Brett Master recently complained about the use of y’all in the Rebel-Yankee Test:
“It is the proper address a single individual . . .when . . . the specific comments are applicable to more than just the individual him-/her-self. e.g., Bill speaking to John alone about his up coming family trip: ‘Y’all need to get visit the Grand Canyon, too, if you vist Hoover Dam’.”
I whole-heartedly agree with Brett. One of the problems Northerners have is understanding how y’all fits in Southern culture. You may, of course, use y’all when talking to one person, but you are always referring to that person and his/her family. The issue is not how many people you are addressing but what the y’all refers to.
Only one thing makes me madder than to hear a Yankee on TV or in the movies faking a Southern accent and saying, “Y’all come” to one person and referring only to that person. The one thing that makes me madder than that is to hear a Northerner say that Southerners misuse the term, implying we don’t know the difference between singular and plural.
In my 20 years living in the South and all those years since visiting it several times a year, I have never heard a Southerner misuse this new pronoun which is now spreading rapidly across the US. It is, in fact, a perfect example of the intersect between language and culture.
For a natural born Southerner, it is simply impolite to invite one person to your home and not their entire family. So when a Southerner says, “Y’all come,” to one person, he or she is in fact REFERRING to that person’s entire family, hence only the plural is acceptable or grammatical.
The language and culture are braided together so tightly it is very difficult to study language outside the culture in which it is spoken. In fact, it is often very difficult to draw a line between the two.