Date: Mon, 9 May 1994 12:05:07 CDT


Subject: Re: y'all

Larry Horn said:

it been suggested by someone that at least in some quarters (no, not case

quarters) there's an incipient spreading of the plural 2d person pronoun to

the singular as a sign of formal politeness, exactly analogous to the "V"

forms in Romance (etc.) and presumably to "you" in earlier English? If

someone did mention this on this thread, sorry. --Larry

To which Dennis Baron replied:

I believe I did, Larry, but was soundly trounced on many times for suggesting

the possibility that anyone could use ya'll as a sg, even of politeness. My

thought was that it was repeated the th-/y- pattern. I noticed that no

one objected when I claimed that NYers could youse use in the sg. But since

I'm a NYer my questions on ya'll are stonewalled. Good thing I never

use emoticons.


To which I will add the following:

I was one of those who reacted with initial negativism to the suggestion

that the reported usage of singular y'all was comparable to use of a 2nd per.

pl. form for politeness in Romance languages. (However, I remember that

discussion taking place on Linguist List, not here on ADS-L, or maybe both.)

Anyway, my negativism was based on two interdependent facts:

1) When 2 p. pl forms in Romance languages are used, there is absolutely no

hint or shade of true plurality whatsoever. Polite `vous' in French has not

even the remotest semantic connection for today's speaker with the primordial

plurality that spawned it. Inotherwords, regrammaticalization has been total,

and this despite the fact that the plural `vous', referring to a group,

continues to exist along side of the singular.

2) I have never heard anything like this in Alabama, after 6 years of

residence here. All instances of seemingly singular y'all that I have

heard and immediately inquired about

are of the type that include reference to members of a real or

supposed absentee group.

I concur, however, that this strategy (of absentee reference) might be

an indirect way of achieving polite distance in some speech situations.

And therein may lie a potential bridge, one that some speakers in other

dialect areas may have already crossed: Oklahoma? Parts of Texas? And

maybe parts of Louisiana:

In Louisiana I have met an individual who claims to use singular

y'all in all types of registers, not just those related to service

and politeness. I already posted this to ADS-L (5 March 1994), but, for the

sake of the present discussion, will post it again:

My interest in Louisiana has much more to do with French than English,

however, last week when I stopped in Covington for lunch on the way to

doing some recording in Cajun country, I finally stumbled over what would

seem to be a singular y'all user:

I stopped at the Pasta Kitchen for some raviolis (good, too).

I was alone. My "waitress"

(that's what she calls herself, though her training manual lists her position

as "server"), a young woman (late teens or early twenties) came over to my

table when it appeared I had finished and said, verbatim, "Y'all done now?"

At first it wasn't clear if this was a contraction of `Are you _all done_ now'

or a singular y'all. So I inquired to get a fix on her metalinguistic sense of

this. I will share with you the information that she divulged.

She grew up and lived in New Orleans until about 5 yrs. ago, and still

maintains contact with her friends there. It was 5 yrs. ago that she

moved to "this side of the Lake" (Ponchartrain). She uses singular y'all

frequently. Her friends point this out to her and tell her not to, "but they

do it, too." She thinks it's more prevelant "on the other side of the Lake."

It has nothing to do with being polite. She remembers once getting into an

argument with a friend: "I started saying y'all to her, and another friend

sitting there said, `What're you yellin' at me for, I didn't do anything!'"

She is metalinguistically sensitive indicated by the fact that she has

consciously tried to eliminate her New Orleans accent (with only partial


If anyone is seriously pursuing the question of y'all singular, this might

be an indication of a good location for some field work.

Mike Picone

Mike Picone

University of Alabama