LINGUIST List 4.740

Thu 23 Sep 1993

Disc: Y'all

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Zvi Gilbert, Re: 4.732 Y'all
  2. "Dennis Baron", you guys
  3. "Kimberly A. Weiss", RE: 4.732 Y'all
  4. , RE: 4.732 Y'all
  5. Paul T Kershaw, Shall
  6. , RE: 4.732 Y'all
  7. "Eoin C. Bairead", Re: 4.731 Y'all
  8. , Possessive of "yall"
  9. Condon Sherri L, 4.720 Y'all

Message 1: Re: 4.732 Y'all

Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1993 09:50:14 Re: 4.732 Y'all
From: Zvi Gilbert <>
Subject: Re: 4.732 Y'all

On a Canadian note...

A quick followup to Gavin Burnage's enlightening discussion of "Yous" in
English... I have heard this usage by several people from Northern
Ontario, who sounded pretty rural Canadian (Bob and Doug MacKenzie is
only a slight exaggeration <grin>), but had that strange plural

I don't know how standardized it is, and certainly much of
the immigration into that area was from Britain/Ireland/Scotland.
Does anyone have any data as to how widespread "yous" is in rural
(northern) Ontario?

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Message 2: you guys

Date: Tue, 21 Sep 93 09:23:51 CSyou guys
From: "Dennis Baron" <>
Subject: you guys

Since Benji Wald brought it up, maybe it's time to take another look
at _you guys_. I initially raised a question about this two years ago
when I was working on a paper on the subject. I never questioned that
you guys predates the present movement to neutralize gratuitous gender
marking and generic masculines. It seems generally agreed, however,
that you guys has spread dramatically in the past 20 years to the point
where it has been suggested that it functions as the new 2nd person plural,
at least in spoken American English. (It does not seem to be supplanting
ya'll in areas where that form is dominant.)

There is opposition to _you guys_ on the grounds that it represents yet
another generic masculine. Opinion on this list and several others I
consulted at the time showed either strong objection to the form or
surprise at such objection. Yet it is certainly a popular form among
my undergraduates, even those with sharpened linguistic consciousness.
Though when I point out that _guys_ is masculine in origin, some of them
decide to avoid it. (Fred Cassidy reminded me that one etymology of
guy traces it to carny lingo for the guy rope or wire that holds up
tents, tightropes, or whatever. But even so, it has had a clear
masculine referent for a couple of centuries.)

In my paper, I wondered aloud why _you guys_ was spreading in an age
when generic he and compounds in -man were in decline, in the US. And
just why that might be. One reason, I suppose, is the
apparently compelling need to mark a 2nd person plural (other examples
being ya'll, youse, and you'uns/yins). That seems a normal development
so far as the pronoun system is concerned. I also supposed (and here's
where I ruffled feathers) that such newly marked plurals ran the risk of
becoming singular (possibly through polite use, initially)--which is
just what happened to _you_ in the first place.

In an aside, I pointed out that another gender-related term, Ms., was
showing evidence both of spread and shift in meaning: for many college-
age women it either has come to mean Miss (they report, for example, that
they prefer to be called Ms. now, but Mrs. when they get married), or
that it is used more or less exclusively to refer to unmarried women
of their mothers' generation. So much for language planning. Sigh. But
we knew that, didn't we, that language goes its own way?

I even collected some evidence that the vocative _Dude(s)_ could be
used in reference to a woman, or a group of women. Though that is a much
more informal term than _you guys_.

As for the charge that I use gratuitous wry humor in my postings--
well, I guess that's how a transplanted New Yorker survives for 20
years in the midwest.

Any possibility that _you guys_ will (I hesitate to use a term that
could be taken as technical for fear of the response) blend to form
a monosyllable? The only one I can think of is _yugs_, which seems

-- (\ 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: RE: 4.732 Y'all

Date: Tue, 21 Sep 93 09:43:57 ESRE: 4.732 Y'all
From: "Kimberly A. Weiss" <>
Subject: RE: 4.732 Y'all

 The recent discussion of 'y'all' has piqued me into posting this.

I am a y'all-speaker from the mountains of NC. I can't claim this as my
native dialect, since I spent the first six years of my life on the west
coast, but I did live there through all of my school-days (elementary
school through college), so I speak it like a native.

First of all, in my own dialect, 'y'all' cannot refer to a single
individual. Just the thought if it makes my head spin somewhat. I also use
the '-all' morpheme as a plural marker on other pronouns, but again, my own
idiolect does not permit this to be used as a singular reference. Susan
Parker proposes the following 'test' for plurality on a pronoun like 'who':

(1) Who-all is coming to your party?
(2) Who-all are coming to your party?

For me, as for her, both are acceptable, but if I were asking these
questions, I would *expect* a plural answer for both of them. The use of
'are' in (2) reinforces the plurality of the 'all' marker, but it is not
the only test for number. The problem I see here has to do with interference
with Standard English, in which the pronoun 'who' is singular by default,
even when the questioner expects a plural answer.

(1') Who is coming to your party?
(2') *Who are coming to your party?

When I'm at home, in the region where my dialect is spoken, I would use
question (1) (or (2)) if I expected the answer to be a list of names (a
plural answer), but I would use (1') if I only wanted one name as an answer.
A single name would not be a totally unacceptable answer for (1), but it
would be an unexpected one. The test of plurality here lies in the expected
answer, not the grammar, it seems to me.

John Nerbonne proposes the following tests for number:

a) Y'all behave yourself!

b) Y'all are only one person in a large organization.
 (and similar semantic contexts)

c) Y'all will need your wife to cosign.

d) Y'all were craning your neck to see, weren't you/y'all?

My own intuition accepts (a) and (c), and marginally (d), but it outright
rejects (b). However, even in the acceptable ones, the only appropriate
context would be if the speaker were addressing a group of people, but the
singular coreference is acceptable on the premise that each individual has
one self, or one wife, or one neck. However, I also find his test

c') The men needed their wife to cosign.
d') The kids craned their neck to see.

at least as acceptable as the "y'all" versions.

Kimberly Weiss
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Message 4: RE: 4.732 Y'all

Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1993 12:42:09 RE: 4.732 Y'all
From: <>
Subject: RE: 4.732 Y'all

I support Benjy Wald's appeal for study of the use and reference of <y'all>.
May I suggest that such study be guided to some extent by the hypothesis that
the use of this "plural" form in address (and apparent reference) to singular
addressees is pragmatically determined in a manner similar to (but certainly not
identical to) the way the use of plural <ye, you, your> was determined (as
described in Gilbert (?) and Brown "The pronouns of power and solidarity"
[I'm at home and don't have any way to check the reference, but recall that
it was in a collection (edited by Joshua Fischman (?), I think)]. This
is suggested by the use of this term by store clerks, etc., when addressing
one person.
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Message 5: Shall

Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1993 14:48:09 Shall
From: Paul T Kershaw <>
Subject: Shall

Amongst a series of other points and questions Benji Wald asks whether "shall"
is officially dead in American English. For me it is (although for some reason
I can still use sha'n't), but this provokes another question. "should" has
three uses: as a moral imperative ("I should be nice to all the small
animals"), as a predictor ("The Blue Jays should win the division"), and as a
conditional form of "shall" ("I shouldn't do that if I were you"). The death
of "shall" should presage the death of the third use of "should". For me, at
least, "I shouldn't do that if I were you" does seem to be of waning
acceptability, but what do y'all other Americans think? (Owie owie owie I can't
use "y'all" there at all, but I'm just a peripheral y'all user.)
As always,
Paul Kershaw, Michigan State University, KershawPStudent.MSU.EDu
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Message 6: RE: 4.732 Y'all

Date: Tue, 21 Sep 93 23:40 MET
From: <>
Subject: RE: 4.732 Y'all

I must say that Y'all is spelt YAWN for me, but I do have a small contribution
on the form 'youse'. In the Billy Connolly version of the Crucifixion, the story
takes place in Glasgow, and Christ is known is "The Big Yin" (= 'the big one',
and nothing to do with Yang). He meets the disciples in a Glasgow pub, and
greets them (in that slightly effete voice that Billy Connolly does so well)
with "Hallo, YOUSE!" He adds something to the effect: "Will somebody get me a
bevvy, 'cos I been oot all day daein' miracles, an' I'm KNACKERED!'.

Just thought I'd add a bit of frivolity to an otherwise dull and boring tale.

Greetings, youse,
Paul Werth.
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Message 7: Re: 4.731 Y'all

Date: Wed, 22 Sep 1993 10:07 GMTRe: 4.731 Y'all
From: "Eoin C. Bairead" <>
Subject: Re: 4.731 Y'all

As to whether "y'all" can be singular, perhaps the equivalent in the
Dublin version of Hiberno-English may be of some help.

And then again, it may not.

In Dublin, the plural of "you" is, obviously enough, "youse" - pronounced

Also in Dublin, and in Ireland generally, there is a tendency to use the
singular of the verb, particularly auxiliary verbs, in ALL cases, singular
and plural. Note that this is a TENDENCY, not a RULE.

So, in Dublin, "Youse is...", is plural.

Eoin C. Bairead
Computer Consultant

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Message 8: Possessive of "yall"

Date: Thu, 23 Sep 93 13:30:52 ESPossessive of "yall"
From: <>
Subject: Possessive of "yall"

Maybe I'm a flake, but it seems to me that "y'all's" is not the
only possessive of "y'all." In fact, it sounds a little goofy to
me. I would tend to use "youralls," which seems to have a double
possessive marker like the double number marker found in
"themselves" (for speakers who don't say "theirself").

Ex: After dinner, we'll head over to youralls place and play

An unrelated point: In evaluating the possible responses to "Do
you all have your books?" we must keep in mind that "y'all" is
sometimes pronounced "youall," with stress on the first syllable.
That is to say, "We do, but he doesn't" is an acceptable answer
to "Do YOU-all have your books?" but not to "Do you ALL have your
books?" The latter question seems to expect a simple yes or no

Wayne Isaac Worley
University of Kentucky
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Message 9: 4.720 Y'all

Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1993 11:00:07 4.720 Y'all
From: Condon Sherri L <>
Subject: 4.720 Y'all

I'd like to add a word of caution about the example from Louisiana that
someone had seen in tourism advertising in Canada. I'm sorry I deleted
the posting, but it was something like "viens nous voir, y'all" where the
2nd person singular inflection on "viens" motivates a singular analysis
of "y'all". I won't argue with the possibility that someone might SAY
something like that (though my bilingual students were horrified: "well,
we don't say that in Ville Platte!") but we have to be very careful about
drawing conclusions based on what people WRITE. For most Cajun French
speakers, there is no written form of the language, so you can't be sure
what you are getting. You can't imagine how many ways I've seen the ad
companies' favorite slogan "laissez les bons temps rouler" spelled, and
this is already corrupted/corrected (depending on your point of view)
since Cajuns don't really use the "vous" forms. The use of written French
here is a fascinating area (see Becky Brown's recent article in Language
and Society) and a really fun phenomenon when you look at how it affects
written English. We get "Geaux Cajuns" signs at football games and, my
favorite from a bathroom wall, "bleaux jobs"!

I agree that there is a paper in Y'all. In fact, there are at least two:
one on Y'all and one on the reaction this discussion has elicited!

Sherri Condon
Universite' des Acadiens (University of Southwestern Louisiana)
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