Date: Fri, 21 Jan 1994 13:00:46 CST


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,

Mike Picone

U Alabama