Singular "yez" and "frozen"idioms

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Mon Dec 13 15:43:06 UTC 2004

Certainly, those of us who consider ourselves to be linguists are not 
interested in perceived "threats" to linguistic purity, either--only in the 
linguistic facts. One hazy--and now, we are told, inaccurately reported--30-year-old 
memory is certainly qualifies as some kind of linguistic fact. However, the 
follow-up message indicates that the data in question (placed in context and, we 
are now told, accurately reported) is in fact simply one more example of a 
"frozen idiom, plural in origin but singular in use." That sort of "exception" is 
exactly what has been reported in the literature on this subject for over 20 
years, and it is exactly the sort of "exception" that has been reported in the 
various reappearances of this subject on ADS-L, and it is exactly the sort of 
"exception" that I alluded to in my previous posting ("The sort of example 
that Bethany gives is often explained (or explained away,given your perspective) 
as meaning 'You [and your friends and family] come back' "). 

Perhaps an analogy will clarify the situation. It is customary in some 
circles to write a sentence such as the following:

The author should carefully proofread her manuscript before submitting it to 
the editor.

The word "her" in this context may well be intended to include both male 
authors and female authors, but it would be misleading to say that "her" MEANS 
'she or he' in American English (except in such limited, "frozen" contexts). 
Indeed, it was exactly because the alternative use of "him" in such contexts--long 
advocated by purists--was said not to MEAN 'he or she' that led to the 
advocacy of "her" in such contexts.

What people mean when they say that Southerners do not use singular "y'all" 
is that the following sentence would be perceived as a slip of the tongue or 
the speech of an outsider who was trying to pass as a Southerner:

Y'all sure are handsome for a bald-headed guy!

Even worse would be 

Y'all need to swat that mosquito on y'all's neck.

In a message dated 12/12/04 8:00:57 PM, wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM writes:

> 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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