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C'mon Y'all: Why The Word 'Y'all' Is The Hero The English Language Needs


The English language can be pretty confusing to even native speakers. Vowel sounds change depending on the word. There are letters that are silent in some words, but not in others. However, one of the biggest linguistic debates centers around the lack of a second-person plural pronoun.

How do you refer to a large group in the second person? That question means some words are fighting to fill that gap, such as ‘you guys,’ ‘youse,’ ‘yinz,’ and a Southern favorite - y’all.  

Vann Newkirk II made his case in The Atlantic about why ‘y’all’ is the best candidate for the job.

Interview Highlights: Vann Newkirk II…

…On why he wrote the article:

“I’m a Carolinian, and as a proud Carolinian, it’s been a part of my language and my vernacular for as long as I can remember. I remember there being this sort of discrepancy between school and my real life as to what I could say and what I couldn’t and ‘y’all’ was sort of on the boundary there.”

…On why there’s a need for a second-person plural pronoun:

“[When it comes to the word] ‘you’: how does one determine if I’m speaking to you individually or you as a group? If I walk into a room and say ‘you need to do something,’ ‘you need to do this’…how does everyone know who ‘you’ is? I think it’s very unspecific and strange that it’s been kept this way for so long.”

…On why ‘y’all’ is a suitable candidate: 

“We have in slang ‘you guys,’ which has really taken off as the main alternative. As I argue in the article, ‘you guys’ is even worse than using ‘you’ because there’s a lot of people in the conversation who may not be guys. If you’re speaking to a group of women or a group that includes women, would you really say ‘you guys?’  

I think as we become more and more considerate about the words we use, I think y’all really fits that role. Now, I did get a lot of feedback from people in the Ohio river valley, Pennsylvania and New Jersey who were really passionate about the word ‘youse’ or ‘yinz.’ My argument for ‘y’all’ is…because it’s the largest regional equivalent.”

Vann Newkirk II writes about policy and politics for The Atlantic. 

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.