Possible antedating for "you all"

Alice Faber faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU
Mon Dec 9 23:34:00 UTC 2002

Laurence Horn said:
>At 2:07 PM -0500 12/9/02, Alice Faber wrote:
>>Laurence Horn said:
>>>>I don't know whether to claim this as an early usage of the second person
>>>>plural "you all" or "y'all" that is widely used in the speech of
>>>>the Southern
>>>>United States.  In favor of such a claim: this letter was written in
>>>>Charleston, South Carolina, which is in the Southern US, by a man who had
>>>>lived in Charleston for at least nine years (page 249 "He had been in
>>>>business in Charlestown at least since 1762, when we first run across his
>>>But of course, as you imply, it could also be the standard "floated
>>>quantifier" sense = 'all of you'.  It sounds perfectly consistent
>>>with my non-southern competence (= a blessing on you all, rather than
>>>= a blessing on youze/y'all).
>>That particular phrase "may the God of Israel set a blessing on you
>>all" strikes me as a translation from Hebrew, which has a sg/pl
>>distinction for pronouns. (The Hebrew would be something like
>>"vayivarech etxem elohey-yisrael", where the suffix -xem on the
>>accusative particle et is 2nd person masculine plural; singular would
>>be etxa.)
>That still doesn't tell us whether the "you all" is a precursor to
>the southern "y'all" or "you-all".  For example, I can imagine using
>"vous tous" here in French, even though French of course makes a
>distinction between "tu" and "vous" (although not strictly on the
>lines of number, since the latter is used for second plural polite).
>So in French, the "tous" wouldn't necessarily be needed to
>disambiguate for number and would in fact have the "all of you"
>Compare Tiny Tim's "God bless you, every one", signalling not "you
>(pl.) as opposed to (sg.)" but the fact that the set of blessees
>extends to every member of the set of addressees, with nobody left

Sure, but I'm not sure whether we could say anything definite based
on one tantalizing example that admits multiple interpretations. Of
course, if we took that caveat seriously, we wouldn't have anything
to talk about here! All I can say is that the Hebrew 'etxem' isn't in
the least emphatic; it's just what the grammar requires with multiple
addressees. You could add to it an emphatic "kulxem" ("all of you
(all)"), which, I think, is parallel to your French example. Whether
the English is, due to grammatical differences between the two
languages, more emphatic than the Hebrew is an interesting question.
Alice Faber                                             faber at haskins.yale.edu
Haskins Laboratories                                  tel: (203) 865-6163 x258
New Haven, CT 06511 USA                                     fax (203) 865-8963

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