Date: Fri, 21 Jan 1994 13:00:46 CST
From: Mike Picone MPICONE[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UA1VM.BITNET
Subject: y'all singular, not!
I had the subject of y'all on my mind, but totally unrelated to the Colorado
phenomenon mentioned. A while back there had been quite a polemic on
Linguist List on the subject of y'all singular. It began when someone asserted
that a polite _y'all_ singular, similar to French _vous_, was on the rise in
the South. I got involved in the polemic when I asserted to the contrary that
I'd never heard it in Alabama since I've been here (5 1/2 yrs.), but had only
heard _y'all_ used in relation to a single addressee when that addressee, in
the addressor's mind, represented a group. For example, when "Y'all come
back" is addressed to a single individual paying at the counter but whose
family or associate(s) had been present and were also the objects of the
invitation to return.
Just a few days ago, it appeared that I had finally met with an exception to
what I just said. I was returning a basketball at the Rec Center and needed to
have my ID card, left as a surety, returned to me. I was making this
transaction alone. When I gave the young work-study student (from
Tennessee) the basketball, she asked, "What's y'all's name?"
Since only one person could possess my name, this looked for all
the world like an exception to the y'all = plural equation.
Two days later, on a return visit, I found out why this was not an exception
but rather a very apt illustration of the scenario alluded to above where the
speaker had a collective referent in mind. This time when I asked what racket
ball court I was assigned to, the same query was directed to me by a work-study
student from Alabama: "What's y'all's name?" I asked about this and she replied
that since groups or partners are all listed under a single name, and the same
is true for giving out equipment to an individual on behalf of the group, the
whole group is thought of as corresponding to that one name, hence the
query _What's y'all's name?_ is a way of identifying a group, not an individual
For what it's worth,