• yall •
yawl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Pronoun, 2nd person plural
Meaning: The people you are addressing.
Notes: English at one time had a 2nd person singular pronoun (thou) and a plural one (you). Then thou died out and you took over both singular and plural service. But we need that distinction, so dialectal variations took over the plural service: y'all down South, youse in the New York area, yuns in Pennsylvania, and an uncontractable you lot in Britain.
In Play: I was in a café in Boulder, Colorado, when a waitress said, "I'll be back to help yall in a minute." Since I've been following the spread of this use for years, I asked her where she was from. I found out that she had spent all her life before coming to Colorado in Utah and Arizona, but her parents were from California. She had never been down South. When I spoke about this incident in a blog entry, one comment confirmed its use in California.
Word History: You probably noticed that I didn't use the apostrophe in today's Good Word (y'all). That is because I'm sure that this contraction has become a pronoun down South and that it is spreading as far as California. It is no longer related to the phrase 'you all' grammatically, only historically. Language is in a constant state of flux, and lexical words sometimes change into function words: pronouns, conjunctions, even suffixes. I'm convinced this change has taken place regionally already, and it is just a matter of time before yall as a plural 2nd person plural pronoun takes hold across all 50 states. (A friend of mine, David Lightman, recommended this discussion of today's absolutely fascinating Good Word.)
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