"Who-all" and "what-all"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Jul 30 03:30:37 UTC 2004

At 12:12 PM 7/29/2004, you wrote:
>Recently I've been thinking about the words "what-all" and "who-all". I
>find that I use them fairly often in speech and occasionally in writing,
>but I don't recall hearing or seeing them particularly often. I just
>conducted an informal and unscientific survey of some of my online
>acquaintances, from various parts of the US, and I'd like to ask for
>comments from ADS listmembers.

I can only give my casual notions. I use these routinely (although probably
not frequently), and I heard them routinely in my youth in Detroit. I hear
them here in Pittsburgh nowadays, but I can't say how often, or whether
more or less than elsewhere/elsewhen.

>1) These words strike me as Southernisms. (I speak a North Midlands
>dialect with a Southern tinge.) My informants seem to agree, although
>several of them, like myself, speak non-Southern dialects. In most but
>not all cases, they report a source of Southern influence.

I don't have a strong feeling either way.

>2) Orthographically, my informants are evenly split on whether the
>written forms should be hyphenated. (I admit to being a hyphenophile.)

Both styles seem OK to me, and I THINK I've seen both repeatedly. I like
the hyphen myself.

>3) Semantically, the "-all" acts as might be expected. In my speech,
>"Who came to the party?" can be satisfied by the naming of a few
>notables, while "Who-all came to the party?" is a request for a complete
>roster. My informants agree, although one person who does not use
>them, but hears them occasionally, suggests that the "-all" is often
>semantically empty.

I take the "-all" to be an explicit pluralization: e.g., "who" = "which
person or persons", "who-all" = "which persons". I agree that "-all" tends
to imply a complete inventory.

>4) Syntactically, I use them in questions and negative statements,
>rarely if ever in affirmatives. Most of my informants agree, although one
>claims to be comfortable with them in at least some affirmative contexts.

I don't know: I'd need some examples.

>5) I also asked about such forms as "where-all", "how-all", and "when-
>all". All of these strike me as possible (the last marginally so), but I do
>not use them. One of my informants reports using "where-all" and "how-
>all" occasionally and "when-all" very seldom.

"Where-all" is routine for me. "When-all" seems hypothetically OK but I
don't remember ever using or encountering it. "Which-all", "how-all",
"why-all", "whither-all", etc. are unfamiliar and seem strange to me offhand.

BTW: I use "y'all" = "you-all" myself when I want an explicitly plural
"you". Here in Pittsburgh "y'uns" (theoretically = "you-ones" I guess) is
conventional (although not all natives use it); "y'all"/"you-all" is also
not uncommon here.

-- Doug Wilson

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