Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Nashville Edition: Y'all

It’s the first and for a while the only Nashville episode of The Grammar Dance, as vacation brings me to New Orleans tomorrow, which is one of America’s great repositories of regional grammar peculiarities. Until tomorrow evening though, I am in the land of y’all. Or rather, one of many lands of y’all, as y’all is a colloquial contraction whose reach continues to spread.

The breadbasket of y’all would have to be Texas, but its use remains heavy north to the Oklahoma panhandle and then moves eastward through Arkansas and Louisiana, straight through the deep south and into Florida, with heavy use still felt in Tennessee and across to the mid-Atlantic seaboard states. Its use peters out in Pennsylvania and drops off significantly northeast into New England and due north once you hit Missouri. By Minnesota, it’s pretty well gone, with western states like Nevada and Arizona carrying on a casual, uncommitted relationship with it.

As a part of speech, it is a second person plural pronoun, and when you consider that the proper version of the second person plural pronoun is simply you, perhaps there is a glaring hole in the potential expressiveness of our grammar. The plural form is identical to the singular form, and that strikes me as a missed opportunity for some additional color in the language. Y’all fixes that.

Though a traditionalist, I welcome y’all as a polite, inclusive and endearing means of addressing a group. It is interesting to note for the sake of comparison another second person plural American colloquialism that has its home in New York and New Jersey, youse, as in, “Do youse guys want to head down to Brooklyn tonight?”


So what’s the difference between y’all and youse? Not much, except in terms of mood and feel: y’all sounds like you’re about to get kissed whereas youse sounds like you’re about to get stabbed. There is a third one that for the most part has kept itself confined to its city of origin, and that is Pittsburg's dreadful yinz. It is my sense that yinz's hideousness will keep it right right where it is and there's nothing for the rest of us to worry about.