Singular "yez"?

James C Stalker stalker at MSU.EDU
Mon Dec 13 04:35:37 UTC 2004

Maybe someday some now young and aspiring linguist will get a really big
grant to study this issue.  Until that day, I think Wilson is right.  Even
for professional linguists, language is perception.  When it comes to yall,
we hear and interpret what our prejudices instruct us to hear.  Clearly
there are those who firmly believe that heaven does not allow yall as a
singular, and thosse that believe it does.

Jim Stalker

Wilson Gray writes:

> I've received a private communication from a person at the University
> of Mississippi who claims that no real Southerner  ever uses "y'all" as
> a singular. Since this coincides my own opinion, I have no further
> comment.
> However, I do find it strange that Professor Bailey would consider
> Oklahoma to be a Southern state.
> Back in the '60's, Playboy interviewed a leader (I've forgotten his
> title) of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klansman lamented the lack of a
> President from the South. When it was pointed out to him that Lyndon
> Johnson was the President, the Klansman replied, "He's not a
> Southerner. He's a Texan."
> In Texas itself, people say that the South ends at Dallas and the West
> begins at Fort Worth. I don't have any idea where in Texas the
> professor was from, but it could matter.
> I've listened to BE speakers from everywhere and I've listened to white
> SE speakers in Texas, in Missouri, in North Carolina, South Carolina,
> and in the Army, where I interacted with SE speakers from all over the
> South (weird fact: in the military, I found white Southerners to be
> easier to get along with - much less overtly racist - than white
> Norttherners and even some black Northeners, who tended look down on us
> brothers from former slave states) and I've yet to hear a Southerner or
> a BE speaker use "y'all" as a singular.
> In any case, I'm pulling the plug on further bloviation from me on this
> topic. I don't see any way to move beyond the level of "My experience
> is this. Really? Well, my experience is that."
> -Wilson Gray
> On Dec 12, 2004, at 8:00 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: Singular "yez"?
>> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
>> --------
>> For the record, and to rescue my reputation: I noted the usage at the
>> time and mentioned it in a seminar paper I wrote the following
>> semester. Maybe I should have published, but I was pursuing other
>> interests at the time and doubted that I had anything to add to the
>> work of Cassidy, Hall, and others.
>> So, in this case, we don't need no steenking tape recorder.
>> There is an error in my post, however. The exact words were "Y'all are
>> from Louisiana?"  So "are" did not interfere or disappear.  Moreover,
>> I was taking part in this conversation myself. Had I sensed its
>> scandalous import, I would have quizzed the two young ladies and
>> gotten affidavits.
>> One of our professors at that time, a Texan, took such umbrage at the
>> idea of a singular "y'all"  that he determined to pay very close
>> attention - for two weeks, perhaps - to see if he could detect its
>> existence.  Within a few days he admitted that he actually used it
>> himself in the phrases "See y'all later" and "Whatch'all doin'?"  And
>> he was absolutely sure he wasn't thinking of any relatives or the
>> like. These, for him, were frozen idioms, plural in origin but
>> singular in use.
>> Now tell me, where is the threat - and to what - in reputable evidence
>> that some Southerners, on some occasions imperfectly described by
>> linguists, use a "y'all" that is singular in context, no matter what
>> they *might* be thinking about a  possibly imaginary cast of invisible
>> characters ?    I don't claim that a singular "y'all" is used
>> routinely by all Southerners or recommending its adoption.  If that's
>> the issue.
>> JL
>> RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender: American Dialect Society
>> Poster: RonButters at AOL.COM
>> Subject:
>> =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Re:=20=A0=20=A0=20=A0=20Re:=20Singular=20"yez"=3F?
>> =
>> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
>> --------
>> This has been discussed many times here, as I recall. Check the
>> archives.=20
>> Also, there has been a great deal published on this in the past 30
>> years in=20
>> AMERICAN SPEECH. There is a lot of disagreement about whether or not
>> it is a=
>> =20
>> genuine Southern phenomenon or just something that Yankees make up
>> when they=
>> move=20
>> South. Guy Bailey did telephone interviews with people in Oklahoma and
>> some=20=
>> of=20
>> them said they used "y'all" in the singular. There has been debate
>> about the=
>> =20
>> reliability of those results.
>> The sort of example that Bethany gives is often explained (or
>> explained away=
>> ,=20
>> given your perspective) as meaning 'You [and your friends and family]
>> come=20
>> back'.
>> One wonders how trustworthy JL's example is. Is this something that he
>> has=20
>> taperecorded evidence for? Or did someone mistake "You're" for "Y'all"?
>> In addition, people do make mistakes. One can find examples of
>> instances=20
>> where people say "he" when they mean "she," and vice versa. This does
>> not me=
>> an=20
>> that "he" means 'she' (or vice versa).
>> I am myself dubious of the viability of singular "y'all." Certainly,
>> the=20
>> number of verifiable, convincing examples is miniscule.
>> In a message dated 12/11/04 11:26:05 PM, wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM writes:
>>> Conversation between two college wymyn, newly arrived at a dorm, 1976:
>>> =20
>>> "Where are you from?"
>>> =20
>>> "Baton Rouge."
>>> =20
>>> "Y'all from Louisiana???=A0 Well, so am I ! !"
>>> =20
>>> JL
>>> =20
>>> "Bethany K. Dumas" wrote:
>>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header=20
>>> -----------------------
>>> Sender: American Dialect Society
>>> Poster: "Bethany K. Dumas"
>>> Subject: Re: Singular "yez"?
>>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> ----=
>> ---
>>> --
>>> =20
>>> On Fri, 10 Dec 2004, Wilson Gray wrote:
>>> =20
>>>> Can someone supply some examples in which a genuine Southern-speaker
>>>> or
>>>> a BE speaker uses "y'all"/"you-all" as a singular? I've heard and
>>>> read
>>>> since the '40's, at least that, y'all/you-all can be used as a
>>>> second-person singular. I have never heard such a use from any white
>>>> Southerners or from any black person. But I'm willing to grant that
>>>> that could be mere happenstance.
>>> =20
>>> I have heard it and know others who have heard it in the Knoxville, TN
>>> area. One example is from a medical office - receptionist says to
>>> patient, "y'all come back."
>>> =20
>>> Bethany
>>> =20
>> ---------------------------------
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James C. Stalker
Department of English
Michigan State University

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