This paper offers a qualitative analysis of the variation in the usage of the so-called polite second person plural forms in Russian, as attested in peasant correspondence from the late nineteenth century. The analysis reveals progress from a system lacking the “polite” second person plural forms, through a system with complex variation of the “polite” second person plural forms and the unmarked second person singular forms caused by multiple contextual and interpersonal factors, and finally to a system with no variation, in which the “polite” second person plural forms correlate with a single pragmatic factor of interpersonal distance. The paper demonstrates that the three stages were accomplished within two generations of a newly literate stratum of Russian peasant society at a transitional point in its history. The results of the analysis reveal parallels with the spread of the “polite” second person plural forms in literary Russian. We conclude by suggesting general conditions for a pragmatic change of semantically underspecified elements.