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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Are you using submissive language?

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Hey, everyone.

In today's lesson we're looking at submissive language.

"Submissive language" is when you speak in a way that makes you really, really small

and not important, and the person to whom you're speaking is all so special and so amazing,

and much more important than you.

An example of a character who uses submissive language is Dobby the House-Elf.

Dobby the House-Elf is in all the Harry Potter films.

Here is one of Dobby's quotes, and this is from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

"Dobby is a free house-elf and he can obey anyone he likes, and Dobby will do whatever

Harry Potter wants him to do!"

So, what's interesting about this quote in terms of submissive language is: "Dobby is

a free house-elf", and the thing about the house-elves in Harry Potter is they are like

the slaves of some of the wizards; the bad kind of wizards in Harry Potter have house-elves

as slaves and they do everything for them.

But Dobby is a house-elf who won his...

Who considers himself to be free; but yet, if we look at his language, he says: "He can

obey anyone".

When you obey someone, it means you do what they tell you.

So, he's free; but yet, he obeys anyone.

So it's a...

It's a contradiction.

"And Dobby will do whatever Harry Potter wants him to do".

So, although he's a free house-elf now, I guess Dobby hasn't changed that much because

he's happy to do whatever Harry Potter wants him to do, because Dobby is very grateful

to Harry Potter and he respects him very much, so we see it in the language that he uses.

So, most of us, we aren't going to use submissive language in such an obvious way like Dobby

the House-Elf, but there might be signs of it in our speech, and that's what we're going

to look at in this lesson.

I'm going to give lots of examples where, without realizing it, we might speak a little

bit like Dobby the House-Elf.

Okay, first, before we get there, I want to talk about what this kind of language shows

about us as a person.

Some of it's good, and in some situations we might look at it as...

We might see it as a negative thing in some situations.

It might be good for us sometimes, but if we use it too much and we make ourselves small

in that situation, maybe it's not helpful for us.

So, first of all, when we talk in this way, sometimes it has the appearance of being very

polite language.

And that's good in a way-isn't it?-because it seems that we have good manners, and we


We are a charming person because we're being very polite.

But then if we go too polite, sometimes it doesn't seem that genuine or authentic, perhaps.

So, when we use this kind of language as well, it shows that we're considerate people; we're

people that think about the needs of others first.

The people we like especially, we make them very, very important and we care about what

they think.

So, this shows that we think of other people and not just of ourselves.

This kind of language also shows that we're conscientious people.

It means that we...

We have a...

We care what other people think of us, and we want other people to think that we're kind

of people, and good people, and helpful people.

And then the next thing this kind of language shows about us is low status.

That's another way of saying: "Oh, I'm...

I'm not very important; you're more important than I am."

Or: "You're more important than I will ever be."

So it's not very helpful to use that kind of speech in many life situations, for example,

in many jobs; but then on the other hand, in some jobs if you have a big boss, your

big boss is probably really happy if you make yourself small and look up to them.

So it really depends on...

On the job that you do.

And lastly, using this kind of speech shows that you're deferential.

It means that in the way that you deal with other people, you show a lot of respect towards

them and you show a lot of reverence.

And "reverence" is a word that we would usually use in relation to God - to revere something

that's so...


So grand above us.

So, in that sense, if we're differential to other people by using submissive language,

we're making them god-like.

So we can see that if we do a lot of this language it can be quite an extreme effect

in the way we deal with other people.

We make them so big and ourselves so small, and that's what...

That's what Dobby the House-Elf does.

So, here is some examples of ways that we probably don't realize we're using submissive language.

We might look at these...

These phrases and these sentences as if they're polite things to say, but then we've probably

not stopped to ever think about it.

Okay, so here's the...

In this example, it's like: "I must ask you for permission for everything.

Even small things I must ask your permission first; I can't just do it."

So, let's imagine you are in a new place or you're at somebody's house, and you've never

used the toilet there in their house or the loo, you've never used it, so you would say

to the person: "Do you mind if I use your toilet?" or "Do you mind if I use your loo?"

Now, someone who spoke in a more direct way or a way where they didn't use this kind of

politeness about: "Is it...?

Can I have permission?" they would just say: "Where's the toilet?"

There's no: "Is it okay"?

"Where is it?

I'm going there - just give me the information."

Another example: "Is it okay if I use the toilet?

Is it okay?"

Well, why wouldn't it be okay?

Maybe if the toilet was all...

All overflowing and there was a...

There was a problem with the plumbing that day, maybe then it wouldn't be okay, but 99

times out of 100, it usually is okay if you use the toilet somewhere.

"Would it be okay if I used the toilet?"

Same example.

And: "Would it be okay with you if I were to use the toilet?"

When we make the sentence longer like that by adding in more polite words, then we become

more and more like Dobby the House-Elf, because all of these are asking for permission, but

when we put in polite...

Extra polite words, like...

Here we're basically repeating...

We're repeating: "Would it be okay with you" and then to say: "if I were to" - we're repeating.


We're so nervous about saying what we want to say that we add in more words and we take

longer about it, so that's another sign that we are making ourselves...

We're being so polite that we're making ourselves small in language.

Okay, so another thing that people do that's similar to Dobby the House-Elf is that sometimes

we don't trust our own judgment and our ability to make decisions, so we ask other people

what we should do.

So, Dobby, he's a free house-elf now, but perhaps he's not good at making decisions;

he wants to know what other people would do first.

And then when they tell him, he'll make the decision.

But, really, he's not making the decision because he's asking everybody else first,

rather than asking himself.

So, let's give an example for these sentences.

Imagine you live in England.

It rains quite a lot in England, but the rain can be unpredictable.

You don't know necessarily it's going to rain in the morning when you leave your house.

You might look up at the clouds, and it's a little bit cloudy, but it might rain, it

might not.

So, because you're not sure, you might ask your mom or somebody you live with, your housemate

or something, you might ask what they think about the weather and the situation for rain,

and that way you don't make this big decision by yourself of whether you bring an umbrella

out with you that day or you don't.

So, really, you want to know: Is it going to rain today?

If the answer is yes, you'll bring an umbrella and you won't get wet, but you say it like

this: "Do you think I should take an umbrella today?" which means: Do you think it will rain?

"Do you think it's better to take an umbrella today or wear a rain jacket?"


I've written "bowl" there, but we can change it for "jacket"; that would make more sense.

"What jacket do you think is better?"

So, maybe I've got a jacket that's really warm that I want to wear for a really cold

day or I've got my rain jacket, and I'm asking: "What jacket do you think is better?" for

them to decide to me...

For me by thinking about the weather.

And this example we can imagine it, like: Let's say you're going...

You're going out with someone, you're going to go for a coffee that afternoon, or maybe

it will be something a little bit more special - maybe you'd be going out for dinner or something.

And you say to the other person: "Should I get ready now?"

Or: "Should I...?

Should I start getting ready now?"

Because depending on what they say, that's when you'll change your outfit and get your...

Get your hair ready and your makeup.

So, all of these examples, if they are for small choices, like taking an umbrella out

or what jacket to wear, these are signs that we trust other people's judgement more than

our own.

It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it depends on the person that we're asking.

If we just ask everybody, you know: "What should I do?

What do you think?"

If we always ask every single person and we don't make decisions for ourselves, that shows

that we are a bit like Dobby the House-Elf.

But if there are some people whose advice or knowledge we really respect, then I don't

think it's wrong to ask them for things like this.

I'm just showing so that we're aware how...

How we can build sentences in a way, without realizing it, and never really thinking about it.

Coming next we've got some more examples.

The next example is a situation where you hate to impose.

When you impose on someone, you're disturbing them so much.

You're coming to them with your problems, and you...

You feel bad about doing that, so you don't really want to impose on someone.

And because of that, the language shows that you're sorry, in a way.

And the language shows a higher level of politeness than we would normally use because we're imposing;

we're really sorry about it.

So let's say you have to go and talk to your boss, and you can see your boss is on the

phone in the room and he doesn't like to be disturbed, you might go and knock, open the

door and say: "Sorry to bother you, but..."

Or you might say: "Excuse me, Sir" or "Madam" if it's a woman.

These two words are considered to be honorific language.

When you call someone a "Sir" or a "Madam", it's showing a lot of respect to them.

When I was at school, we always called the male teachers "Sir", and we called the female

teachers "Miss"; we didn't use the word "Madam".

I'm not really sure if schools still use...

Schools in England still use the word "Sir", because in a lot of ways we've lost so many

of these traditions of showing a lot of respect to people.

So, let me know in a comment if you know what people use at school, whether they're still

saying "Sir".

So, if you say...

In this example sentence: "Excuse me, Sir", the fact that we're using "Sir" or "Madam"

shows a lot more respect than if we just say: "Excuse me."

Next, knock on the door: "Sorry to disturb you" or "Sorry for intruding" when you disturb

someone, you've ruined their...

The situation they were in before.

Perhaps it was all very calm before, and now you've disturbed them with your big problem.

And when you intrude on someone...

We call a burglar an intruder, so for you to intrude on someone is...

Is not considered to be a positive thing, much like how the burglar intrudes in your house.

If you're intruding on someone, it's very much disturbing them and not desirable at all.

Next situation - this one is more...

I think we can use this one in a different situation.

This one is perhaps you've heard...

There was some people talking, they're having a conversation, and perhaps you want to interrupt

their conversation to say something, you might say: "Don't mind me, but..." and then say

whatever it is you were going to say.

It's not...

It's not such a huge thing as some of these other examples.

And this other example could be you just have something very, very quick to say, and perhaps

it's been...

You've been waiting for a moment to say, but the people keep talking and it feels like

there's not a good moment, but if you don't speak now you'll be standing there all day,

so you say: "Sorry, just one moment", and you try and say what it is you want to say

quite quickly.

But in other situations, if we use that, if we say: "Sorry, just one moment" it's because

we feel we can only take one moment of that person's time.

If we take more than one moment, it's too much.

You know?

You don't deserve it.

And lastly, instead of just asking a question when we want to know something, some people

say: "May I ask you a question?" or "Can I ask you a question?" first so they get that


"May" is generally considered even more polite than saying "Can".

All right, so now I thought we'd go back to Dobby the House-Elf and look at some of his

best quotes.

And we're going to look at House-Elf speak - that's a way of saying how house-elves speak:

What kind of language do they use?

So, let's start with this one: "Dobby is very sorry, Dobby had to iron his hands", and he

gets so cross with himself; he hates himself so much for making a mistake that to punish

himself he'll iron his hands; he'll burn his hands to show how very sorry he is.

And what's interesting about Dobby's language, here, is Dobby is speaking about himself using


He refers to himself as "Dobby", so it would be like me talking about myself, and saying:

"Jade does this".

When somebody...

It's really unusual language, actually, because we call it speaking in the third-person, and

in British English the only person who's really known for doing that is the Queen.

So, it's a bit...

It's a bit unusual to get a house-elf doing it, but I suppose it just gives the...

When he talks about himself that way, it gives an unusual quality to his...

To his speech and his character that most other characters don't do, so that's why it

sticks in our minds.

Or maybe it could be, just thinking about it now, that Dobby has no sense of self.

In a way, he has no... because he's so much about other people, he has no personality

that he...

In a way, he doesn't... he doesn't have a "me"; he's just...

He's just the name.

And he...

He looks at himself from the outside.

Maybe I'm going a bit deep, there, but it just came to me.

Next example: "Dobby is used to death threats, Sir.

Dobby gets them five times a day at home."

So, poor Dobby, he works as a kind of slave to the wizard family, and they're so horrible

to him and they treat him so badly that they give him death threats every day of his life.

So, imagine how traumatizing that would be, and how scary it would be, and how abused

poor Dobby is; but yet, he says: "Oh, I'm used to it."

Poor, little elf.

And the next example is: "Dobby is always having to punish himself for something, Sir.

They lets Dobby get on with it."

So, he has to give himself his own punishment.

It's a kind of responsibility in a...

In a way.

And for a house-elf, maybe this is seen as a...

In a way, it shows how good he is at his job because he's able to punish himself, and he

doesn't need to be...

He doesn't need the wizards to tell him how to punish himself; they just say: "Get on

with it.

I trust you to do that.

Get on with it."

So, Dobby being a very good house-elf, he knows how to punish himself.

And the last example here is: "Socks are Dobby's favourite clothes, Sir."

And here are some socks.

So, whereas humans tend to think about socks as...

In a way, when we find them on the floor, we find them to be dirty even if they're clean


Odd socks are never a desirable thing.

We especially don't like other people's socks.

For Dobby, they are outfits, so he takes perhaps the lowliest and least luxurious piece of

clothing that many humans have; and to Dobby, they become favourite, special outfits.

So, there we...

There we know a little bit about Dobby's language.

And if we use a lot of effects like Dobby does when he's speaking, calling other people

"Sir" and making ourselves small, this will show other people that we are less important

than them.

So, what you can do now is do the quiz on this lesson.

And thank you so much for watching, and I'll see you again soon.


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