LINGUIST List 4.704

Tue 14 Sep 1993

Disc: Y'all

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , RE: 4.701 Y'all
  2. "Dennis Baron", y'all
  3. Bruce Samuelson, Is y'all really plural?
  4. , Y'all
  5. , y'all and the like
  6. Mike Picone, Re: 4.701 Y'all
  7. Larry Hutchinson, Re: 4.701 Y'all

Message 1: RE: 4.701 Y'all

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1993 11:13:20 RE: 4.701 Y'all
From: <>
Subject: RE: 4.701 Y'all

> My favorite you-plural is "you'ns," pronounced as "yins" and heard
> in the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania area.

It's not pronounced "yins" here in Pittsburgh. It's pronounced "yunz" -- mid
central vowel. There are various spellings: "yunz", "yuns", "y'uns", etc.

Anybody out there from a "yins" area? That's not one I've heard, but I'm all
for variety.
 -- Al Huettner
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Message 2: y'all

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 93 09:03:06 CSy'all
From: "Dennis Baron" <>
Subject: y'all

Throughout the history of English the 2nd person pronoun has been
following a similar pattern. Old and Middle English
distinct forms for singular and plural coalesced into an unmarked form
that had been plural (MnE you) but had also at some point developed a
polite singular use as well. But that left an ambiguous form which
speakers obviously felt a need to re-mark, hence forms like youse,
you'uns, yins, y'all, and you guys.

But forces for unmarking persist as well, and even forms like youse
and y'all become used for singulars, though not consistently.
Urbanites familiar with youse may have noted its use as an obvious
singular as well as a plural (with no politeness marker here, I think,
either), while y'all speakers insist that when the form is used in
addressing one and only one person it implies plurality (you and all your
friends/kin/whatever). But that fails to explain why a re-marked plural
occurs even for y'all, in the form of "all y'all," an intensifier designed
to ensure the form is marked as plural. Any attempt to question the
plurality of y'all is met by a stone wall of derision and disbelief
(damn Yankee linguists) despite the occasional sighting of the form
as a polite sg. or a true sg.

You guys is the latest of these marked second person plurals,
and the interesting thing about that form is 1) that it arose in an era when
masculine generics have fallen into disfavor but 2) many people treat
it as gender neutral and therefore unobjectionable despite the fact that
it arises--according to most but not all etymologies--from a masculine
form. It might seem hard for you guys to shift to sg. as well, because
of the plural -s marker on guys, but that should apply to the all in
y'all as well, and the -s hasn't halted the sg. use of youse.

You guys is too new to shift to sg. yet, especially because many usage
complaints are being lodged against it on the grounds of political correct-
ness. But it might. The second person pronoun is unstable in English
-- but so what, so is the 3rd person (viz. the singular _they_ found
commonly in speech and standard writing).

-- (\ 217-333-2392
 \'\ fax: 217-333-4321
Dennis Baron \'\ ____________
Department of English / '| ()___________)
University of Illinois \ '/ \ ~~~~~~~~~ \
608 South Wright St. \ \ ~~~~~~~~~ \
Urbana, IL 61801 ==). \ __________\
 (__) ()___________)
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Message 3: Is y'all really plural?

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 93 16:54:22 CDIs y'all really plural?
From: Bruce Samuelson <>
Subject: Is y'all really plural?

Has anyone published data on whether y'all is a plural pronoun? I speak
a southern California dialect and now live in Dallas, Texas. I claim
that the native speakers here use y'all just as often to represent 2sg
as 2pl. An example is someone calling me y'all when only the two of us
are talking. I have argued this point with two linguists who adamantly
maintain that y'all only refers to 2pl, and also with a native speaker
who makes the same claim. Does anyone have any hard data?
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Message 4: Y'all

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 93 15:29
From: <>
Subject: Y'all

This discussion is too exclusively American. Come on, y'all, how
about some British English equivalents? According to Hughes and
Trudgill (English Accents and Dialects) in their discussion of
Liverpool English, "yous (/ju:z/ when stressed, and /jz/ when not
stressed) is (often plural) _you_. It is a feature too of some
Irish English."

Now what exactly do they mean by "often plural"? Any native speakers
of Liverpudlian or Irish English out there?

Sue Blackwell
University of Birmingham
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Message 5: y'all and the like

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1993 11:45:06 y'all and the like
From: <>
Subject: y'all and the like

A *real* educated person is somebody who doesn't know that youse [yu:z]
is the correct plural in New York City.

Deborah DuBartell (originally from Brooklyn/East New York)

Deborah A. Du Bartell, Ph.D.
Linguistics Program
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Edinboro, PA 16444 USA
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Message 6: Re: 4.701 Y'all

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 93 09:02:13 CDRe: 4.701 Y'all
From: Mike Picone <MPICONEUA1VM.UA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 4.701 Y'all

>Another aspect to y'all that is quite striking is the use of a singular
>y'all as a politeness marker, similar to tu/vous in French. I noticed it
>quite a bit when I went back home last year. (southern Mississippi) Anyone
>else notice this?

I'm not a native Alabamian, but have lived here in Tuscaloosa for over five
years and, before that, in France for almost nine. I don't see much similarity
in the (rare) use of so-called 'polite'_y'all_ around here and the systematic
use of polite _vous_ in France. Here, it is wholly pragmatic, not even remotely
grammaticalized. When someone uses _y'all_ in addressing
an individual, it is a rhetorical strategy for including reference not only to
that individual but also to his real or hypothetical entourage. As such, it
may function to soften direct address, but this is still a far cry from French
_vous_ which, when used to refer to an individual, contains no hint or shade
whatsoever of underlying plurality.

In fact, non-Southerners are the likely ones to create various stereotypical
and hypercorrective (if they are transplants here) instances of nonplural
_y'all_. Or actors, Southern or non-Southern, who may be coached to include
usages that conform to non-Southern stereotyped expectations, all of which
usually grates on Southern ears. (Though it is possible that some younger
Southerners are actually influenced by such things.)

It would be hard to find a better authority on the matter than James
B. McMillan. I remember at a gathering just a few years ago that the question
of nonplural _y'all_ was put to him. His answer was that he had never
heard it, except for the type of understood plurality referred to above. The
exact anecdote he used to illustrate was: He had finished lunch and, alone,
went to pay at the counter. The invitation _Y'all come back_ was obviously
meant not only for him but for the colleague who had been eating with him.

I have asked my students about how they perceive their own use of _y'all_.
They are unanimous and vociferous in declaring that it can only be used
to reflect plurality. Most of them are from Alabama, but those from
Mississippi, Florida, Virginia and other southern points say the same thing.
For politeness marking, the typical (and prevelant) Southern strategy is
to include the terms of address _Sir_ and _Ma'am_. (I am quick to point
out, however, that use of these terms is complex and surpasses the politeness
framework, as has been demonstrated by my colleague here at U Alabama,
Catherine Davies: "Social Meaning in Southern Speech from an Interactional
Sociolinguistic Perspective: An Integrative Discourse Analysis of Terms of
Address" Language Variety in the South - II).

Michael D. Picone
University of Alabama
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Message 7: Re: 4.701 Y'all

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 93 14:40:49 edRe: 4.701 Y'all
From: Larry Hutchinson <>
Subject: Re: 4.701 Y'all

The view that "you" is singular and "y'all" is plural is too simplistic. For
one thing, as several have pointed out, the latter is often used clearly as
a singular where the former would have been felt impolite. For another, there
is an explicit plural sometimes added onto "y'all." At a linguistics conference
in Austin a whole group of us (northern) linguists were astonished to hear the
desk clerk at the conference hotel say, "Y'all'uns come back now."
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