Y’all is required English

While engaging in an email conversation the other day, a friend lamented my written usage of “y’all” in our correspondence. After cordially (and immediately) responding to him, I realized that a larger audience is in need of my valuable insights concerning the value of this precious commodity.  In this regard I have inserted my response to my friend with a few additional flourishes just to make it appear that I am instantly witty in tart replies to the nay-sayers of Israel. Be thou one of them?

Dear Christian,

Thank you for your sweet concern in regards to my usage of the English language. However “y’all” is more refined than you credit. In fact, to argue against y’all in the English language is to argue for an antiquated system that is evolutionarily stuck in the mud. Why? Because  languages typically differentiate between second person singular and plural. I admit at this point that I have not done an exhaustive survey, but all of the languages I have an acquaintance with do.

Specifically, I have in view (Ancient) Hebrew and (Koine) Greek. First let us consider Genesis 1:29-30, where we are informed “Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;  and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. ” Our concern in this text is the word “you” which I emphasized with bold letters to make reference easy.  A good translation of this text would read “Behold, I have given y’all every plant.. and it shall be food for y’all.” Can you imagine the infighting that would have occurred had Hebrew been like English?

Adam: Yup, you heard God. These plants, trees, fruit, beast, birds, creepy crawlies are all mine.”
Eve: What? But what about me?
Adam: What about you? That’s not my problem. Did you hear God? He used the singular masculine second person pronoun. That puts you out of the mix little darling. After all, I don’t want to go against God’s plan.
Eve: (crying as she runs out of the Garden of Eden)
Adam: (Whistling Dixie as he checks of the first, and only, battle won by men in the war of the sexes.)

You can only imagine how that application of that verse would have gone down in history. But thanks be to God, Hebrew can differentiate second person pronouns from singular to plural (as well as masculine and feminine).

Or how about in 1 Corinthians 16:14 when Paul instructs, “Let all that you do be done in love.” I can see the Corinthian church arguing over this one.

Chloe: You heard him Priscilla! You best start doing everything in love! Uh-huh.
Priscilla: Uh, I think he was talking to all of us.
Chloe: No he wasn’t (snapping her fingers in a circle). He was talking to you. If he was talking to all of us it would have been a second person plural pronoun. Boo-ya! You got served.
Priscilla: Who are you?

Thankfully the Greek has a second person plural pronoun so Chloe and Priscilla didn’t have this confusion and neither do we – that is if we can read Greek. As I lament, English does not have a second person plural pronoun to help distinguish these beautiful biblical nuances – unless you happen to have within your repertoire the poignant “y’all.” Then there can be mutual understanding so no equivocating can take place. For example, let’s say I wrote to you the following:

“Dearest Christian, I do hope with all sincerity that all is well with you.” And, of course, you were deeply moved by my incredible showmanship of empathy and reported such to your wife who tartly responded with “Well how do you like that, he asks about you but no one else. Well, there are more people in this church than just you. I’ve never! The man has no heart I tell you!”

And now I’m in a pickle so to speak. What to do, what to do? The answer, my friend, is to be a linguistic aficionado and utilize English to its fullest potential. Do I dare let others have the second person plural but not us? No I say! We will not be left alone. We will not go down on a sinking ship. We can be progressive by turning back the tables to an earlier time and better syntactical usage of pronouns to carry the weight of specificity into our daily conversations!”

For some reason I now feel like yelling at the top of my lungs so let me leave you with this picture: Just imagine William Wallace, as played by Mel Gibson, at the end of Braveheart scream “FREEDOM Y’ALL!” instead of just “FREEDOM!” Now that my friends gives me the shivers; that is powerful indeed. Who knew William Wallace that you meant for all of us to have freedom? Who knew?

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6 Comments to “Y’all is required English”

  1. To give further validity of “y’all,” I offer up the following anecdote.

    My Latin professor in college was Irish. His mother taught French, and he himself taught English in Spain for several years before coming to America to teach Greek and Latin. He noted that “y’all” was perhaps the single most important contribution that Americans had made to the English language, since it finally gave us….you guessed it: A second person plural pronoun!

    Y’all write back now, ye hear?

  2. This has become a multi-cultural beatdown on English from all sides – Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Gaelic…

  3. True enough, the English language is not perfect. However, you failed to address the cultural implications of the word’s usage, and the root of the word itself. Culturally, usage of the word is an indicator of more than a second person plural pronoun (Jeff Foxworthy and Hee Haw come to mind ;). And who is to say that the proper words “you all” don’t convey the same meaning? I would also argue that in many, if not most, cases, the word “you” can be understood in context to mean plural, and most people wouldn’t take a harsh position of interpreting the singular when the intent is obviously plural! Braveheart is a good example where “freeeeee–ddddooommmmmm” didn’t need to be “freeeeeee–dddddooommmmmm yyyyy’aaaaaalllll” because the meaning was clear. Does this count toward my 30 minutes on blogs a day?

  4. That depends. How long did it take for you to come up with that response? And can I take Hee Haw without Jeff Foxworthy? I’d like to throw Ray Stevens in there instead. What I find offensive is your usage of the word “proper” as if my usage is “improper.” Finally, is Braveheart really all that clear? I submit to you for equivocational evidence the following:
    – Right after he screams “Freedom” he sees his deceased wife. Is freedom than referring to death? Or is the implication that he alone can see his wife mean that freedom is alone for him? In addition to this:
    – the next scene has the rest of the Scots he fought alongside run into battle for their freedom. So…does that mean they were running to their deaths? Or was freedom for them something else? Either way, it would see, while sitting upon my equivocating high-ground, that it wasn’t something they initially shared with William Wallace when he was being tortured and then executed.

  5. Probably 10-15 minutes. I rest my case with the cultural suggestion. I will say (something I meant to mention earlier) that verbal communication is superior to written communication (in any language, I presume), so my point about understanding the english language, depending on context, is more evident in verbal exchanges than written. I think you are making something complicated out of a good movie that wasn’t meant to be that difficult. “Freedom” is what he died for. It is what he fought for, and a principle he was willing to be tortured and die for. It is clear he wasn’t fighting battles the whole movie because he wanted to die. No, he wanted to be free to live. I bet you could make a good sermon illustration out of that if you try! (kidding)

    • It doesn’t count then. But the suggestion of making it a sermon illustration is a GREAT idea – thanks! 😉 I think it might how in a sermon entitled “How to misrepresent Jesus with the best of intentions.” Everyone knows that R movie Illustrations are okay as long is it is R due to realistic violence. I might even have to show a clip.

      Joking y’all

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