LINGUIST List 4.732

Tue 21 Sep 1993

Disc: Y'all

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Gavin Burnage, Yous (British/Irish Y'all)
  2. benji wald, Re: 4.724 Y'all

Message 1: Yous (British/Irish Y'all)

Date: Mon, 20 Sep 1993 17:36:33 +0100
From: Gavin Burnage <>
Subject: Yous (British/Irish Y'all)
> This discussion is too exclusively American. Come on, y'all, how
> about some British English equivalents?
Sue Blackwell (LINGUIST 4.704) asks for British/Irish input into the
"y'all" discussion, and I'm happy to say the British National Corpus's
expanding collection of transcribed UK speech can provide some
real-life examples.
> 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?
The examples I've found are from Northern Ireland, where "yous" is a
very popular "informal" usage for you-plural. There is also a
Scottish one, but none (as yet) from England or Wales.
Since the BNC is making orthographic rather than phonetic/phonemic
transcriptions, I can't show anything about the /ju:z/ vs /jz/
distinction -- but what Sue relates sums up what I've heard repeatedly
in (Northern) Irish usage.
There also exists the form "yous-uns" in Northern Ireland, but the
data we've received so far don't include instances of it.
What do Hughes and Trudgill mean by "often plural"? I don't really
know. From the 37 examples I found, it would be safe to say that
"yous" is usually the plural form of _you_. Where there is ambiguity,
the ambiguity seems to be in the context of the discussion.
Here are a few of the examples that came to light. I've included BNC
file and utterance reference numbers with the transcriptions. "..."
indicates a pause, "=" indicates a truncated word.
These three are spoken by a 36-year-old woman in Belfast:
 <u who=2 id=84> Between the four of yous I'm fed up buying hairspray.
 <u who=2 id=140> Put them two inside. ... For
 once in your lives can yous not be nice in this house ... instead of
 bickering and fighting <unclear>
This example shows a clear distinction between you-singular and
 <u who=2 id=29> See that fucking knife Mark, I
 ought to stab you or him with it, I am sick to death of yous. ... All
 yous do is fight and ruck and fight ... do you ever see a house like
 it Albert?
This is said by a 35-year-old man in Hampshire whose dialect is
Scottish English, in conversation with his wife and young son Christopher:
 <u who=1 id=1> If I catch any of <??>yous</> touching this again
 you'll be in deep trouble right Christy?
The transcribers, from Longman UK in South-East England, were confused
by this usage, hence the query against it.
This example, spoken by a 31-year-old woman in Belfast, is a bit confusing
but again shows both "you" and "yous" occurring in the same utterance-- only
this time the distinction between singular and plural is not quite as clear:
 930916/r_Patricia/A_044101:<u who=1 id=194> Yo= got your push bike
 boy! Like, there's a guy that rings up in work ... Hello ha! And I
 say, hello. He says, well how yous a going? <nv>laugh</nv> ... I'm
 doing fine. You're fine? Oh, ye how <unclear> dyou don't know what
 you lo=, you townies don't, just don't know what work is.
"How yous a going" indicates that a group of people is being referred
to, and the subsequent "You're fine" suggests that the focus changes
to one person. Then comes the confusion -- it seems to be caused by
the speaker not knowing whether to refer to the one person again, or
to generalize to "townies". It's interesting that "yous" is not used
demonstratively -- in this instance the usage is the more standard
_you_ : "you townies".
This example comes from Belfast, a 53-year-old man talking to his 11-year-old
son in the presence of his 10-year-old daughter.
 <u who=1 id=58> That's alright, well ... we'll do it this morning,
 are your socks clean now if you're gonna take off your shoes to get
 them, try them on? Do yous know what size of shoes yous take?
The next comes from a conversation in the same man's home, in the
presence of family and friends, shortly after Willy the dog was sick.
(Someone supplied it some spaghetti, and again the transcribers were a
bit confused, but faithfully reported "dog sick noise"!)
 <u who=? id=126> Now I told yous not to feed <unclear> but no yous a
 fucking big shit, yous know it all.
Again, there is some confusion between plural and singular -- the pronoun
is the supposedly "plural" form, the noun seemingly singular.
Later on, there's this admirably succint question and answer:
 <u who=? id=69> <shouting>Time yous going at</>?
 <u who=2 id=70> Nine. ... And she [says]
 <u who=? id=71> [<shouting>Well] give me a shout before yous go</>.
Finally, a straightforward example from a 23-year-old male, during
a car journey to Antrim, referring to the radio:
 <u who=23 id=52> Sit in the back! Karen listening too. Do yous
 wanna hear this
James Milroy ("Regional Accents of English: Belfast", Blackstaff Press,
1981), noted that the you-singular/yous-plural distinction was so
entrenched in some parts of the city that a fieldworker had to adopt it
when talking to groups to avoid misunderstanding and confusion.
He also calls it "a useful and convenient distinction that is not in
the standard language", and wonders whether it might not eventually
come back into the standard in this form. I agree with him, and wonder
what others reckon to the chances of "yous" climbing the social scale.
Gavin Burnage
British National Corpus
Oxford University Computing Services
13 Banbury Road 0865-273280 (work)
OXFORD OX2 6NN 0865-273275 (fax)
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Message 2: Re: 4.724 Y'all

Date: Mon, 20 Sep 93 17:41 PDT
From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 4.724 Y'all
I just got back to the y'all discussion since my last message, so a lot had
accumulated. The most striking thing is the vehemence with which many of the
y'all native speakers (in the South) insist it must be a plural. I am aware
of Southern pique at misrepresentations of Southern speech in the media, but
let me second a suggestion already made. STUDY THE DAMNED THING and let's
find out if/how it is used as a singular in the South. We can see there are
lots of issues. At one end is the very real philosophical question: if
someone uses y'all in addressing a single person how do we know whether the
speaker is making an individual or group reference? I can imagine (much)
earlier linguists raising the same question about "you". By the way, this is
a perennial very real issue with the "impersonal" use of "you", cf. "you
jerks/New Yorkers/whatever! well, I don't mean YOU (personally)/ present
company excluded (of course" etc etc. Who among ye hasn't witnessed an
argument which turned on a perceived personal insult when impersonal "you"
was yoused, excuse me, used. At the other end of issues which may approach
solution in an empirical study,maybe we'll at least find out something about
social and linguistic conditioning of the choice between "you" and "y'all" in
the plural use(cf. the self-report rejecting "y'all'll"It sounds great to me!)
I have a few other remarks on what I've read in the messages to the y'all
issue that I think might be worth general dissemination rather than directed
only to the individuals who stimulated them. For example, after I sent my
message on British "you LOT" (accent on "you") but before she evidentally
read it, Sue Blackwell of Birmingham (Midlands!) complained that she felt
left out of the y'all thing. Sue, where are you on my questions about "you
lot!" in Britain? Dennis Baron on "you guys". I enjoyed Dennis's spleen
on the emotion generated by "y'all", and he perhaps inadvertently raised
another interesting issue. ARE WE ALL AGREED THAT 'SHALL' IS DEAD IN SPOKEN
AMERICAN ENGLISH? That's my impression -- it's only used to sound Biblical.
But I think there's some vestigial disagreement out there. Also, how many
people assume, as I do, that Dennis is perhaps gratuitously being playfully
wry when he claims to find "you guys" ironic in view of the disfavorable way
that male generics are viewed? I can't prove (at the moment)
that "you guys" is older than the attack on male generics, but I have observed
that many (though by no means all) of the people who use "you guys" are not
passionate participants in this movement. Is Dennis suggesting that the
attack on male generics is a "tempest in a teapot" which "you guys" reveals
runs counter to the sociolinguistic forces driving current change in the
English language?
My last comments concern Gilman's message of 17 Sept, the only one to publicly
respond specifically to my observations on Black English. It raises an issue
about "y'all" in"Northern Black English", but the issue is about the concept
of "Northern Black English", not about "y'all". Let me state what is commonly
stated when the term "Black English" is used. Not all African Americans speak
it. Gilman does not recognise that,when she points out that y'all was probably
 brought North since (the end of) Reconstruction, so that it is"Southern
 Black English" in origin. In fact, almost all features discussed in the
 literature on "Northern Black English" are "Southern". Very little is known
 for sure about the indigenous English of Northern Black communities in the
 nineteenth century. It is not even clear if such English was distinct enough
 from the English of surrounding northern communities to warrant so distinct
 a label as "Northern Black English". It is generally agreed by those who
 study it that "Northern Black English" is not a descendant of the English
 spoken by African American communities already well established in the North
 (although relatively small) but of the English spoken by African Americans
 in the South before the great migrations of the twentieth century. The
 use of "Northern Black English" for the English spoken in the majority of
 the Northern African American communities currently is intended to suggest
 that it has taken on a life of its own, so that as it continues to change it
 will not necessarily change in the same way as the English spoken by African
 Americans in the South. Changes in the use of "y'all" may prove to be an
 example -- I can't really say at this point. Gilman's separate point about
 one path through which innovations spread from the African American community
 to the "mainstream" is interesting, but again it is only one path out of very
 very many, so complex are the connections between African American and other
 American cultures. In any case, that is apart from the issue of how "yo"
 got INTO (not OUT OF) African American "slang" (and I agree with her that it
 might be a "fad"). Seems like again nobody knows even though it happened
 "right in front of our noses". I disclaimed the hypothesis that it came
 from some white ethnic working class speech, but I mentioned "Rocky I"
 because it is easily documentable that it is used by Italian American
 characters in that film, while it does not occur in the speech of Black
 characters in movies of the same period (whatever that might prove!? given
 the rigid stereotyping requirements of African Americans in movies of
 even/especially? the 1970s). Anyway, so much for y'all and you guys and
 youse. I hope somebody follows up on the suggestions which the y'all issue
 has brought out, because it would be so easy to go beyond, "what I think" and
 "well, I heard", "well, I'm from there and I KNOW" and "yak yak" to real
 scientific research on this issue. I gotta go.
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