Singular "yez"?

Alice Faber faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU
Mon Dec 13 17:04:54 UTC 2004

--On Monday, December 13, 2004 8:47 AM -0800 FRITZ JUENGLING
<juengling_fritz at SALKEIZ.K12.OR.US> wrote:

> I cannot supply anything in print, but I went to grad school with a gal
> from Kentucky (does that disqualify her from being a "genuine
> Southern-speaker"?) who claimed she used y'all as a singular and 'all
> y'all' as the plural (or does that fact that she uses "y'all" as a
> singular disqualify her from being a genuine Southern-speaker?).  I've
> always been amused at the discussions about singular 'y'all' on this list
> and elsewhere.  Most southeners claim that y'll cannot be singular.  But
> they seem to consider only their own dialect, or even idiolect, but not
> the fact that for other people or dialects the case might be different.
> Fritz J

As a non-southerner and a non-"y'all" user, I find this discussion
fascinating. It smacks of, dare I say, Procrustean linguistics. Yeah, a lot
of examples of apparent singular "y'all" *can* be explained away as
implicit plurals. But, why should they be? Why reject the simplest
explanation, that, for some speakers, "y'all" has traveled the same path as
"you", "usted", and many other originally plural pronouns? There's
something else going on here, and it reminds me, in a way, of some sports
discussions, wherein the claim is dogmatically offered that no "true Mets
fan" would do something the speaker disapproves of, perhaps root for the
Yankees in the World Series. There's something about singular "y'all" that
brings out this dogmatism. I don't see it in discussions of other minority
syntactic features, or, certainly, not to the same extent. People who don't
use double modals or positive "anymore" are often puzzled about the
meaning. Among double-modal users, there are differences as to which
combinations occur, but I don't recall assertions by restricted
double-modal users that nobody would ever use a combination with a second
element other than "could".

For what it's worth...

Alice Faber
Haskins Labs, 270 Crown St, New Haven, CT, 06511
T: (203) 865-6163 x258 F: (203) 865-8963
faber at

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