Re: Southern Translation

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Oct 14 1998 - 18:20:09 EDT

At 06:06 PM 10/14/98 EDT, Christopher Hutson wrote:
>Jonathan wrote:
>>I use this in Little Greek 101. However, it's important to be aware
>>that many Southerners use y'all as a 2nd person singular or plural
>>form, so I carefully state the distinction that I'm drawing.
>I think that "y'all" as a 2nd person singular is a Yankee
>misperception of traditional Southern speech. When Southerners say
>"y'all," they usually (always?) intend the plural force. That is, if I
>ask, "How are y'all doin' today?" I am addressing a group. If I say
>it to you when we are the only two in the room, then I am asking about
>your family.

Someone else challenged me on this in email. When I first moved to the
South, I was firmly convinced that y'all was always plural. Among well
educated Southerners, I think it generally is. However, I do prison
ministry, and among prisoners in North Carolina, it is not at all unusual
to hear y'all used as a singular form.

Another form, "all y'all", is sometimes used in order to be unambiguous
that the plural is intended.

>Likewise, if you visit a Southerner, it will be perfectly normal when
>you depart to hear, "You come back, now, y'hear?" if you are visiting
>by yourself, or "Y'all come back," if you are in a group. OTOH, if
>you visit alone, and hear, "Y'all come," then you are invited to bring
>your family next time you visit. Similarly, "Do y'all like
>cucumbers?" means, "Will you and/or anybody at your house eat these if
>I pick 'em for you right now?"

I have not studied this at all, but I suspect that there are times and
expressions and social classes in which this distinction is carefully
observed, but others in which it is not. Southern is not my native
language, though, so y'all may know better than I do.



Jonathan Robie

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