Note on 'Singular' Y'ALL

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 26 19:55:42 UTC 2006

Amen. FWIW, in Texas BE, situations *get* ugly, people *act* ugly,
though people could "get to acting ugly."


On 5/26/06, RonButters at <RonButters at> wrote:
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> Subject:      Note on 'Singular' Y'ALL
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> =A0    =20
>                               =20
> American Speech 76.3 (2001) 335-336
> Miscellany=20
> Data Concerning Putative Singular y'all=20
> Ronald R. Butters, Duke University=20
> There has been considerable discussion in the past in American Speech about=20
> whether the pronoun y'all is coming to be used in the singular in the Americ=
> an=20
> South (e.g., Richardson 1984, who says it is not, and Tillery and Bailey 199=
> 8=20
> and Tillery, Wikle, and Bailey 2000, who say it is; cf. Montgomery 1996). It=
> =20
> has always seemed to me that arguments in support of putative singular y'all=
> =20
> depend either on (1) data that is an artifact of the research situation or (=
> 2) a=20
> mistaken understanding of the pragmatics of the reported utterance--as, for=20
> example, when a salesperson bids goodbye to a solitary customer by saying Y'=
> all=20
> come back, hear? (an idiom meaning 'you and your friends and family come=20
> back, please!'). Note that salespersons are not reported as greeting their=20
> solitary customers with *Can I help y'all?
> In May 2001, I was partner to a conversation that I thought at first was=20
> going to change my view of this issue; however, it ended up merely confirmin=
> g it.=20
> Fred, a 21-year-old working-class white native of Hillsborough, North=20
> Carolina, was telling a story about how he had successfully rejected a frien=
> d's offer=20
> to supply him with some unspecified illicit drugs. What follows is a=20
> paraphrase of Fred's actual utterance. The conversation was not mechanically=
>  recorded.=20
> However, I made notes about the conversation only a few minutes after it too=
> k=20
> place, and I am certain that I have been faithful to the significant details=
> .=20
> Fred: So all the time I was cutting the lawn I kept thinking about how great=
> =20
> it would be to get high. And wouldn't you know it, just as I was finishing t=
> he=20
> job one of my old running buddies pulled up in his car and immediately=20
> started talking about how he had a new supply of great drugs and how I shoul=
> d come=20
> off with him and get high. I told him I wasn't interested, that I was not go=
> ing=20
> to do any drugs, not today. Well, he got right ugly, so I said, "Y'ALL get i=
> n=20
> Y'ALL'S car and get out of here." And they left.=20
> If one is looking for evidence for putative singular y'all, it would=20
> seemingly be hard to find better data than this. The evidence of the immedia=
> tely=20
> antecedent singular phrase one of my old running buddies and the singular pr=
> onouns=20
> his, he, and him appears to argue overwhelmingly that Fred's y'all is a=20
> singular pronoun. Though it is a bit of a stretch, one could even attempt to=
>  explain=20
> the third-person plural they in the final sentence as an instance of the=20
> impersonal singular they (cf. Everyone likes pizza, don't they?) in agreemen=
> t with=20
> the grammatical plurality of y'all, as [End Page 335] distinct from its=20
> semantic singularity. (See Butters and Aycock 1987 for parallel instances of=
>  plural=20
> verbs used with singular y'all in Hollywood pseudo-Southern dialect in the=20
> 1930s.)=20
> But in fact, that is not what Fred meant at all. I asked him, "How many=20
> people were there trying to get you to go off and use?"=20
> Fred looked puzzled. "Two," he said, "my buddy and his girlfriend. And she=20
> got even uglier than he did."=20
> Fred's usage not only was NOT an instance of singular y'all, his usage=20
> suggests strongly that, in his mind, y'all cannot ever be singular: he assum=
> ed that=20
> his audience would understand from his selection of y'all (rather than you)=20
> that there were two or more people in the car that he was ordering to be rem=
> oved=20
> from his backyard. My follow-up question, from his point of view, appears to=
> =20
> have been redundant.=20
> References=20
> Butters, Ronald R., and Stuart Campbell Aycock. 1987. "More on Singular y'al=
> l
> ." American Speech 62: 191-92.=20
> Montgomery, Michael B. 1996. "The Future of Southern American English." SECO=
> L=20
> Review 20: 1-24.=20
> Richardson, Gina. 1984. "Can y'all Function as a Singular Pronoun in Souther=
> n=20
> Dialect?" American Speech 59: 51-59.=20
> Tillery, Jan, and Guy Bailey. 1998. "Yall in Oklahoma." American Speech 73:=20
> 257-78.=20
> Tillery, Jan, Tom Wikle, and Guy Bailey. 2000. "The Nationalization of a=20
> Southernism." Journal of English Linguistics 28: 280-94.=20
> In a message dated 5/25/06 10:32:59 PM, laurence.horn at YALE.EDU writes:
> >=20
> > >Couldn't youse be plural in the sense, "You folks who run the church"?
> > >
> > Right, I was thinking it's a lot like some of those "singular"
> > instances of "y'all" that turn out on closer inspection to be 'you
> > and the horse you rode in on', or more generally 'you and your
> > bunch'.=A0 Could the red-headed warrior have declared to the priest,
> > "Father, I hope you don't tink I'm a poiv, but I love youse" ?
> >=20
> >=20
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