End of ADS-L Digest - 21 Jan 1994 to 22 Jan 1994 ************************************************ There are 3 messages totalling 89 lines in this issue. Topics of the day: 1. y'all singular, not! (2) 2. DARE in the news ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Sun, 23 Jan 1994 00:52:10 -0700 From: Rudy Troike Subject: Re: y'all singular, not! Howdy, y'all-- Like Don and Natalie, I would never use "y'all" (or the more coastal Southern "you-all" (stress on ) for a genuinely singular referent, and have never known any other native speaker who did either. I think most Southerners are aware of, and either amused by the ignorance of or resentful of (as I am, I must admit), the usually exaggerated attempts of Northern would-be comedians to mimic Southern speech, which almost always include this usage as a highly salient stereotypic marker. This vaudevillean usage obvious- ly reflects Northern folklore, and thus has a tangential (tertiary) linguistic interest. I suppose my reaction is like that of a New Yorker who resents having elsewhere-ers comically mimic NY speech with "toidy-toid" (although of course there is more historical validity to the latter than the former). Now that "you-guys" is sweeping the North and becoming a serious competitor to "you-all/y'all", which was earlier spreading north (I once heard a couple from Syracuse, NY using it quite unself-consciously), I do not doubt that there will be people, especially on the peripheries, who may from contextual observations similar to those described for "y'all", infer that it may be used in the singular, and so encrypt it in their internal grammars. One of my colleagues here, who is from New Jersey, claims to have heard a clear case of singular "y'all", and on the basis of this justifies the extension of the usage to all Southern speech, and thus a justification for the use by Northern comics. If there is anything we have learned about language acquisition in the past 40 years, it is that is amazing that we manage to wind up with so much similarity in our individual internal grammars, given that we derive them to such an extent from the accidents of observation and interaction. Thus I am sure that each of us probably has some idiosyncratic usage or meaning still lurking in our grammars that has by sheer chance never been socialized out. So it should come as no surprise that among the millions of "y'all" users, there should be a small and probably randomly-distributed number who got it mixed up along the way. What would be surprising would be if there weren't. It is in such things that the germs of language change lie. However, given the locale of Beth's and Guy's observations, it may be that the distribution is not entirely random, but may be higher on the peripheries of the y'all area, where it has spread and been acquired, but with more opportunity for mislearn- ing of the "correct" meaning/use. This again would not be unexpected. But while allowing for the probability of such idiosyncratic "error" (deviation from the community norm), we should not allow the occasional misuse to under- mine the certainty of our own life-long experience and strong native intuition. I sense in Don's and Natalie's disclaimers that they are somehow discounting thscientific value and validity of their own native-speaker intuition, with a touch of embarrassment that their opinion as trained linguists has perhaps less validity than the claims of my colleague from New Jersey, or a comedy sketch on "Saturday Night Live". Is this latent Southern insecurity complex? I think we have as much scientific right to our linguistic intuitions as a Navajo or Basque speaker, and to expect linguistic variation, even when it is deviant from community norms (="wrong"). Let's not go overboard in attributing greater knowledge of truth to Northern comedians. Pleasant dreams, y'all (even if individual readers of this perceive themselves as singletons rather than recognizing themselves as part of a greater body of recipients, those on ADS-L). --Rudy Troike