LINGUIST List 4.720

Sat 18 Sep 1993

Disc: Y'all

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Keith Miller, -0400
  2. Dan Sax, You'ns, etc. in Pennsylvania
  3. MARC PICARD, Y'all
  4. "Dennis Baron", y'all
  5. Anne T Gilman, Y'ALL, Black English
  6. Keith Miller, all of y'all: re-marked plural
  7. , Re: 4.704 and 718 Y'all
  8. , yet more y'all
  9. Christine Kamprath, Re: 4.704 Y'All

Message 1: -0400

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 1993 10:22:11 -0400
From: Keith Miller <>
Subject: -0400

>>>>> On Tue, 14 Sep 1993 07:20:44 -0500, Linda Coleman
 <> said:

 Linda> As a native speaker of a _y'all_-using dialect, I have some questions
 about a
 Linda> couple of points in the discussion so far.

 Linda> First, _y'all_ is an abbreviation of _you all_ only etymologically.
 Linda> all_ means the same as _all of you_, while _y'all_ is simply plural.

 Linda> (1) Do you all have books?

 Linda> addressed to three people, one of whom is bookless,
 Linda> would have to be answered "no."

 Linda> (2) Do y'all have books?

 Linda> addressed to the same three, could be answered, "Yes, Hester and I do,
 Linda> Herkimer here doesn't."

I come from NOVA as well, but I often find myself substituting y'all for
_you all_ in casual conversation, without intending any difference in meaning.
Thus, for me, the answer "Yes, Hester and I do, but Herkimer here doesn't
would be equally appropriate for "Do y'all have books?" and "Do you all have
books?" It does seem to me, though, that y'all tends to be used more as
a collective term (meaning roughly `you as a group'). Thus, in planning an
evening with a group of friends, the question "Where do y'all want to go eat?"
tends to indicate a desire to evoke a single response from the group as a
whole, rather than a desire to discuss the pros and cons of each group
member's choice of restaurant, although the latter might actually be the
result. For me, this is basically the same as asking "Where does everyone
want to go eat?", which would be expected to produce similar results. (Perhaps
it is the relationship of y'all to quantifiers like _everyone_ that raises
issues of scope in the interpretation of questions like your (2), and which
leads to our disagreement about appropriate responses.)

 Linda> Second, _y'all_ doesn't seem to me a true pronoun so much as a plural
 Linda> marker of some sort for second person.

If it is not a pronoun, though, then what type of `plural marker' do you
suppose that it is? What other English forms / constructions is it related
to? What would the word class be?

 Linda> [...] For example.

 Linda> (3) Do y'all have your books?
 Linda> (4) ??Do y'all have y'all's books?

 Linda> (yes, _y'all's_ is the possessive of _y'all_--at least where I come

It certainly is! (Are there other choices?)

At first, I thought that the second example sounded about as good as any use of
_y'all's_ that I've heard. But then, I thought that actually a sentence like:

(4a) When are y'all's final exams?

sounds better to me, and this would be an example to support your assertion that
multiple y'all's are unnecessary or awkward (at best). (I still don't see,
though why this couldn't be a pronoun, whose distribution is perhaps determined
by discourse properties - not my specialty -) In fact, doesn't the fact that
y'all can be possessivized strongly suggest that it is a nominal of some sort?
In short, I guess my feedback is that it would take some work to convince me
that _y'all_ isn't a pronoun, but if it is a plural pronoun in contrast with
singular _you_, I'm not sure why in sentences like

Where are y'all going, and what are you going to do when you get there?

the _you_ can be read as plural and as having the same referent(s) as the
_y'all_ in the first part of the sentence

or why this sentence is much better than

?Where are y'all going, and what are y'all going to do when you get there?

(...and I thought this was going to be a _short_ reply!)

 ----- Keith J. Miller
 Computational Linguistics
 Georgetown University
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Message 2: You'ns, etc. in Pennsylvania

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 93 12:14:44 -0You'ns, etc. in Pennsylvania
From: Dan Sax <>
Subject: You'ns, etc. in Pennsylvania

>> 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

I'm from the Johnstown Pennsylvania area (a scant 80mi west of Pittsburgh)
where the presiding local you-plural "you'ns" or "yin's" definitely
IS pronounced as "yins" -- lax high front vowel.

And as far as variety is concerned, I humbly offer a form which some folks
I know use as the POSESSIVE of this:
"youn'ses" or "yinses", which goes something like /'yInz3z/
as used in the sentence:
"Are these apples ours, or are they younses?"

 -Dan Sax
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Message 3: Y'all

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 1993 12:29:36 Y'all
From: MARC PICARD <PICARDVax2.Concordia.CA>
Subject: Y'all

A few years ago, the Louisiana Tourist Board (or some such organism) had
ads in the Montreal metro (inter alia) that read: VIENS NOUS VOIR, Y'ALL!
If Y'ALL were strictly plural or polite, that would have had to be: VENEZ NOUS
VOIR, Y'ALL! My impression is that Benji Wald is right when he says:
>It does have some kind of affect which distinguishes it from the
>more neutral "you" but it is not necessarily politeness.
It seems to have some kind of connotation of affection or endearment.
A propos, to his collection of plural YOU's (youse, you lot, etc.) we can add
the very common Irish (ALL OF) YE.
M. Picard
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Message 4: y'all

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 93 12:34:04 CSy'all
From: "Dennis Baron" <>
Subject: y'all

The argument that only true Southerners can properly use y'all as plural,
while those who use it as a sg. are either northern, actors, or mentally
deficient (=from New York?) strikes me as analogous to the claim fre-
quently made by usage critics (Fowler, Follett, and others) that only
speakers of a certain variety of English in SE England use shall and will
correctly (by instinct and breeding), which means that the rest of us
poor suckers have to (and they do mean _have to_) learn the distinction.

Perhaps some linguists ought to get off their prescriptive high horses
long enough to acknowledge that language changes through error (a form
of variation) sometimes. That's why a nadder is now an adder. Only in
that case error has the highfalutin name metathesis. Yes, error
can be systematic. Axe me about it. Also I thought we
considered that self-reporting of usage was highly suspect. So and so
says, "I never use y'all as singular." You really believe such a report?
People have told me to my face they never would be caught dead using
double modals, only to blurt out a "might could" half an hour later in
an unguarded moment.
End of flame. Boy, that felt good.

But seriously, folks, there seems to me to be enough disagreement, and
enough anecdotal evidence that sometimes a 2nd person plural does indeed
look like it's being used as a singular, for somebody to start gathering
data (a term which I will continue to construe as singular because it is
no longer Latin). Doesn't the existence of all y'all and y'all-uns
at least suggest the possibility that a form that may at first
be used simply for emphasis could in fact imply a weakening in the
plurality of simple y'all. To which a chorus will reply, "Not in
my back yard."

-- (\ 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 5: Y'ALL, Black English

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 1993 09:48:17 Y'ALL, Black English
From: Anne T Gilman <>
Subject: Y'ALL, Black English

re: derivation of y'all

 The term could still come from "you-all" with out carrying the
exact meaning of the separate terms. For instance, how many people who
say "good-bye" _mean_ "God be with you?" Thanks to Jim Harris: I also
would have to say, in my Virginia dialect, "Do all o' y'all have books?"

re: Northern vs. Southern Black English

 It's useful to remember that it's only one century ago that
large numbers of Southern African-Americans moved north, after the collapse
of Reconstruction; the speech of long-standing African-Am. communities in
Massachusetts is quite different, and usually does not include y'all.

re: YO!

 I can't provide any evidence about YO, but one common path of
transmission of fads in exclamations (such as the gestural snap-snap-snap)
and dances is that the gay community borrows from African-American trends
and then those trends disperse into mainstream Anglo-American society.
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Message 6: all of y'all: re-marked plural

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 1993 15:32:45 all of y'all: re-marked plural
From: Keith Miller <>
Subject: all of y'all: re-marked plural

In his posting on Friday, September 18, Dennis Baron said >>>

 Dennis> But forces for unmarking persist as well, and even forms like youse
 Dennis> and y'all become used for singulars, though not consistently.
 Dennis> [...]
 Dennis> while y'all speakers insist that when the form is used in
 Dennis> addressing one and only one person it implies plurality (you and all
 Dennis> friends/kin/whatever). But that fails to explain why a re-marked
 Dennis> occurs even for y'all, in the form of "all y'all," an intensifier
 Dennis> to ensure the form is marked as plural....

In this case, I don't think that the _all_ serves as an intensifier to
ensure a plural interpretation. Rather, my feeling is that while a
question of the form

 (1) "Do y'all have books?"

can be interpreted as a question about a _group's_ possession of books, not
singling any one member of the group out in particular, the question

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

refers unambiguously to each group member's possession of books individually.
Thus, while (1) can be answered in the affirmative if any member of the group
has books (pehaps provided that the books are in the possession of the group
as a whole) (2) can only be answered affirmatively if _each_ group member has
books. In both cases, though, _y'all_ refers to more than one person.

Just to add another complication, I have also heard the interpretation
I've given to (2) expressed by _y'all all_, as in

 (3) "Do y'all all have books?"

Although this sounds a bit awkward, and is difficult to say. Have others heard
(or used) this construction?

 ----- Keith J. Miller
 Computational Linguistics
 Georgetown University

 Artificial Intelligence Center
 The MITRE Corporation

 (-*-standard disclaimers-*-)
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Message 7: Re: 4.704 and 718 Y'all

Date: Sat, 18 Sep 93 00:27:50 EDRe: 4.704 and 718 Y'all
From: <>
Subject: Re: 4.704 and 718 Y'all

With a few exceptions, I have been chiefly surprised that American linguists
discussing a fairly common American linguistic phenomenon seem to know so
little about it.

To Dick Hudson's (4.718) question, the answer is clear, his

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

is perfectly natural to my native Southern ear, although I suspect that the
"didn't you" is very unlikely to be pronounced in Standard English, since
"y'all" is not exactly SE, although there are areas where it is Standard
Southern English. It's more likely to be something like "didn'cha?", since
speakers are unlikley to mix SE and SSE in the same short sentence.


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

sounds something between ungrammatical and highly affected to my ear.

To Benji Wald's (4.718) suspicion that y'all is not exclusively plural, I can
only say that I have only *noticed* hearing it used as a singular in movies
and by non-native speakers who were trying to affect a Southern accent, but I
don't claim to be a systematic dialectologist; I just hope *some*one is.
Mike Picone's (4.704) "Y'all come back now" example certainly rings true,
even if James McMillan had eaten alone. I would not have been surprised to
hear it tagged with "yuh heah?"

I am amazed if it is true that no one has actually systematically studied the
y'all phenomenon so that we have to rely on unsystematic speculation. Surely
some descriptive linguist or dialetologist must have investigated the
question. If not, perhaps one of you will do the job.

Andy Rogers
Austin Texas
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Message 8: yet more y'all

Date: Sat, 18 Sep 93 06:18:00 BSyet more y'all
From: <>
Subject: yet more y'all

Although I'm literally from Missouri, I've spent the last 26 years of my
life in NC. I've also traveled and vacationed extensively in NC, VA, SC, GA
and TX and never in all this time can I recall having heard a native
Southerner use "y'all" as a singular pronoun, much less as a polite pronoun,
a la French "vous". I find it amusing that, as nearly as I can tell,
everyone in this discussion who has posited that y'all can be singular
and/or polite is not a Southerner. Arguments that the construction "all
y'all' proves that it's singular are rather foolish, too. "Y'all" becomes no
more singular in that usage than "youse" or "you guys" in the constructions
"alla youse" or "all of you guys"; these are all just ways of referring to
ALL members of the group being spoken to as opposed to a subset of that
group (as in "some o' youse", "some of you guys" or "summa y'all"). Anyone
of you'uns wishing to opine to the contrary, remember-I'm from Missouri...

Garry Williams

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Message 9: Re: 4.704 Y'All

Date: Sat, 18 Sep 93 08:58:39 CDRe: 4.704 Y'All
From: Christine Kamprath <>
Subject: Re: 4.704 Y'All

Just a small response to Dennis Baron's calling "all y'all" a re-marked
plural. "all" in this expression means "all", not "plural", just as
it means "all" in "all of the trees", where "trees" has its own plural

C. Kamprath
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