Fluent Virginian

Our patient was in the clinical ED exam room, awaiting transport with his father and uncle.  They were from the West Coast, in town for a march or protest or something like that, when appendicitis struck.  Time to go to Nearby Hospital for surgery.

DTs entered the room as he usually does, to speak with them for a brief moment and let them know transport was here, what was happening next (me getting report from the nurse), how long it should take, and so forth.

“So y’all relax for just a few minutes and I’ll be right back”, says Our Hero.  And for the umpteenth time noticed the good-natured smirk and barely-concealed eye-rolling.  No offense taken, these folks weren’t even Yankees, and Yankees don’t know better.  But…

There’s something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for some time now, and that is the grammatical correctness of speaking good, plain Virginian.

Now, before my learned colleagues in the more Southerly- and Westerly- states protest, let me explain – Virginia is, traveling southbound, simply the first state encountered where grammatical English is spoken.  One can certainly be understood in Delaware, or Maryland, to be sure.  And good English can be found in the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, and yes, Texas.  But I think a traveler, let him be from Maine, who let us say stops for fuel, will in Virginia first be greeted with the ubiquitous and highly grammatical conjugate, “Y’all”.

“Y’all” is of course a contraction of “You-all”.  As contractions go, it is no less legitimate than “Isn’t”, “Wasn’t”, or “I’ll”, notwithstanding that the exemplars provided are subject-verb combinations.

“Y’all” is homey and warm.  It is embracing.  Y’all.  “Y’all come back now, hear?”  You will hear it at your better coffee stops.  “Y’all want a refill on that?”  But notice that any waitress asking that is already pouring as she smiles at you.  We’re a friendly folk – Y’all is what you will hear.

The uncontracted form is uncertain, uninviting – “You all from around here?”.  It can be menacing.  Virginians do not use this form.  Even worse is just plain “You”.  “You ready to order?”  Abrupt.  Cold.

“DTs”, you say, “You jest.  Y’all is wrong no matter how you slice it.  It bespeaks low educational values and a penchant for inbreeding.”

I disagree.  My arguments are many and completely invalidate this narrow-minded perception.  For the Virginian-impaired, I will illustrate.

If you have studied any other language, you will recall perhaps seeing a little table displaying the conjugates of verbs:

Spanish listar, “To Listen”
“I” form (yo) listo “We” form (nosotros) listamos
“You” singular () listas “You” plural (vosotros) listáis
“He” form (él) lista “They” form (ellos) listan

Verbs have different forms depending on the subject of the sentence – remember the phrase “subject-verb agreement”?  One does not say, “I am, she am, he am, we am, they am…”.  The verb form changes to agree with the subject of the sentence, therefore: “I am, you are, he is, we are, you are, they are…”

In most languages, there is a separate verb form for second-person plurals.  “You” speaking to a person, and another “You” form when addressing a group.

A Spanish-speaking cop, for instance, addressing a large group with the above-tabled verb, will say “You listen” (tu listas) when addressing the group leader, but “You (ALL) listen” – (vosotros listais) – when addressing the group as a whole.   An English-speaking cop lets the entire group know he’s addressing them by raising his voice.  That’s all English has, for the plural “You” is lacking, in English – but not in Virginian.  We cut out a lot of confusion that way.  “Y’all go home now” has broken up many a riot, I’m sure.

Also, in most languages, there are also two forms of address – the informal, used for persons one knows and, in some cultures, children; and the formal, used to address persons one does not know, and as a sign of respect when addressing elders.   Y’all is terribly versatile, and can be both, depending on inflection and tone.

In short, Y’all expands English to include second-person plural.  It is a refinement.

So y’all keep smirking if you want.  We know perfectly well who’s speaking well.

Y’all hear, now?


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