2019-03-13 / Editorials

Southerners did something right

Other Voices
Mitch Clarke

Y’all aren’t going to believe what I’m writing about today.

According to a news article I read that week, a linguist — which is just a fancy way of saying someone who knows a lot about words — believes Southerners have actually improved the English language by adopting the word “y’all.”

The linguist, who teaches at the University of Alabama, said early forms of English had pronouns for singular second person — thou and thee. And pronouns for plural second person — ye and you. Over time, we stopped using “thou,” “thee” and “ye.” I know this to be true because the only time I hear those words now is when I sing old hymns in church.

Anyway, in today’s English, we use “you” both singularly and plurally. But Southerners wanted a way to distinguish between individuals and groups of people, so they created y’all (“you” + “all”).

The linguist also pointed out the people in other parts of the country modified the language to accomplish the same thing. For instance, Northern Americans — we can’t call them Yankees anymore because it’s politically incorrect — adopted the phrase “youse guys” to denote the plural “you.”

But the linguist said “y’all” is a better adaptation and perhaps even Northern Americans should start using it more, and I couldn’t agree more.

I like accents. I like that Americans treat the language in such a way we have different ways of saying the same words. Sure, I’ve teased friends with accents that were different from mine, but their accents never clouded my impression of their intelligence.

One of the vice presidents at the college where I used to work is from New England. She can’t pronounce the letter “r” in certain words. She talks about going out in the back yahd or looking for a place downtown to pahk her cah.

Of course, the differences in language in different parts of the country isn’t anything new. A few years ago, a study looked at 122 common words and phrases to see how people in different parts of the country pronounced them.

For instance, according to his study, Southerners say mayonnaise as a two-syllable word, “man-aze.”

“Reckon there’s enough man-aze in the fridge? I’m fixin’ to make me a mater sammitch.”

Northerner Americans get all high-falluting. They add a syllable and say “mayuh naze.”

And I like that someone is saying it’s OK to use “y’all.” It’s the perfect word. But I admit that more than one Northern American has made fun of the way I talk. A friend who went to school at Northwestern is always saying, “I love it when Southerners say ‘you all.’”

For the record, I’ve never said “you all” in my life. In fact, the only people I’ve ever heard say “you all” are non- Southern actors feebly attempting a Southern accent. For whatever reason, few people outside the South can talk like a Southern. For proof, watch Dan Ackroyd in “Driving Miss Daisy.” He sounded more like Margaret Thatcher than a Southerner.

For the record, it’s “you” when talking to one person and “y’all” when talking to two or more. If the number of people is large, we say “all y’all,” which certainly gets the point across and it’s better than “youse guys.”

Perhaps I’m taking this too personally. But it is nice to finally have someone with a great knowledge of our language to finally admit us Southerners did something right.

Are y’all as happy as I am?

Mitch Clarke, a native of Blakely, is the editor of AccessWDUN.com in Gainesville. He can be contacted at mitch.clarke@gmail.com. Read previous columns at www.accesswdun.com/blog/mitch.

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