Y is for You

These words do not reflect ignorance on the part of speakers who use them, but a legitimate linguistic development called leveling by morphological analogy, whereby missing pieces of the grammar are generated by analogy with other parts of grammar.


I don’t think I considered it until I took French in high school, but I realized at that point that standard English was deficient. While French has tu for second person singular and vous for second person plural, English uses the word you for both. I subsequently discovered that most languages followed the French rule, such as German du/ihr and Russian ty/vy.

So some groups have developed their own set of second person plural pronouns, such as y’all and yous. Some Australians, just like some Americans and some Brits, have for many years now been happily using valid second person plural pronouns. It helps in clear communication, allows succinctness of expression, and, sadly, has invariably been associated with a lack of education and low socio-economic status.

But it is not the failure of the speakers, it’s the failure of the language. These words do not reflect ignorance on the part of speakers who use them, but a legitimate linguistic development called leveling by morphological analogy, whereby missing pieces of the grammar are generated by analogy with other parts of grammar. In other words, people instinctively create words when the meaning would otherwise be ambiguous.

Thus English is lacking here, but it was not always so. The King James Bible, e.g. has a perfectly useful pairing, thou for singular, ye for plural. Over the years, however, the terms meshed.

My basic point is that perhaps we ought not to deride those people who have creatively addressed a linguistic need.

Four years ago, the TIME person of the year was YOU. Read all about it.

Here are three songs, all very different, called You:
Marvin Gaye
George Harrison
R.E.M.

ABC Wednesday – Round 7

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. i hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

32 thoughts on “Y is for You”

  1. Great and very interesting post for the day as always, Roger! And, of course, you included three of my favorite singers and songs! Thanks for the fun start to my day! Hope your week is off to a great start — along with your new year!! Enjoy!

    Sylvia

  2. As a teacher of French and Spanish, I’m always having to explain this phenomenon to my students. It is an interesting concept of having a 2nd person plural “you” in English and you’re quite right in how people have worked it out for themselves. Hope you had a very Happy New Year, Roger! 😀

  3. Hm, I never thought aboout that. Although German is ambiguous when it comes to Sie (as a formal version of you) and sie (second person plural). It’s one of my pet peeves when people capitalize the second person plural sie, which changes the whole meaning of the sentence.

  4. I also said “Y is for You” in my post, and I noticed a couple of other people who did the same, although no one has carried it as far as you have.
    This is very interesting, Roger.
    You have ably covered the question of the second person plural, so I won’t go into that.
    No, my theory is – blogging, particularly posting to memes – has opened up the world to us, so we think of others more than we did before. Sure, we’ve thought of the others in our immediate lives, but now we consider people on the other side of the world: north, south, east and west of us. Our “you” (or vous or ustedes, or whatever) has expanded.
    I’d like to offer also the corollary to my theory: if our “you” has expanded, so has our “we” and our “us”! How great is that? (Well, moderately great, she said, modestly.)
    Sufficient pontification on my part this early in the year. But thank you for the mental stimulus.
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  5. Interesting and thought provoking. The English language is strange and complex. I guess I appreciate how we compile and change words to fit the situation.
    Happy New Year to you and I look forward to many more fascinating posts from you.

  6. That is interesting. It’s funny because I’m from the south (NC) but I say you all instead of y’all. I had friends when I was growing up who moved into my neighborhood from Michigan and they said you guys which I got in the habit of using interchangeably with you all. I’ve never been comfortably using you for more than one person preferring to either say you all or you guys.

  7. You is an interesting word for Y day. I have also noticed in the Bible where you is plural, it is in four capital letters, like so: ‘YOU.’ and where it appears singular it is ‘you’, small case letters. Anyway, thou did a fine job explaining things.

  8. I’m all for leveling by morphological analogy (now that you have taught me what it is called). I learned to use y’all when living in Arkansas in 1996-2002 and since then I can’t get along without it. English certainly is lacking.

    Thanks for the songs too. Shalom and happy new year.

  9. Well, you to me is singular, – youse grates pretty badly, but y`àll is rather sweet. (something won`t let my keyboard type yàll properly…)

  10. “Whoos t’gaan on” a dialect here dropping the you entirely ( direct translation how are you going on, meaning, how are you or basically a way of saying hello). Another thought provoking post Roger.

  11. That was very interesting, Roger! I hate it when I hear someone say yous…but now I understand better why people say it. Y’all or you guys sounds better to me. 🙂

  12. I like to think of language as fluid and ever changing (evolving). But ‘youse’ just grates. I used to wonder why ‘thou’ and ‘ye’ were abandonned in favour of the, as you say, deficient ‘you’.

  13. Oh, Roger! Only YOU could put it so succinctly! Thank you-I now have a different take on y’all and yous. And, will use it proudly knowing that I am making up for a deficiency in the English language.
    Someone should tell the Queen of England…

  14. Hello Roger,
    Very interesting post.As I’m from Brazil and Portuguese is my mother language, in Portuguese we also have Tu for and vós ( vous ), and now I’m learning French as it’s one of the three official languages here in Luxembourg.
    I need to say it’s not easy, but I’m enjoying it a lot!
    ** and please forgive my poor English! 🙂
    Léia

  15. Meow Roger!
    Thank you for kind words on my Y-post.
    You are the first one and one of the few who regularly visit my ABC-Wed blogposts.
    I wish that all cats that you meet up with in the future, will be forever kind to you and never scratch ot bite you!
    Purrs,
    Sara Cat
    For the beniefit of other readers:
    Sara Cat’s ABC-Wd-rd7-Y

  16. Richie beat me to it, but I assume you won’t make fun of me when I tell you that the plural of “Y’all” is “All Ya’ll,” right?

  17. The backgrounds on the Marvin Gaye song remind me of the Ommpa loompas in the movie version with johnny Depp. LOL!…I always wondered why y’all came to be. Now it makes sense to me.

  18. I like y’all but never use it – it doesn’t sit well with my ‘received pronunciation’. English is a mongrel language, always changing and stealing from other cultures. Can’t stand ‘youse’!

  19. A valid point, Roger! Except that I am friends with a couple of self-confessed rednecks from Tennessee and Kentucky who use ‘y’all’ even when they’re speaking to a single person. Can we criticise them? Oh, please can we? LOL!

    I don’t know any English people who use a plural form of you, but there may be some dialects which do.

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