I recently read a really interesting NPR article talking about how Catherine Davies, a linguistics professor at the University of Alabama, considers the contraction commonly found in Southern dialects, “y’all” (short for “you all” for you northerners), a useful addition to the pronouns we already have. I found this article interesting for several reasons. Firstly, I live in Houston, Texas, where the vast majority of people I speak to tend to use “y’all” in everyday conversation. Secondly, I don’t use “y’all” myself even though I’ve lived in Houston for the last 11 years. I honestly can’t say why I never started using this unique southern pronoun. Initially, when I moved to Houston in 2009, I thought it was downright bizarre that people used “y’all” at all. As a six-year-old, I had all sorts of preconceived notions of what the American south would be like. I thought everyone wore boots and rode around on horses carrying lassos. I also happened to think that everyone spoke in a heavy, almost incomprehensible southern drawl. While none of my assumptions ended up being true, the fact that most of the people I interacted with spoke Standard American English and also used a uniquely southern pronoun seemed incongruous to me. Over time, hearing “y’all” became less and less odd to me, but I don’t use it myself to this day. I personally prefer to say “you guys” when referring to a group of people. While I may not use it, I agree with Professor Davies. Because the “thou” singular second person pronoun has fallen out of use, it creates situations where there is ambiguity. I think “y’all” does a great job of removing a lot of this ambiguity because it makes it clear that no specific individual is being addressed. While other dialects tend to use other forms of the plural second person, “y’all” is probably the shortest and most efficient way to address a group of people. Will “y’all” ever catch on across the country? Based on my own experiences with it, I don’t think it will. Should y’all be saying “y’all”? Maybe we should!
Hi, I'm Om, the author of Lingua Franca.