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Y’all (// yawl) (sometimes ya'll or yall) is a contraction of you and all (sometimes combined as you-all). It is used as a second-person pronoun. The exclusive usage of y'all as a plural pronoun is a subject of perennial discussion. Y'all is strongly associated with Southern American English, and appears in other English varieties, including South African Indian English.
Y’all arose as a contraction of you-all. It first appeared in the southern United States in the early nineteenth century, with an earliest citation of 1824. Many aspects of the word's derivation are unknown; for example, no one knows if its use began with southern blacks or with white immigrants. One supposition is that the term evolved from the earlier Ulster Scots term ye aw. Scots-Irish immigrants to the southern United States frequently used the term ye aw. Some evidence suggests that y'all could have evolved from ye aw due to the influence of African slaves who may have adapted the Scots-Irish term. An alternative theory is that y'all is a calque of Gullah and Caribbean creole una via earlier dialects of African-American English. Y'all is an original form, deriving from indigenous processes of grammar and morphological change, not from input from other English dialects.
Y'all appeared at different times in different dialects of English, including Southern American English and South African Indian English, and as such is a parallel independent development in those dialects.
The forms ya'll and yall are also known, but the form y'all is the most prevalent in print, being ten times as common as ya'll.
Functionally, the emergence of y'all can be traced to the merging of singular and plural second-person pronouns in Early Modern English. Y'all thus fills in the gap created by the absence of a separate second-person plural pronoun in standard modern English. Y'all is unique in that the stressed form that it contracts (you-all) is converted to an unstressed form.
Y'all serves as a "tone-setting device to express familiarity and solidarity." When used in the singular, y'all can be used to convey a feeling of warmth towards the addressee. In this way, singular usage of y'all differs from French or German, where plural forms can be used for formal singular instances.
There is long-standing disagreement about whether y'all has primarily or exclusively plural reference. The debate itself extends to the late nineteenth century, and has been often been repeated since. While many Southerners hold that y'all is only properly used as a plural pronoun, strong counter evidence suggests that the word is also used with a singular reference, particularly amongst non-Southerners.
H. L. Mencken recognized that y’all or you-all will usually have a plural reference, but acknowledged singular reference use has been observed. He stated that plural use
is a cardinal article of faith in the South. ... Nevertheless, it has been questioned very often, and with a considerable showing of evidence. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, to be sure, you-all indicates a plural, implicit if not explicit, and thus means, when addressed to a single person, 'you and your folks' or the like, but the hundredth time it is impossible to discover any such extension of meaning.
— H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 1948, p.337
The existence of the genitive (or possessive) form y'all's indicates that y'all functions as a pronoun as opposed to a phrasal element. The possessive form of y'all has not been standardized; numerous forms can be found, including y'all's, y'alls's, you all's, your all's, and all of y'all's.
All y’all, all of y’all, and alls y’all are used by some speakers to indicate a larger group than is necessarily implied by y'all though this form can be considered, in certain parts of the American South, incorrect, as being redundant. All y'all can also be used for emphasis; the existence of the form is further evidence that y'all is considered a fused grammatical form.
Y'all has been called "perhaps the most distinctive of all grammatical characteristics" of Southern American English, as well as its most prominent characteristic. People who move to the South from other regions often adopt the usage, even when other regional usages are not adopted. Outside of the southern United States, y'all is most closely associated with African-American Vernacular English.
The use of y'all as the dominant second person-plural pronoun is not necessarily universal in the Southern United States. In the dialects of the Ozarks and Great Smoky Mountains, for example, it is more typical to hear you'uns (a corruption/contraction of "you ones") used instead. Other forms have also been used increasingly in the South, including the use of you guys.
Overall, the use of y'all has been increasing in the United States, both within and outside of the southern U.S. In 1996, 49% of non-Southerners reported using y'all or you-all in conversation, while 84% of Southerners reported usage, both percentages showing an increase over the previous study.
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