Thursday, October 10, 2013

keep calm y'all

I have a couple of grad. assistants working for me who teach often. Today I said to them, I have a bone to pick with y'all. As I watch you, I've noticed that you use "y'all" sometimes to address the class. But other times you use "you guys". And you NEVER use "you" to refer to the class. What's up with that?

They admitted, they were avoiding "you". You grow up in Texas schools, they said, if a teacher addresses the class as "y'all", everything's fine. If the principal addresses the class as "y'all", everything is fine. If anyone uses "you" everything is NOT FINE.

So they are avoiding it at all costs. It sounds rude, short, uncaring, harsh.

Now they are well aware of the problems of "y'all" sounding hick, sounding southern, being too informal, etc. They are also well aware of the problem I told them, that even we northerners were beginning to give up on "you guys" because it only referred to half the class at any given time, and the other half was bound to be offended.

But in the north, "you" as plural is not really marked one way or the other. It's not rude, it's not formal, it's not really a problem, using it with a class, using it with friends, using it with anyone. The only problem with it is that it isn't really clear; it can refer to one person or many.

They have many ways to refer to one or many down here. "Y'all" can be used for one or many, but is used for one mostly when you don't know that one, or it is an older person, or you have to assume that the person has family or people around that you don't know about. Waitresses use "y'all" for singular; they're allowed. They have to be polite to everyone. They don't have time to sit and decide whether you are one or many. "Y'all" in that context generally refers to "you and yours" and is remarkably similar to some other languages that essentially use you-plural in polite situations. So in fact "y'all" can and does act as both singular and plural in all kinds of situations, making it as ambiguous, in number (sometimes), as "you" is up north.

But one teacher pointed out something else. There is actually a "clipped y'all" which sounds more like "yaw" or "yuh". It's singular "y'all". Even though there is a plural y'all, all-a-y'all, it's actually a quite complicated situation, and it has more to do with politeness, which always matters, than true number, which is a fluid concept (since not knowing whether someone has family, is the same as assuming that they do, and you just don't know it). We northerners shake our heads at the concept that "it's not about number."

About this "yaw" or "yuh" - I have heard it. I'll keep my ears out for it again. There aren't so many people you can even ask, as they aren't always all that aware of how they speak or why; they misreport, or give questionable data. Doesn't matter. If you live here a while, I figure, you get the hang of it. People are friendly. They like to talk.

So I told them, well, there's always "you folks" or "you lot" - I doubt they're going to go with the Pittsburgh "you'ns" or the bronx "youse" which I once, by the way, heard in Alton, IL. These are similarly marked. There's a whole lot of us who have trouble with all the options. Now that I'm Texan, I'll start having trouble with "you", because I'll begin to hear it the way they hear it - too formal, too rude. One doesn't want people thinking one doesn't care.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home