LINGUIST List 2.628

Wed 09 Oct 1991

Disc: Polite Pronouns and Plurals

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. BROADWELL GEORGE AARON, y'all and politeness
  2. David E Newton, RE: 2.615 Polite/Plural Pronouns
  3. Henry Kucera, Re: 2.615 Polite/Plural Pronouns
  4. bert peeters, 2.616 Plurals
  5. Stephen P Spackman, Datum/Data

Message 1: y'all and politeness

Date: Mon, 7 Oct 91 16:54:20 -0400
Subject: y'all and politeness
A previous poster asked if 'youse' might be used for politeness as
well as plurality. I can't say for `youse', but I can affirm that
`y'all' is never used with singulars, polite or otherwise.
Occasionally `y'all' means something like `you and others (supplied
from context)' so it is possible to say to a single person
"How much do y'all pay for your apartment?"
with the implication that the person addressed has a roommate.
Another example:
"When are y'all going to get married?"
which includes both the addressee and their fiance(e).
I suppose that it must be exchanges like this that give some non-Southerners
the impression that Southern English uses `y'all' in the singular.
On a vaguely related topic -- As a native speaker of a double modal
dialect, I agree with Jim Harris that "Might could I get you a chair?"
is totally impossible. The example from Gurganis's novel sounds very
odd to me -- I would have guessed it was written by a non-Southerner
trying (unsuccessfully) to imitate the dialect. Did the book say that
Gurganis is *from* the Carolinas or only that he *lives* there?
Aaron Broadwell, Dept. of Linguistics, University at Albany -- SUNY,
Albany, NY 12222
"Chi Wen Tzu always thought three times before taking action. Twice
would have been quite enough." -- Confucious
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Message 2: RE: 2.615 Polite/Plural Pronouns

Date: Mon, 7 Oct 91 22:20 BST
From: David E Newton <>
Subject: RE: 2.615 Polite/Plural Pronouns
"Youse" certainly exists in the Scouse speech of Liverpool, though I am
not sure whether it has a strict sing/pl distinction, or even if it has
a polite/informal distinction. (Apart from the obvious, in that if one
was trying to be formal, "youse" would probably not be used, as it is
not part of Standard English.
I use it myself occasionally, though this may just be affectation, as I
use it without regard to number or formality.
I would be interested if anyone has any data on its use in the Liverpool area.
David E Newton
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Message 3: Re: 2.615 Polite/Plural Pronouns

Date: Mon, 07 Oct 91 21:41:11 EDT
From: Henry Kucera <>
Subject: Re: 2.615 Polite/Plural Pronouns
 G. Russom's observation that we have you/yous in Providence is correct but
its usage is very limited (South Providence, mostly). It is, it would seem, a
 feature closely connected with ethnic usage--still interesting, of course.
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Message 4: 2.616 Plurals

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 91 11:07:29 EST
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: 2.616 Plurals
> Date: Wed, 2 Oct 91 08:20:46 GMT
> From: (Michel Eytan LILoL)
> I would like to add a small grain of salt to the debate, but in a very exotic
> language -- viz. French. Some time ago I taught a course in Automata Theory.
> The formal definition implies a set of final states, that I called "un
> ensemble d'e'tats *finals*'. This seemed to confuse quite a bit the students,
> used to form the plural of adjectives in -al as -aux. My only argument was
> that of 'euphonia', but I am no more so sure of this sort of reason.
To me (but let's not forget that I am NOT a native speaker) *finaux* simply
does not sound right, for exactly the reason suggested by Michel Eytan: it
seems to strike me as being non euphonic. Bu the way, according to the Petit
Robert, *final* can be pluralized as either *finals* or *finaux*. I vote for
the former.
> Date: Tue, 1 Oct 91 17:58:42 -0500
> From: "Michael Kac" <>
> I have gotten corrections publicly and privately regarding *propoganda*;
> my thanks to the correctors.
I wonder whether they also told Michael that the word is spelled as
*propaganda*, with 1 O and 3 A's. (Sorry, it was too tempting...)
> Ellen Prince mentions *data*. This is actually an interesting case --
> my own usage (which tends to be rather puristic, my linguistic political
> correctness notwithstanding) is actually inconsistent. I'll say things like
> 'The data are on page 3' but also 'There's a lot of data to support that
> claim'.
The latter example does not suggest that *data* is singular. Cf.
	There's a lot of people in the movie theatre.
	There's a lot of flowers in this field.
I think the issue of *there's* as a short form for both *there is* and *there
are* has been discussed on LINGUIST before - but I haven't kept the relevant
data (I deleted IT/THEM...).
At first sight, therefore, there is nothing inconsistent about Michael Kac's
way of expressing himself.
Dr Bert Peeters Tel: +61 02 202344
Department of Modern Languages 002 202344
University of Tasmania at Hobart Fax: 002 207813
GPO Box 252C
Hobart TAS 7001
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Message 5: Datum/Data

Date: Tue, 08 Oct 91 11:34:50 -0500
From: Stephen P Spackman <>
Subject: Datum/Data
As a computer scientist, I have two distinct words, "data": one is the
plural of "datum", and the other the name of the stuff of which data
are constituted. The point is semantically interesting, because when
is a datum indivisible? The existence of the word "datum" is widely
known, but it's not so clear that there is any (technical) occasion to
use it. For instance, though in a social context one might say that
that Jane is swimming is a datum, the data structure "(swims jane)" is
a compound object of at least four parts - and even then "'swims" is
"(intern "swims")", and "swims" is "(implode ?s ?w ?i ?m ?s)" and "?s"
is ....
In strongly typed languages (though not in Lisp, C, or any of the
other well-known languages) there can be a clear answer: wherever a
type is OPAQUE (that is, nominally atomic in some context) it makes
unequivocal sense to talk about a datum pertaining to it.
Presumably, "datums" would be the plural of "datum", an opaque item of
"data", thus distinguishing the two uses - though I haven't heard it
used often enough (perhaps twice or thrice, always, as far as I can
recall, from students) to be sure.
stephen p spackman
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