LINGUIST List 4.718

Fri 17 Sep 1993

Disc: Y'all

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Kathleen Much, Y'all
  2. , y'all, again
  3. RichardHudson, y'all in tags
  4. benji wald, Re: 4.701 Y'all

Message 1: Y'all

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 93 14:19:35 -0Y'all
From: Kathleen Much <kathleencasbs.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: Y'all

In an earlier message you wrote:

> Date: Mon, 13 Sep 1993 11:49:41 -0800
> >From: jtomeiOREGON.UOREGON.EDU (Joseph George Tomei)
> Subject: more y'all
> There is however, i believe, one detail of its
> >usage which she fails to mention (if i've got this wrong, Anne -- or any
> >other true southerners -- please correct me!). As i understand it, 'y'all'
> >is an explicitly plural pronoun, existing alongside 'you' which is
> >restricted to singular referents and thus serves the purpose 'thou/thee'
> >once served alongside the explicitly plural 'you'.
> 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 don't think this is true in TX. What might SEEM like a politeness
marker is always in my experience a reference to the addressee as part
of an understood group, other members of which do not have to be
present. An observer might not know that the addressee was married,
for instance, and assume that "Y'all come over Friday night" meant
only the addressee, but the speaker would undoubtedly intend "You and
your spouse (or children, or roommate, or best friends--whatever is
appropriate as the referent) come over Friday night". I'd want to
have explicit, unambiguous examples of the southern Mississippi usage
before I would accept the 'politeness marker' explanation.

Kathleen Much, Editor |E-mail: kathleencasbs.stanford.EDU
CASBS, 202 Junipero Serra Blvd. |Phone: (415) 321-2052
Stanford, CA 94305 |Fax: (415) 321-1192
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Message 2: y'all, again

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 93 13:03:31 EDy'all, again
From: <jharrisMIT.EDU>
Subject: y'all, again

I'm a native y'all speaker (from Atlanta) who agrees with a recent posting
(which I deleted too quickly -- sorry) that sentences like (1) and (2) are
not synonymous:

(1) Do y'all have books?
(2) Do you all have books?

(The answer to (1) -- but not to (2) -- could be "yes" if 2 out of 3
addressees had books, among other possibilities.)

But for me, (2) is from a different dialect (or register). The only way I can
express the content of (2) in the same dialect/style as (1) is (2'):

(2') Do all of y'all have books?

Jim Harris
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Message 3: y'all in tags

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 93 20:22:31 +0y'all in tags
From: RichardHudson <>
Subject: y'all in tags

Can an ignorant foreigner join in the fun over y'all with a question. What
happens in tag questions? Do you get y'all repeated, or is it replaced by
"you"? E.g.

(1) Y'all came home late, didn't y'all?
(2) Y'all came home late, didn't you?

If (1), then y'all must be a single-word pronoun, but if (2) it shows its

Dick Hudson
Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
(071) 387 7050 ext 3152
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Message 4: Re: 4.701 Y'all

Date: Wed, 15 Sep 93 14:42 PDT
From: benji wald <>
Subject: Re: 4.701 Y'all

I've been following the discussion of y'all with interest. I was happy to
 hear somebody finally say (admit?) that "y'all" could also be used as a
 singular. My suspicion is that the widespread notion, perhaps prescriptive
 norm among some Southerners, that y'all can only be used as a plural is out
 of date. The suggestion that it might be polite gave me pause. Not yet
 mentioned is the widespread use of "y'all" in Northern Black English. Again,
 it can also be used as a singular -- but it does not seem to be necessarily
 polite. It does have some kind of affect which distinguishes it from the
 more neutral "you" but it is not necessarily politeness. For that matter,
 I have conjectured that the currently popular "vocative" "yo" (meaning
 "hey") in Black E was influenced by use of y'all -- it is a relatively
 recent acquisition -- used by Stallone in Rocky I before it was used in
 Black E -- it does not seem to have been used in BE before the early 80s as
 far as I can tell -- but I doubt it was motivated by such working class
 Italian American models as Rocky. I admit I don't know why it caught on.
I suggest that
 Southern white speakers, and perhaps especially those in the North, consider
 further the complexities of the social circumstances in which they use
 y'all as a singular, to the extent that they recognise that they or people
 they know do indeed use it as a singular as well as a plural.
 About ":youse" (as they spell it -- the vowel is schwa). Definitely
 plural in NYC as far as I know. Like the other analytical plurals it
 does not have possessive or reflexive forms,?" see for youse('s) selves!"

 Finally, my observations of working class British English is that the plural
 is "you LOT", but some people seem to think it is dialectal and Northern.
 Be interested in learning about other English plurals beside the well-known
 American ones "you guys" (general Midwest/West Coast), y'uns (West PA, West
 Va. etc.) y'all, you's, una (Gullah - also sometimes used as singular)
. "you lot" was interesting because of the increasing
 use of "lot" in English to indicate plurality, e.g., "a lot" -- much more
common in spoken American English than "many", and in some contexts than
"much" (though, of course, in some contexts the replacement is not possible,
e.g., "too many" but not "too a lot", as opposed to "thanks a lot" which
is less marked than "thanks much", or even, I think, "many thanks").
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