Sunday, May 27, 2007

Punctuation Demonstration

I have recently been the recipient of some emails, penned by a Californian, that included the word “ya’ll” in their salutation line. I believe/hope that my correspondent was trying to type “y’all” instead. Now, I have no problem with non-Southerners using my native region’s preferred version of the second-person plural (although I wish they would not do so ironically, while wearing trucker hats, nursing a Dixie, and listening to Hank Williams in their old F-150’s). After all, it is kind of elegant in a way and doesn’t have that gender-specific, too-nasal hitch present in the Northern/Midwestern “you guys.” But I would ask that y’all-sayers first take a stab at understanding the etymological/linguistical/grammatical underpinnings of it before doing so.

“Y’all” is a contraction of the phrase “you all.” Again, this construction fills in a gap in English; we don't have an official second-person plural like "vous" in French or "ustedes" in Spanish. Its apostrophe replaces the O and U of “you”, so it must fall between the Y and the A. Any other position seems to result in a misspelled or anachronistic contraction of “you will.”

In addition, I’d like to remind any readers I may have of a couple of other common shapes that “y’all” can take:
-it can be possessive, as in “Y’all’s mail has arrived.”
-it can be quite expansive, when one needs to refer to more people than one has previously been speaking to, as in “All of y’all are invited to come.”
-it can take on ritualized significance, such as when the woman who minds the till at the Catfish Hole asks, while ringing up your dinner, “Y’all get enough to eat, Honey?” If you don’t hear it, you probably didn’t.

More on this subject here:
(Sorry, haven't learned how to make pretty links yet!)

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