had been well-codified, determined by a person's title of honor, as well as military or civil rank (see Table of Ranks) and ecclesiastical order. One's position within the clergy was considered most important, followed by title, and then by civil/military rank, e.g. a commoner in rank of Privy Councilor would be styled His Excellency, a prince of the same rank would retain the style of His Highness, while the same prince serving as an archbishop would be referred as His High Eminence. All of these styles are now obsolete and are only used in historical context.
Modern Styles of Office
Unlike English and many other languages, addressing a person by their office is highly uncommon outside of protocol context (e.g. even during an official meeting it is very unlikely for anybody to personally address a chairman as “Mr. Chairman”). On the other hand, military or paramilitary rank is commonly used, either as a title before one's name, or by itself, usually preceded by the title товарищ (comrade), e.g. лейтенант Петров (lieutenant Petrov), or товарищ лейтенант (lieutenant, sir; literally “comrade lieutenant”).
Common titles and appellations
During the Soviet era, the word товарищ (comrade) served as a universal form of address. Later it fell out of use due to its sexlessness and political connotations, while pre-soviet styles seemed either archaic or too pompous (with the possible exception of Ukrainian language, where the old honorific пан (pan) seems to be successfully readopted). Eventually, such words as девушка (lady), молодой человек (young man), and even мужчина (man) and женщина (woman) have been adopted as default forms of addressing strangers, which may seem awkward or even rude to a foreigner.
Below is the list of common East Slavic titles given in Russian Cyrillic spelling and English transcription. Note that some of them can be only used alone, while others can become prefixes before names or other appellations.
|милостивый государь||Milostivy Gosudar (m)||no||Kind Sir/Madam||Used mostly in letters; fell out of usage|
|no||Sir, madam||Once common, now considered archaic|
|товарищ||Tovarishch (unisex)||yes||comrade||Ubiquitous in Soviet times; now limited to Army and Communist Party|
|yes||Mister, Miss||most commonly used as prefix before surname|
molodoy chelovyek (m)
|commonly used towards strangers|
|used towards strangers|
|yes||citizen||used by state officials|
|default form of address in Ukraine|
|otets, batyushka (m)
|used to address clergy|
|used between monks and nuns.|
|Informal greeting towards one's sibling or close acquaintance; also used between monks and nuns.|
|братан, браток, братишка, братуха, братюня, брателло
|bratan, bratok, bratishka, bratukha, bratyunya, bratello (m)
|Informal greeting towards one's sibling; also used to address a close friend.|
|мужик||muzhik (m)||man, boor||anybody too old to be пацан, but not old enough to be отец|
|пацан||patsan (m)||lad, boy||teenagers; also used between young men.|
|мальчик||malchik (m)||boy||anybody too young to be пацан|
|dude||mostly limited to certain subcultures, or to translate English word "dude"|
|a person old enough to be speaker's parent; also used to address priests, monks or nuns.|
|батя, батяня, папаша
|batya, batyanya, papasha (m)
mat’, mamasha (f)
|a person old enough to be speaker's parent.|
|dyed, dyedushka (m)
babushka, babka (f)
|начальник, командир||nachalnik (m), komandir (m)||boss||drivers of any kind, police officers|
|дядя, дяденька, дядюшка
тётя, тётенька, тётушка
|dyadya, dyadenka, dyadyushka (m)
tyotya, tyotenka, tyotushka (f)
|common way for children to address adults; can be used as prefix before a given name, e.g. тётя Наташа (auntie Natasha)|
|dear||customers (often used by merchants from Caucasus)|
|приятель, дружок, друг||priyatel, druzhok, drug (m)||friend||manual workers, especially migrants|
|used as collective form of address|
By using different parts of a person's name in different forms, combined with T- or V-addressing, with or without titles and honorifics, one can produce at least 20 forms of address, all of which are fairly common, but used in different circumstances, as explained below:
Full name + Patronymic + Surname
Highly formal, used in documents or official setting. Surname-first order is considered bureaucratic, and name-first order more organic
Full name + Patronymic
General polite form of addressing, comparable to English Mr./Ms. + Surname
Title + Surname
Feature of bureaucratic speech used in certain official contexts
NB: the above three forms sound unnatural with T-form of address, but may be used ironically or sarcastically
T-form: Used to informally address strangers in certain situations
V-form: Used to address strangers politely
Title + Given name
Common feature of baby-talk with тётя (tyotya) and дядя (dyadya) titles and either full or short form of given name, T and V forms both acceptable; also used towards and between clergy with such titles as отец (otets, "father"), брат (brat, "brother"). Marginal examples of other usage exist, e.g. a renowned revolutionary Theodor Sergeyev used a nickname “Comrade Artyom” (Artyom being a male given name).
Regulations of most military and paramilitary organizations require their members to address each other in V-from; subordinates shall address commanders as товарищ (tovarisch, "comrade) + military rank, while higher-ups address subordinates by military rank and surname.
Military men sometimes use same forms of address, albeit in singular, in friendly conversation
May be used as a rather impolite way to address one's subordinates, pupils, students, etc. Especially rude when used with T-form
Full given name only
May be used in V-form between colleagues of the same age. This form became used more often recently to mimic the corporate culture of Western companies, but is not very natural, as one would normally use either имя-отчество (imya-otchestvo) — name & patronimic — or short name
Short name only
T-form: Default way of informally addressing acquaintances, colleagues, friends etc. Generally considered impolite when used towards people older than oneself (except close family members, though in Ukraine it is common to address one's parents with V-form)
V-form: Polite way to address one's juniors and subordinates, or distantly known acquaintances, in moderately formal context
T-form: Demonstrates care and affection, though may be considered baby-talk. Commonly used towards children, between lovers and intimate friends, though generally not between male friends
V-form: May be used same way as short name + plural, especially to address one's juniors or people of the opposite sex. In Russian classics, it is commonly depicted to be used by aristocrats, who remained polite even with intimate friends.
Only used with T-form, expressing familiar, highly informal attitude. May be used by elders within a family or close friends, rude otherwise
Slang diminutive Expresses informal, brotherly attitude. May be used between male friends
Same as slang diminutive, but used mostly within older generations and not limited to males. In this particular case, some patronymics assume vernacular form with the suffixes –ych/vna- rather than –ovich/ovna-, e.g. Ivanovich becomes Ivanych. Sometimes an even more informal patronymic may be derived by using person's father's short name as a base, e.g. Kolyanych instead of Nikolaich (Kolya being short form of Nikolay)