Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Y'all guys,"—or, thoughts on the English second person plural

The other day at work, I heard someone say "Y'all guys." Further evidence of English's tendency to slide second person plurals into second person singular positions.

Historically, "you" replaced "thou," leaving English with no distinct second person plural. Accordingly, "you all" filled in, quickly contracting into the ubiquitous (southern) "y'all." This in turn has started to bleed over into a singular usage (as in, "How are y'all?" addressed to a single individual, which I've heard with increasing frequency over the past few years). The result, as before, is a gap in the language's ability to convey number when in the second person. As was the case with the transition from "thou" to "you," the result is a set of odd-sounding combinations: "you guys" seems to have lost the competition with "y'all," but is now staging an odd comeback in the form of "y'all guys."

As far as I'm concerned, this is hilarious. The whole trouble might have been avoided by a mild and conscientious prescriptivism, but alas!—such things are far out of favor among our linguists, and grammarians have no place at all in our modern society. In any case, I will maintain my staunch avoidance of the use of "y'all" and continue to pursue a more elegant and refined mode of conversation, insofar as it is possible. The dangerous wiles of Texan or Oklahoman speech shall not claim my soul!

1 comment:

  1. Y'all, of course, is not inappropriate, nor an uneducated, form in a Texas context. However, supposing that y'all could ever be used in a 2nd person singular position is ridiculous.

    You have failed to mention the awfulness of yous/youse guys.

    Oh, and particular peeve of mine is spelling y'all incorrectly (i.e. "ya'll").


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