LINGUIST List 4.752

Sat 25 Sep 1993

Disc: Y'all, Can/Can't

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , impressions
  2. "DICK VEIT, ENGLISH, UNCW,, Re: 4.720 Y'all
  3. , yet another y'all commentary
  4. Caoimhin P. ODonnaile, Re: 4.735 Can/Can't, British English
  5. Petur Knutsson, Can/Can't

Message 1: impressions

Date: Thu, 23 Sep 93 10:36:19 CDimpressions
From: <>
Subject: impressions

Natalie Maynor comments that in her hundreds of hours of taped data she is
practically certain no instances of singular "y'all" occur, as she would
have noticed them as anomalous. This is very likely true, but cannot be
assumed true. I clearly remember the first time I "heard" the construction
"needs washed", and my subsequent realization that I had undoubtedly heard
it many times before without recognizing it for what it was. Admittedly,
this is different from analyzing tapes, where one's familiarity with the
contents is much more detailed; but I agree with a previous poster that
impressions can't substitute for actual analysis, which I too would enjoy
seeing the results of.
Elise Morse-Gagne
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: 4.720 Y'all

Date: 23 Sep 1993 17:03:32 -0500Re: 4.720 Y'all
Subject: Re: 4.720 Y'all

I was playing tennis the week I moved to North Carolina 17 years
ago, when some confusion arose about the ownership of stray
tennis balls. The player on the adjacent court shouted to my
partner and me, "Y'all got all y'all's balls?" I knew then that
I wasn't in Iowa any more.

By the way, the reading in that case is "all [y'all's balls]" and
not "[all y'all]'s balls."

Richard Veit
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: yet another y'all commentary

Date: Thu, 23 Sep 93 20:25:03 CDyet another y'all commentary
From: <>
Subject: yet another y'all commentary

If you can stomach another comment concerning the usage of "y'all"
 I have lived in Kentucky for the past ten years, during which time I
heard y'all used in all contexts mentioned thus far here, but there is another
construction which has not yet been discussed. I heard examples such as
these quite often:
 "Y'all all need to calm down."
 "Did y'all all hear what I said?"
 This construction refers to a group of people, and I think it also
gives some support to the theory that y'all alone can be used to address just
one individual. In plural constructions, then, the word "all" is added after
y'all. Is this just another way to say "all y'all," or are there different
restrictions? Any comments
on this?
Jacqueline L. Lilly
Northwestern University
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 4: Re: 4.735 Can/Can't, British English

Date: Wed, 22 Sep 93 11:18:18 BSRe: 4.735 Can/Can't, British English
From: Caoimhin P. ODonnaile <>
Subject: Re: 4.735 Can/Can't, British English

Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.bitnet> said

> Isn't the difference between can and can't (in most environments) the
> presence of a glottal stop in the negative?

Mispronounciation of "can" and "can't" is one of the most common causes
of misunderstanding I have come across when speaking to learners of
English. I have started telling foreigners that "can't" is pronounced
[kan] and "can" is pronounced [kn], at least in normal speech in Scotland.
 "You can buy milk here"
 [jukn baI mIlk hir]

 "You can't buy milk here"
 [ju'kan baI milk hir]

I don't think there is a always a distinct glottal stop in "can't".

Can anyone more knowledge of phonetics than myself say whether this is
right, or give a clearer explanation?

 Kevin Donnelly
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 5: Can/Can't

Date: Fri, 24 Sep 93 19:24:50 GMCan/Can't
From: Petur Knutsson <>
Subject: Can/Can't

Somebody pointed out that many British dialects have different vowels in
can/can't. In fact the point is that ALL (never say all!) dialects have
*prosodically* conditioned different vowels in can/can't, even those which have
the same vowel in the *citation form* of the words. (The glottal stop, which
someone mentioned, is often minimal or absent, so on the face of it the two
forms often become homophones, *but only citation-wise*.) Prosodically the
difference is this: *can't* carries sentence-stress, since it includes the
negative adverb, which usually carries a good hunk of sentence stress, often
even nuclear stress - and I can't really envisage an utterance in which it is
fully unstressed. Thus *can't* usually has its citation-form vowel. *Can*, on
the other hand, is most often unstressed, usually with a weak centralised vowel
(British) or a vowel moving up towards close forward (some Am.?), and often
with no vowel at all, but instead a syllabic nasal with various oral
articulations from m to ng. In sentence-final positions *can* tends to retain
its citation-form vowel rather better and may receive a bit more stress, but it
won't carry full sentence-stress. HOWEVER in those cases where the words
carry full nuclear stress:
 "You think she *can't? Well I think she *can."
 - there might occasionally be ambiguity.
 - Length, as somebody said, thus obviously enters the picture, and context is
of course important, but I doubt if any more important here than it is in
speech generally.
(NB what I have said about the prosody of can/can't here also applies of course
to dialects which have different vowels in citation forms. But at a guess I
would say that it was the stress-pattern rather than the vowel which carried
the most meaning. (My native dialect has different vowels in citation

Petur Knutsson
Univ. of Iceland
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue