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How’s ‘Yall’ Doing?

Spread of yallWhen my family sat down at the table in ‘The Egg and I” cafe in Boulder last week, the waitress dropped off the menus and said, “I’ll come back to help yall in a minute.” As someone who has been tracking the spread of the new pronoun yall (2nd person plural personal) for some time now (see my article and blog entry), I was curious as to where our waitress had picked it up.

When she returned, I learned that she had spent most of her life in Colorado but had been born and spent a few years in Utah and Arizona. Her family as far as she could remember came from California. Since US dialects only made it as far as the Mississippi except for the southern one, which made it as far as Texas, yall should not be in these far western states.

Yet, it is there, further supporting my points: (1) The language has been in need of a 2nd person plural personal pronoun since the thou-you distinction broke down ages ago and (2) yall is the best candidate for the job: youse (New York, New Jersey) and yuns (Pennsylvania) are losing out.

I told you so.

10 Responses to “How’s ‘Yall’ Doing?”

  1. Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog » Blog Archive » A New Function for the Suffix -en? Says:

    [...] Returning to the topic of gifts from US Southerners to the English language I was writing on a few weeks ago (click here if you missed it), let me mention, perhaps, another one. Southerners are often chided for using young’ns for kids or children. The fact of the matter is, however, that except for the substitution of this expression for kids, it is a form found in many dialects of English. [...]

  2. Sue McCann Says:

    I have enjoyed reading the various comments about the word “y’all.” Since it is obviously, when properly punctuated, a contraction for “you all,” there is no way that it can be confused for a singular reference. Any native born Texan such as myself knows that you refer to one person as “you,” several people in the immediate physical or relational vicinity as “y’all,” and a large group of people as “all y’all.” Most folks have probably never given it much thought, but I’ve pondered the issue numerous times. It’s a most useful word–even for those of us who live in Texas and who ARE educated. I certainly know better than to use the word in business or professional writing, lest anyone be concerned. Now let’s hear it for another “Texasism” that drives other people nuts–”fixin’
    to.”

  3. rbeard Says:

    As I say, it is crucially needed to repair the damage done by the loss of “thou” and it is spreading.

  4. sluggo Says:

    I thoroughly agree with Doc about the loss of you/thou distinction and the need for to fill that role. At the same time I must equally disagree with dropping the apostrophe. Makes it all the more interesting when we need the plural-possessive (“y’all’s”).

    Have to say as a born-’n'-bred Pennsylvanian I have yet to hear the word “y’uns”. I did hear “youse” though, all the time. It’s an Irishism I’m sure.

  5. rbeard Says:

    Y’uns is PA Dutch which you hear mostly in rural areas from Pittsburg to at least Harrisburg. In Pittsburgh it sounds more like “yins” but we hear “y’uns” all the time around here. I supposed we should right “yens”, since we are talking about the same suffix I talk about in my “new suffix” blog. It pops up in many places.

    If you were raised in the east, especially in an eastern city, you are more likely to hear the Irish “youse”, which is dominant in NY and NJ.  You should hear it everywhere around Lancaster. Are you from Philly?

  6. Colin Burt Says:

    As a Limey ( known here as Pommy or Pommie) resident in Australia for some fifty years I can inform you that ‘youse’ is frequently used by native born Australians, particularly older rural dwelling ones, not only for the plural but also for the singular third person. It is often combined with a variant on ” how are” to “How’s” in the interrogative ” How’s youse goin ?” upon meeting a friend. Many also elide the ‘h’ and end up with ” ows youse goin ” Its called ‘ Strine’, the rural informal Australian language.

  7. Randy Says:

    Why is it that pluralizing “you” given us “youse”? This I’ve never quite understood. I can’t think of any other word that is pluralized by adding -se. Of course, there are some plurals that end in -se, such as “these”, “those”, and “geese”, but you cannot obtain the singulars of these by dropping the -se. Why not just ‘yous’? Why not simply add an “s” like any other plural? Where does that extra “e” come from?(In fact, the Firefox spell-checker doesn’t flag “yous” as a misspelling, but does flag “youse”. The only definition that the OED gives for “yous” is as a plural of “you”.)

    I put “youse” for an “s plural” in the same category as “ya’ll” for the contraction of “you all”. Of course these words are both considered nonstandard plurals (and nonwords by those who are linguistically conservative English types), and thus have no accepted spelling. People have to come up with _some_ spelling for the words. The spellings that they have come up with, though, are applied only half-correctly (in my opinion). The -s is added, correctly, to pluralize ‘you’, but the -e is then added incorrectly. The apostrophe is inserted in ‘yall’, to indicate contraction, but it is put in the wrong place.

    Of course, making any claim about correctly applying a rule in English spelling is contradicted by the fact that for any such rule in English spelling, there are plenty of exceptions. As far as I know, however, even though not every word is pluralized by adding an -s, when a word is pluralized with -s, it is only an -s, and never an -se. Likewise, I know of no other contraction where an apostrophe appears in an ‘illogical’ place as it does in “ya’ll” (though one could argue that “ya’ll” is a contraction of “ya” and “all”, since “ya” is a common informal spelling for “you”, but I’ve never heard “ya all”, so I think this is unlikely. I defer to the experts to argue for or against.)

    More OED notes: The OED gives examples of “y’all” from almost 100 years ago, either spelt “y’all” or “yall”, without the apostrophe.

    The OED gives yous/youse as a plural of you from more than 100 years ago. In fact the oldest example has “youse” rather than my preferred “yous”.

    Is there a historical -se plural that was once common (in a region if not everywhere in the English speaking world), but has now fallen into disuse?

  8. rbeard Says:

    Randy,

    Keep in mind that we are talking about language and language is either spoken or signed. The writing system is a separate issue. The writing system attempts (and in the case of English, very feebly) to represent the sound system. The evidence you found in “these” and “those” speak for spelling the plural of “you”, “youse”, since all these words are pronouns and pronouns behave quite differently from nouns.

    I think the issue of spelling “youse” is probably settled; however, as you correctly mention, these words are still not completely accepted pronouns, so the jury is still out.

  9. David Says:

    Given the prevalence of the “King James” language in the southern US, I suspect that “yall” derives from “ye all” rather than “you all”.

  10. mango Says:

    so if you’re saying y’alls as in EX: I forgot to bring y’alls toys would it be y’alls’ or y’all’s or just y’alls

    btw im from Kentucky and I’ve been saying that my whole entire life

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