A blog about any and all things linguistic. Topics can range from phonetics to syntax to aspects of specific languages. Updated weekly.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
2nd person plural
The second person plural is one of those funny things in English that doesn't exist even though we want it to. Virtually every regional dialect has a 2pl. form (y'all, youns) even though standard English lacks it (except perhaps for the periphrastic "you guys", which is what I use). And that's because, gosh darnit, it's useful. Sure, context can often disambiguate whether one is addressing an individual or a group, but redundancy is a part of language, and in this case it's not even always redundant. More interesting is the emergence of what could be described as a tripartite plural pattern in Southern English: you (2sg.), y'all (2pl., small group), all y'all (larger group). It's not really a singular/dual/plural distinction, because I don't think anyone restricts the use of y'all to only two people, but there are people for whom there is a small plural/larger plural distinction between "y'all" and "all y'all". It just goes to show that if a language doesn't work in the way speakers want it to work, they make it work. After all, communication is the reason behind language, and we want to be able to accurately communicate what we want to.
I live in New Brunswick, NJ with my wife Amanda, and am currently a 3rd year linguistics Ph.D. student at Rutgers. My research interests include phonetics, phonology, Optimality Theory, Native American languages (esp. Na-Dene and Algonquian), loanword adaptation, and syllable structure. Send comments/suggestions/questions to:
rdenzerk at eden.rutgers.edu