Would y’all like to see a map?

The word y’all is used as a second person plural pronoun in the United States (although in my travels I have also heard it used as a polite singular). The map above (click to zoom) shows the average frequency of use by state, according to the 2003 Harvard Dialect Survey. The usage is primarily Southern.

English needs a second person plural pronoun, it seems to me. What do all-y’all think?

Image produced using the maps package of R. Other visualisations of the survey exist.


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14 thoughts on “Would y’all like to see a map?

  1. I think that being too lazy to say “ou followed by a space” would be a bad example to your children. Who knows where that could lead in the long run?

    Tongue very firmly in cheek by the way.

  2. I was alluding more to the consequences of laziness, both physical and mental, than the effect of language.
    The most fascinating use of English that I’ve heard is by the Dutch who, whilst talking in their own language, will throw an English Phrase into every other sentence. I know that we will use the very occasional French word or phrase but nowhere near as often.

    • You say “lazy;” I say “economical.” 🙂

      The fascinating thing about the Dutch use of English is that it almost always involves switching vowel repertoires while doing so (e.g. Onze auto heet ‘Red Shift’). English speakers do that with French words if they are exceptionally good speakers of French.

      • I always see it as more a form of imitation than a conscious switch. If you are familiar with the comedy of “Only Fools and Horses” you’ll know that a staple of the show is Del Boy’s use of inappropriate French phrases. It’s funny because not only are they incorrect but he says them without altering his South London accent.

    • A (traditional) reason for that could be that our (foreign) TV is subtitled rather then dubbed, and most movie/TV programming is American TV. (followed by Dutch and English shows in about an equal amount, and a little bit of German programs, I don’t think I have seen more then a few French programs and exactly one Italian show on TV). So we are exposed to the English language early on, and in regular frequency. (Especially American curse words seem to be replacing our own traditional creative disease-based cursing.)
      Fun trivia; our TV sound tends to be set lower then surrounding countries because we can fall back to reading subtitles)

      And after the rise of computers and the internet, this exposure has only increased. Being a small language area, a lot of programs and sites came to our language late or not at all. Therefor a lot of English computer terms became familiar before official translations got a chance to spread. (Or even be invented).

      What is funny is that when watching (Dutch-/Flemish) Belgian TV, they do often seem to use(d?) translated words. Perhaps because they already had a culture of translating French words?

      As to come back to the original question; yes it would be useful for English to have a second person plural pronoun, even if only to aid computer translation to other languages.

      • Thanks for that!

        Here we get a lot of subtitled European programs on TV. I’ve watched a few Belgian programmes, and they seem to use a lot of French curse words.

  3. Getting back to the OP, I should emphasise that “y’all” is subtly different in meaning from “you all.” For example, “y’all” can be used as a polite singular, and it can be used in the intensified plural “all-y’all.”

  4. As they say, we are divided by a common language.
    It reminds me of a street performer I saw in Covent Garden who asked an American tourist if they were here for a holiday or on business ……………………. or just to learn the language?

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