Meditations on Y'all

In one of my comments to a post below I used the word y'all.

I was born and raised Pennsylvania but I am now a resident of Texas. And one of my very favorite things about Texas is its use of a plural form of the second-person pronoun: Y'all. A contraction of "you-all" it is pronounced variously as "yawl" or "you-awl." I like "yawl." As in, "How yawl doin'?"

I like y'all for three reasons. First, it makes me feel like a cowboy. Seriously. One of the joys of West Texas is the cowboy culture and its casual informality. I live in a place where people go to church in their "dress jeans." I like this style. I can't remember the last time I wore anything other than jeans. I lecture in jeans, go to weddings in jeans, funerals in jeans, important meetings in jeans. And you can do this in a place where medical doctors and lawyers go to work in jeans and cowboy boots. Y'all just fits in here. I like the informality of it. (I also am very fond of "Howdy!")

Second, I despise the fact that the second-person you doesn't have a plural form. I, the first-person, has its we. You, the second-person, has...what? You? In my misery I've tried, with mixed results, to bring back thou (second-person singular) and ye (second-person plural). But no one seems to want to go along with me. Even when I explain the necessity of a second-person plural. So, y'all it is. (Incidentally, "Howdy" might be a contraction of "How ye doing?")

Third, growing up in Western Pennsylvania I'd already grown up with a second-person plural. In the rolling hills of the Allegheny Mountains we used the word "yinz" for the second-person plural. Some believe yinz was the result of a clash between English and the Scots-Irish form of "you ones." Yinz is a marker of what has been called "Pittsburgh English." This was the dialect of my youth. (Yes, I cheer for Penn State, Pitt, the Pirates, Penguins and the Steelers. If I have to, I root for the other side of the state. I think Philadelphia is over there.) In short, having grown up with yinz it was very easy to switch to y'all.

So there it is. My linguistic confession. I have a Ph.D. and I'm in love with y'all.

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11 thoughts on “Meditations on Y'all”

  1. It's also better than what lots of people say here in Scotland: Yous. It makes a certain kind of primitive sense of course to just stick an "s" unto the end of "you" to make it plural, but charming it is not. "How yous all dooo-in?" I'd rather people said "y'all".

  2. I'm originally from southwestern PA as well (Greensburg) but have been living in Tennessee since 2002 (for undergrad at Johnson Bible College and seminary at Emmanuel School of Religion).
    I grew up around people who said "yinz" all that time and I'm sure I used it occasionally, but not much.
    As much as I do believe we need a good second person plural pronoun, I've never been a fan of y'all and I cringe everytime I hear it.

    P.S. You can't be a Pitt and a Penn State fan at the same time. HAIL PITT!!!!!

  3. i'm a big fan of the 2nd person singular possessive "yourn" and plural "yourns." at least that's how we say it where i come from. but i don't have a phd or a masters in anglophiliology...

  4. Grew up with "y'all". A firm believer in "y'all".

    "Howdy" comes from "How do you do?" Sometimes you'll hear "How do?" or "Howdy do?" even today.

    But I like "ye". :)

  5. Growing up in Indiana, our second person plural was (as George Cooper mentioned above) "you guys." Of course, what makes us Hoosiers truly sophisticated is our second person plural possessive, "You's guys's." I have to admit that you's guys's "ya'll" is a step in the right direction.

    -BJ

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