When you are addressing agroup of people as you, how do you differentiate between speaking to just oneperson? Unlike many of its linguistic neighbors, English technically only hasone second person pronoun. Languages like German and French have two words for you - one for speaking to one person andone for multiple people, and the second term in many cases doubles as a moreformal manner of speaking to one person - tu versus vous in French, forexample.

 

In earlier times, English did have a second person plural - ye- while the original first person singular, the ancestor of you, was thou, which is still used insome areas. As the influence of French grammatical structures grew on ourdeveloping language, ye also came to be a more formal, polite mode of addresswhile thou was the familiar form.

 

While ye and thou are stillused in rare circumstances in some areas, they had largely disappeared frommost mainstream English speech by the end of the 18th century. Theexact reasons why continues to be a matter of study and debate however it isquite likely that the reason was social. Separate you's for addressing equals versus addressing superiors hints at anunderlying social hierarchy. In many situations addressing someone as thou -that is, as a social equal - could be perceived as an insult. Perhapsincreasing trends of egalitarianism in English society over the centuries wereresponsible for this change, or perhaps the growing influence of Americanculture and the importance it placed on social mobility played a role.

 

Regardless of the reason,none of the current definitions of "proper English" require these terms. ModernEnglish according to those who attempt to rule it does not differentiatebetween singular and plural or formal and informal in the second person. Thisis unfortunate, as a second person plural is a very practical bit of language.Luckily, language is good at adapting and slipping around the confines peopletry to put it in. In spite of the official ban on the pronoun, the languageitself has evolved in many areas to fill the need. For example:

 

Y'all is a prominentfeature of Southern American and African American vernacular English as well asa few other dialects, encompassing huge swaths of America's population. While theword is still considered unacceptable in formal language, the term is nowcommon in an increasingly wide variety of demographics in virtually every areaof the country.

 

Yinz is a wordusually associated with the city of Pittsburgh,although its usage extends into the mountains of western Pennsylvania. According to Pittsburgh Speech & Society, the term was brought to the region by Scots-Irish settlers inthe 18th century, who used the term you'uns (you ones) which evolvedinto yinz. Usage of yinz is a good example of the connection between a mode ofaddress and social hierarchies - the word yinzer is a somewhat derogatory termfor working class natives of the city.

 

While yinz shows no signs ofspreading far beyond Pittsburgh,y'all's usage has become increasingly mainstream. What does this say about thefuture of the English language? It certainly shows how quickly a language canevolve in response to cultural change and the need to fill a gap in how peoplecommunicate. It's possible that by the end of the 20th century, youand y'all will both be considered grammatically correct.

 

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Comments
by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎04-28-2009 04:17 PM
You forgot "youze" as in "youze guys" :smileytongue:
by Jon_B on ‎04-28-2009 04:44 PM

Yeah, that one is comparatively rare and - I think - heard more from stereotypes on TV and in movies than in real life.  But it is used in parts of the US and UK.  I think it's generally associated with New Jersey, but again that might be more a result of media than actual usage.

 

by het on ‎04-28-2009 06:25 PM
The thing is that "y'all" can still be used in a singular sense so it really ends up running into the same ambiguity as "you". I propose that we start using "youp" (short for "you, plural") exclusively for the plural of "you". It carries no stigmas of being associated with regions and serves an obviously useful purpose so I can't see any obvious barriers to its adoption.
by het on ‎04-28-2009 06:30 PM
Oh, also, on the subject of "ye", I had no idea it had previously been the plural "you". How does that relate to the convention of "Ye Olde Shoppe" where it's clearly used as "The"? Is that entirely a modern convention created from misreading older English texts? Or did the word serve two purposes in its time?
by on ‎04-28-2009 06:34 PM
youze, you, or you guys...Jon, ya'll need a proof reader
by Jon_B on ‎04-28-2009 06:48 PM

"Ye Olde English Shoppe" is indeed a mistranslation issue.  The word was "the" but the "th" was originally represented in Anglo-Saxon by a letter called "thorn", which fell into disuse before printing was brought to England.  Since the first printers didn't have type for "thorn" they used "y" instead (as it was visually similar) before "th" became  the preferred representation for that sound.  The time when "y" was used as a substitute for "th" was brief and generally forgotten, which is why modern readers will often pronounce it as "ye".

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorn_(letter)

by het on ‎04-28-2009 06:55 PM
Interesting, thanks!
by on ‎04-28-2009 06:59 PM

"Youze guys"  - New Jersey????   I don't think so.   Whenever I hear that term used in our state, I conclude that the person was born and/or raised in Brooklyn.

 

 

 

by Immortal-Spirit on ‎04-28-2009 07:37 PM
I'm from Philly and we use Youse all the time.  So it's not strictly used in Jersey and NY.  Sorry....:-)
by on ‎04-29-2009 04:44 AM

(chuckle) Y'all

as in you all

 

there's also 

the rest of you

 

 

by Author RosemaryH on ‎04-29-2009 07:51 AM
When the Prime Suspect series was airing on PBS I used to love listening to Helen Mirren say "you lot" which I thought was very British and very cool. I'm more of a "you guys" ..regardless of gender. But I'm from Brooklyn and I've never heard anyone say "youze" except in a movie!
by Laurel on ‎04-29-2009 11:51 AM
Even after spending three decades in the Southeast I  have never used 'y'all.' I often find it handy to address a group of people as 'you all,' though.
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