Y'allization

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One of the linguistically interesting aspects of Jason Kelce's victory-parade speech was his pronoun usage:

And you know who the biggest underdog is?
It's y'all, Philadelphia!
For fifty two years, y'all have been waitin' for this.

Although this is a perfectly idiomatic use of y'all, one thing about it is unexpected — Jason Kelce is from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, which is not in the y'all zone from a geographical point of view.


But Kelce, who closed the show, was following in the pronominal footsteps of his comrades.

The first speaker among the players was Nick Foles, who's from Austin , Texas, and therefore comes by y'all naturally in geo-cultural terms:

It is a honor for us to have brang y'all the Super Bowl,

Next up was Lane Johnson, who is from Groveton, Texas, and again no doubt grew up with y'all:

I want y'all to make some noise for the 2018 Super Bowl champs!

Then Chris Maragos — who is from Racine, Wisconsin, and like Jason Kelce should not be a native y'all user:

Yo Philly! Ey! I anticipated y'all bein' lit, but man, y'all know how to party!

Next came Brent Celek, from Cincinnati, Ohio:

You all know that Philly is my home, and Philly is world champs today. I love y'all!

Next came Brandon Graham, who was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit is not in the y'all zone geographically speaking, but as a speaker of AAVE, Brandon is a native y'all user:

Phillay! Phillay! What up now, baby?
We got us a championship, baby! It took me eight years, where all my life ((really??)), but you know, I- I appreciate y'all, you know, for embracing us, you know, this year, because you know we know we been through some ups and downs.

A bit later, we get Carson Wentz, who grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota — though he was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and moved to North Dakota when he was three, so maybe he got some y'all in his mother's milk:

As I stand here today, and look out here,
I think y'all are more than crazy — y'all truly are the best football fans in the world, and you make it a joy and a pleasure to play for you.

And then came Alshon Jeffery, from South Carolina:

And I just want to say I thank y'all, but I would not be standin' here- I would not be standin' here if it weren't for a great group of guys — let me let them introduce theyself …

After the introductions:

We love y'all, Philly! I appreciate y'all! Y'all gave us a lot of love, a lot of energy. We world champs!

This should be enough to make the point. Eagles team spirit — and maybe football locker room spirit in general — involves some serious y'allization.



49 Comments

  1. jin defang said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 7:45 am

    I have long argued that English needs a distinction between the singular and plural you. y'all, sometimes yawl, fits that, just isn't regarded as grammatically correct. In my working-class Brooklyn neighborhood, "youse," often followed by "guys," a generic that included females, was the expression of choice.

  2. Y’allization (n) – Emily A. Gasser said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 8:12 am

    […] Pronoun use in the Eagles' Super Bowl victory parade: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=36655 […]

  3. Cynthia McLemore said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 8:57 am

    I haven't counted the times, but over the years I've noticed more and more people using "y'all" in a very deliberate way, including around Philadelphia — smiling like they're joking, or performing, but at least self-conscious like it's not their normal word. I notice because I'm a native "y'all" user transplanted to the east coast. In my limited observations about language change (limited mainly to intonation), that can be an indication that a usage is about to take hold.

  4. Arthur Waldron said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 9:29 am

    Here in Philadelphia plain youse is standard. ANW

  5. Robert Davis said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 9:43 am

    1960 in Fort Sill, coming back to the just cleaned barracks prior to inspection, the "guard" told me: "Y'all take y'all boots off." I was alone. The second y'all might have had a "r" in it. I took my boots off before entering.

  6. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 10:24 am

    Where I live (western US) "you guys" is the colloquial norm. "Youse" is Irish and common in eastern US cities. "You lot" is common in England. And by now English is too polycentric for any one of these forms (and "y'all") to become standard, by contrast with singular "they" which is used everywhere and is almost standard by now.

  7. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 10:34 am

    I agree with Cynthia McLemore. I hear "y'all" in Santa Fe, New Mexico from non-black people—I could name one of my current students—who I'm sure have spent their lives here.

    I suspect AAVE influence is what leads people to choose "y'all" when "you guys" or "youse" is traditional in their region. I grew up close to where Jason Kelce did, and all the white kids in my elementary school could speak AAVE more or less (less, in my case). Cleveland Heights has a significant black population, and though maybe things have changed in the generation between me and Kelce, I doubt it.

  8. Aaron Toivo said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 10:41 am

    I envy the southerners their euphonic 2-pl pronoun and have been deliberately choosing for years to use "y'all" whenever I can remember to, in the probably vain hope that it will spread. Natively I have "you guys", and as though that weren't clunky enough, in the possessive it turns into "your guys's". What a train wreck of a pronoun!

  9. John Weisgerber said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 10:51 am

    It's simple. "Y'all" fills a gap in the English language, and it does so in an easy, efficient manner. Once you've been regularly exposed it's hard not to adopt it, regardless of which zone you grew up in.

    Stop fighting it, America!

  10. Bob Ladd said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 10:51 am

    I'm informed by a recent graduate of an Ivy League college that at least some native speakers of you guys varieties are avoiding that form because of its perceived non-gender-neutral nature.

    @Cory Lubliner: youse is common in Scotland too.

  11. Tim Morris said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 10:56 am

    Something of the reverse may have happened in Southern metro areas over the past generation. I started teaching in Texas in the late 1980s, when "y'all" was pervasive. Younger suburban people have largely stopped using it, leading to odd things like me with my Midwestern accent using my acquired "y'all" with groups of native Texans (with their neutral "airport-city" accents) who don't.

  12. jin defang said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 10:59 am

    so what do the airport-accent (love that term, BTW) people use for the plural you?

  13. Eric said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 11:22 am

    I work with a lot of people in Memphis who appear to treat "y'all" as singular, with the plural being "all y'all".

  14. Martin Ball said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 11:39 am

    In Lafayette, Louisiana, I also heard "all y'all", along with the possessive "y'all's".

  15. Ted McClure said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 1:26 pm

    And in Pittsburgh, "yuns" or, for a more formal register, "youens" for the 2nd person plural.

  16. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 2:42 pm

    In some tension with Bob Ladd's point, I have long thought that one reason guy/guys has for many AmEng speakers (including Ivy League graduates) become equally applicable to males and females when used vocatively but not in third-party reference was to facilitate the usefully gap-filling "you guys."

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 2:52 pm

    As to the usage by various members of the Eagles, it seems relevant that most non-y'all-native-speaker NFL players will spend their careers with a majority of co-workers who are, i.e. the NFL player pool these days is typically between 60% and 70% black, most (not all) of whom likely have AAVEish enough idiolects to have that feature, to say nothing of the subset of white players who grew up in the y'all zone. And most white NFL players will have spent four years playing on a college team with, if not an absolute majority, maybe at least >40% of native-speaker y'all users. So the sociolinguistics question is to what extent that "rubs off" and whether those who didn't have it natively in childhood duplicating the usage of many/most of their teammates in this regard just a) happens naturally w/o a lot of self-consciousness; b) involves some self-consciousness but ends up being a positive way to reinforce group identity and bonding etc; or c) risks some negative tension because native user of y'all think they're being mimicked in a way that seems patronizing or (if they went to a fancy enough college …) culturally appropriative. Could be a mix of all three, or it could be that c) is off the table here because "y'all" does not have the symbolic baggage some other common AAVE usages do that might make it more emotionally fraught if adopted by non-AAVE speakers.

  18. Keith said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 5:04 pm

    I've also heard Ted McClure's "youens" for "you ones" in the UK.

  19. Mark P said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 5:11 pm

    Y'all use is kind of strange. I grew up in northwest Georgia, as did my father. I can't recall him using it, and I don't use it either. For me, it's you all. My brother, on the other hand, who spent many years in the Pittsburgh and San Diego areas, often says y'all, despite having adopted a less Southern sounding accent.

  20. Mark P said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 5:11 pm

    Y'all use is kind of strange. I grew up in northwest Georgia, as did my father. I can't recall him using it, and I don't use it either. For me, it's you all. My brother, on the other hand, who spent many years in the Pittsburgh and San Diego areas, often says y'all, despite having adopted a less Southern sounding accent.

  21. Pflaumbaum said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 6:30 pm

    @ Keith

    Where in the UK did you hear "youens", out of interest? I hear 'youse' from Irish people and Scots, but for the English it's either "you guys", which as Bob Ladd notes is awkward if some of the guys are gals; "you lot"; or, recently, a semi-ironic AmE "y'all". The rest of the time we just suffer in ambiguity.

    It's a really interesting linguistic situation, to have this obviously felt need for a word that is not adequately supplied.

    One thing that puzzles me… isn't it odd that all the alternative forms are for plural reference, not singular? (There are remnants of "thou" in parts of northern England, but those aren't innovations.)

  22. Jenny Chu said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 6:42 pm

    I went to an all-female high school in the Philadelphia area (little exposure to AAVE except on TV) and "you guys" was the standard pronoun among the girls, along with "your guys's"- they were definitely non gendered terms, at least at the time; indeed. "Guys!" was universally used to get the attention of a group of students, no matter how much the teachers wanted us to say, "Ladies!"

  23. Anna in PDX said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 7:04 pm

    Here in Portland Oregon, we've always been a "you guys" area with "guys" being a very common plural regardless of the gender mix of the group. However, lately I've been corrected more than once because "guys" is male and I should use gender neutral language. This leaves me with no plural "you" as "y'all" and "youse" definitely don't come naturally. Ah well.

  24. Andrew Usher said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 8:21 pm

    No matter how much he's been exposed to it, wouldn't he know instinctively that Philadelphia is definitely not in the y'all zone and it's incongruous to use it speaking with the public there?

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  25. Steve Morrison said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 8:41 pm

    I have a cousin who grew up in Indianapolis but who habitually says "y'all". Apparently he just picked it up as an adult and uses it because of its convenience.

  26. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 9:34 pm

    Aaron Toivo: For the possessive of "you guys", "your" usually works fine. I've certainly heard "you guys's", but on the rare occasions when I haven't wanted to say "your", "you guys'" has been understood. I suppose it was possible someone thought it was wrong but was too tactful to correct me.

    As far as I know, the possessive of "yous" and "yuns" is "your". For "y'all", I've heard "your", "y'all's", and "your-all" (or maybe that last went with "you all"). Are those dialect or idiolect differences or are they used in different situations?

    In general, I think "you guys" is used mostly on first reference. After that, you can say "you" unless there's a possibility of ambiguity. I'm not familiar enough with "y'all", "yous", or "yuns" to know whether they work that way. Is it "Y'all can do whatever you want" or "Y'all can do whatever y'all want"?

    John Weisgerber: For me, not adopting "y'all" has been effortless.

  27. Michele said,

    February 10, 2018 @ 9:58 pm

    This is fascinating.

    I grew up near Cincinnati (in an unincorporated area northeast of the city), and in my native dialect, "you" is singular, and "y'all" is plural, but my Texan friends tell me that in their dialect, "y'all" is singular, while "all y'all" is plural.

    FWIW, I lived in Cleveland for 9 years and there are numerous people (though certainly not a majority) of all ethnicities who use y'all, so it's not completely unknown.

    More fun is that I have lived in California for the past 16 years, and I still use words from my native dialect such as "y'all" and "pop", though I've worked to get rid of most of my accent — I no longer say things like "That ma-yan has a ta-yan va-yan". ;-)

  28. Michael C. Dunn said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 1:17 am

    Y'all has definitely been expanding. My Ozark grandmother born in the 1880s always used "y'uns" but today y'all is ubiquitous there.

  29. Jason M said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 1:52 am

    The odd thing, of course, is that this gap in English that the various y'all equivalents are filling was created by us English speakers a couple of centuries ago deciding to collapse singular and plural everywhere but in a few spots in England where some form of "thou" persists. Why did we do this in the first place?

  30. Chas Belov said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 5:46 am

    Former Pittsburgher here and never lived in the South.

    I use "y'all" for second person plural because it's useful and because most people won't understand "yinz."

    Actually, as 3rd person singular gradually disappears from my speech, I'm contemplating "they" for 3PS and "they all" for 3PP. (And "we" vs. "we all" for exclusive vs. inclusive 1PP.)

  31. Rube said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 7:34 am

    Canadian: "Y'all" and "you all" haven't made it hear, but it seems like I am hearing "you guys" all the time all of a sudden, although I can't swear it isn't recency illusion.

  32. Breffni said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 10:36 am

    "Youse" is Irish and common in eastern US cities.

    "Youse" is Dublin and Ulster (or some parts of it, including Belfast I think). You'll also hear "youse guys" in Dublin and "yousuns" in Ulster. Outside of those parts "ye" is the most widespread Irish 2nd-person plural, with the possessive form "yeer". Neither is normally written of course, so "yeer" is an ad-hoc spelling.

  33. Tim Morris said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 11:13 am

    what do the airport-accent (love that term, BTW) people use for the plural you?

    Thanks! "You guys" is popular.

    my Texan friends tell me that in their dialect, "y'all" is singular, while "all y'all" is plural

    It can sound this way at times, but I think there are nuances. I have never heard "y'all" as meaning the directly addressed second person. But there can be contexts where one means the general second person (where one doesn't want to say "one" :) and then you'll hear "y'all"; or with a kind of sense that the person addressed is implicitly part of some family or larger group. (So one person says to another individual, "We'll see y'all next Saturday.")

    But I haven't been everywhere in Texas, and some speakers might use "y'all" for a single individual.

    "All y'all" is certainly plural, equivalent to "all of you" rather than some subset.

  34. Michael Carasik said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 11:48 am

    I grew up in Chicago and say "y'all" (for the plural). It happens.

  35. Aaron Toivo said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 1:16 pm

    Jerry Friedman: For the possessive of "you guys", "your" usually works fine. I've certainly heard "you guys's", but on the rare occasions when I haven't wanted to say "your", "you guys'" has been understood.

    I would understand that too. And perhaps sometimes I even say it without it having registered as something I do. But "your" does not work, not in any context I can think of. I'm pretty certain I would add practically any amount of extra phrasing, whatever is necessary, to make it certain that I don't just mean "your" – that is, one person's. Some further element is required to make clear that I mean plural; without that, I would feel I had referred to only one of my interlocutors. It's just entirely and screamingly wrong, like mentioning "my aunt who owns six cat".

  36. mg said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 4:21 pm

    I grew up in NYC, where "you guys" was definitely gender-neutral. Quite honestly, it pisses me off when people try to claim it's sexist – certainly was plenty common in my all-female jr. high school. Now that I've reached 60, I've stopped caring what people say when I use it – otherwise I have to resort to "y'all"/"you all" which feels unnatural being used by a northerner.

  37. Bob Ladd said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 5:36 pm

    @ Pflaumbaum, @Jason M:
    The reason the present-day ambiguous forms are based on formerly plural forms is ultimately the same reason that in French, Greek, and various other European languages the 2nd person plural forms do double duty as the "polite" form for addressing a single person. Somewhere along the line (late Middle Ages? Renaissance?) it became fashionable in many parts of Europe to address important people as plural. English was no exception. The only way in which English was unusual is that sometime later (18th century? early 19th?) it became customary to extend this "polite" usage to everybody (except in various pockets in England, and among Quakers) and the thou forms (i.e. the former singular forms) became obsolete. More or less immediately, this left English with a 2nd person number ambiguity, which people have been trying to solve ever since.

  38. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 11, 2018 @ 7:50 pm

    Michael Carasik: But how does it happen?

    Aaron Toivo: When "your" works, it's usually because "you guys" or some other plural has already been used. "You guys can put your stuff over there."

  39. Vulcan With a Mullet said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 11:06 am

    As a native Atlantan (smack in the middle of y'all territory, despite being largely populated with Americans from all over the country) I have never (to my knowledge/memory) actually heard or used "y'all" as a strictly singular pronoun.

    I always thought the claim that it could be used that way is a bit of a joke/over-exaggeration Southerners use to poke fun at their own dialect. The implication is of a Southern waitress talking to a single customer at the counter.. "Howdy, Hon! Would y'all like some coffee?" This doesn't happen in my experience.

    However, as @Tim Morris said above, "y'all" can sometimes be heard in conversation with a single individual, but in that case it still refers to an implicit plural or group. I can see why that would cause the confusion.

  40. Pflaumbaum said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 1:56 pm

    @ Bob Ladd

    That makes sense, but my question was not about how the present ambiguity arose historically, but why the attempts to solve it always (?) seem to involve changing the plural form, not the singular. Is it just that the plural denotation is more marked, and so inherently more susceptible to innovation?

  41. Andrew Usher said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 6:40 pm

    Yes, I think so. The fact that English could lose the distinction historically, though, shows that speakers don't have as strong a need to distinguish number in the second person as in the first or third – though admittedly the modern use of 'singular they' seems to be eroding the distinction in the third; how long before someone starts with 'they-all'?

    What interests me, though, is the express or implied claim by some above that literally they feel it ungrammatical to speak bare 'you' or 'your' in a plural sense. Have we really come that far? Certainly I haven't myself, and I haven't become aware that anyone had, and go on using 'you' and 'your' as my common pronouns, though 'you guys' is an option in informal register (but the possessive is still always 'your').

    Here I can't help bring up one of the few things I know about Esperanto: that it copied English deliberately in having only one second-person pronoun, singular and plural. I haven't heard of any attempt to change that.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  42. Doug Henning Jr said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 11:10 am

    Prediction: singular "they" will predominate before long and then the pressure will be on to adopt royal "we" as 1st person singular (with "we all" available for pluralization, natch).

  43. Dagwood said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 12:16 pm

    A Memphian woman I know argued vehemently with me that "ya'll" was the more correct spelling — yikes. That's totally illogical to me, but she produced a whole bunch of literary references by Southern writers to justify her cray-cray opinion!

  44. Dagwood said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 5:08 pm

    I'm from small town on the east coast of Missouri — solid "you guys territory" — but as an adult that phrase sounds a bit homespun & juvenile to me. Not to mention the questionable appropriateness of addressing females as "guys". So, perhaps ironically, as an adult in NYC I frequently use "y'all" in casual speech and writing. But I can also hear myself using the phrase "you folks" (and still feel less homespun than saying "you guys").

    But whatever happened to "you people"? Did Ross Perot single-handedly turn that into a racist phrase, or was it always an ill-thought choice of words? (Like a camp counselor with a stick up his/her butt shouting at a group of kids?)

  45. Rube said,

    February 14, 2018 @ 9:16 am

    @Dagwood: I hadn't really thought of it before, but I am pretty sure that "you people" always sounds either rude or racist to me.

  46. Rodger C said,

    February 15, 2018 @ 10:39 am

    @Dagwood: I frequently see the spelling "ya'll," and it annoys me too. I think it must be influenced by "you'll."

  47. Rodger C said,

    February 15, 2018 @ 10:41 am

    Also, Ross Perot clearly (I just listened to the clip again) said "your people." At least clearly to another Southerner. I've never understood the journalistic pileup on him that ensued.

  48. Caroline said,

    February 18, 2018 @ 10:16 am

    Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. For me, "y'all" is always plural, never singular, but may be used when speaking to a single person to refer to a group of which they are part. For example:

    Ann: "Oh hey Dave! Haven't seen you in a while! How are y'all doing these days?"
    Dave: "We're doing great! Jenny and are real proud of Dave Junior — he got into Carolina!"

    In this case "y'all" refers to Dave's family, not present, but known to Ann. Note that Dave answers in the first-person plural.

    (I understand Robert Davis's story — "Y'all take y'all boots off" — to be an example of this usage. "Y'all" referred to "the group of soldiers living here." If it had taken place at Fort Bragg, I would be certain of it.)

    The possessive of "y'all" is "y'all's." "Your all" is not a thing in my usage. ("Y'all boots" just has the apostrophe-s dropped, as I understood it.)

    Finally, "all y'all" is an emphatic usage, translating roughly to "each and every one of you". "All y'all need to register to vote," for example. Stress is placed on "all."

  49. Victor Mair said,

    February 22, 2018 @ 10:25 pm

    "Smartphone Dialects"

    When tech meets heritage –

    William Sack, China Channel, Los Angeles Review of Books (February 20, 2018)

    https://chinachannel.org/2018/02/20/smartphone-dialects/

    "As a young Kentuckian, I once came home from kindergarten pronouncing my name, Will, as 'Whee-y'all,' a three-syllable word – my mother was horrified. The correct pronunciation was learned before I left for school the next day. In China and the US alike, you speak your social role."

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