US Marijuana Party

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Y'all come back now ya hear?

September 24, 2005

The use of 'y'all' is spreading northward

The Montreal Gazette

Espied at the newsgroup alt. usage.english:

"I hate it when people, predominately Northerners, look down their noses at Southerners, as if they spoke some bastardized form of English. Our forefathers came to this country speaking English as their native tongue whereas most Yankees learned English as a second language ... and the end result is a cold, nasal sounding speech that irritates the ear. Now, we have the experts from up North coming down here telling us how wrong we are speaking as we do, and making fun of the way we talk."

Alas, we northern city slickers do tend to make fun of Southern U.S. speech patterns.

I remember many years ago seeing a skit performed by New York comedian Lenny Bruce in which he played Albert Einstein doing a Southern accent. His punch line was "Y'all wanna hear about nooclear fishin?"

Well, you'd better get used to a proliferation of "y'alls" emanating from south of the border. A recent U.S. survey found that "y'all" was inundating the United States. Outside of the South, the survey showed that "y'all" (or "you all") was used by almost 80 per cent of Americans ages 18 to 24, and even by more than 40 per cent of those over 65.

Does this statistic point to a dumbing down of America?

A little history of the word "y'all" is in order. The term was first used at the beginning of the 19th century among blacks living in the southern United States, and it quickly spread to southern whites of all social classes. From there it became more widespread in U.S. English, particularly as black people moved into the northern states after the Civil War.

Some linguists believe that the term "y'all" may have antecedents in local creoles, especially Gullah, which was spoken by many slaves who lived along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida. Surprisingly, however, there is a school of thought that sees the term's origins in the early Irish and Scots American usage and points to the fact that the parts of the United States that have the widest usage of "y'all" are those areas where black and Celtic immigrants have long coexisted.

Critics of the term "y'all" may be surprised to learn that it actually fulfills a grammatical function. The English language used to distinguish between the singular you and the plural you. "Thou" was used to refer to one person, and "you" to more than one, but when the use of "thou" became largely obsolete in the 18th century, a new term was needed to indicate that a plural was required. One of the pluralization solutions was the use of "youse," common in Ireland and in areas of Irish settlement in Canada, the United States and Australia. Another alternative was the use of "you all," which morphed into "y'all."

Many Southerners hotly reject the idea that "y'all" is ever used in a singular sense, but there is evidence that it occasionally is used to refer to a single person.

For example, someone might say "See y'all" to a person who clearly is unaccompanied . In The Stories of English, linguist David Crystal relates that while buying a Stetson for his son in Fort Worth, Tex., the salesperson asked the unaccompanied Crystal "What can I do for y'all?"

That being said, the word is usually reserved for addressing more than one person, though sometimes the people are viewed as a single body. Someone who asks, "How y'all doing?" might be wondering not only about you, but about the well-being of members of your family, that is, "you and yours." "Y'all come over this afternoon, you hear?" implies that even if you are alone at the time, you will have someone else accompanying you later.

In The Stories of English, Crystal points out that dialects that make use of words like "y'all" are actually "richer in their possibilities of expression, than Standard English." Saying "What can I do for y'all?" as opposed to "What can I do for you?" is regarded by many as a friendlier, more inclusive form of communication.

But just as "y'all" is spreading northward, there is an infusion of corrupting elements from large urban areas into the "y'all" heartland. Garner's Modern American Usage reports that in recent years, there has been a noticeable tendency among people living in Southern U.S. cities to replace "y'all" with "you guys." In an article three years ago in the Dallas Morning News, one writer characterized this term as a "horrid Yankee construction."

Y'all come back for next week's column, you hear?

whereas most Yankees learned English as a second language ... and the end result is a cold, nasal sounding speech that irritates the ear.

Can I get an AMEN brothers and sisters? Not to be offensive to my Yankee friends but man that accent GRATES on ones eardrums and nerves something awful! I think I'd rather listen to nails on a chalk board.


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