Date: Fri, 27 Sep 1996 05:29:27 EDT


Subject: Re: singular y'all

At 08:15 PM 9/26/96 -0500, you wrote:

53 years in the South, most of them in the Real South, and

no encounter yet with singular "y'all"

In the three years I've been in Southeast Georgia, I've been listening very

carefully for examples of singular "y'all". I've heard lots of "you and

yours" tokens, and a handful that seemed like changes of focus within the

sentence. But see if y'all can interpret this one for me.

When I walked into class one day two students were talking across

the room (i.e., so that everyone else could listen in) about how

miserable it was working at Wal-Mart during the Christmas

shopping season. The conversation drifted from demanding

customers to unruly children to forced overtime. At that point a

third student chimed in, saying, "Yeah, I was supposed to get off at

10 last night, but they kept me until after 12." One of the first students

turned to this one and said, "Oh, y'all work at Wal-Mart too?"

Now the first two students happened to be black and the third one white, so

my instantaneous interpretation of the question was "Oh, you mean white

people work at Wal-Mart too?" -- i.e., a "you and yours" token. But that

question would be silly to anyone who had been in the store, as these

students of course had, and I could detect no sarcasm in the question (in

fact, sarcasm seems to be very rare in this culture). So why the "y'all"?

By the way, I had plenty of "text" from this student, and never heard

another example of this usage from her.

One variation on the "you and yours" usage that I've started noticing

recently seems to involve avoiding the impression of over-intimacy. I've

heard it mainly from men addressing women they don't know, as in "how y'all

doin' today" from a male book salesman to a female secretary, where the same

salesman has addressed another male with "how ya doin' today." My social

sense tells me that the salesman is trying to avoid the appearance of coming

on to the secretary, though of course I have no socially acceptable way of

confirming that judgment, and I don't see many instances, since if the

salesman is aware of my presence, the "y'all" becomes natural. Can anyone

comment on this one?

David Johns

Waycross College

Waycross, GA