As a little reminder, I am currently an English teacher. I have a bachelor’s in English and I write a mean literary paper. My grammar (when I’m paying attention) is usually pretty spot on. Also, linguistics was one of my favorite things to study in college. Proceed if you dare.
I love the English language. It’s fascinating to me. It’s complicated and ridiculous at times, but that just adds to its charm. (I have a love for languages in general. They all rock pretty hard and I wish that I knew more of them.) That being said, one of my favorite things about English is its propensity for being butchered. I say this in all love and good will. Some of the grammar rules are downright silly and when you try to justify them to an English language learner, you’re left shrugging and replying with the dumbfounded teacher’s standard retort: “Because that’s the rule.” I hate when that’s the only answer I have to give, but it happens sometimes. I do the best I can to offer clear and reasonable explanations for grammar rules but some are just odd and incomprehensible. (Don’t ask me for examples, jerk! I can’t think of any right now! It’s been a long week!!)
And getting back on topic: I love broken English! It makes me happy in ways that I can’t explain. One of the happiest moments of my life was poring over a version of the New Testament of the Bible that had been translated into Hawaiian pidgin called Da Jesus Book. I could have just died from sheer wonder at how the way the words fit together and the beauty of them when you read them aloud. For example, instead of:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
King James Version (KJV)
Jesus say, “God wen get so plenny love an aloha fo da peopo inside da world, dat he wen send me, his one an ony Boy, so dat everybody dat trus me no get cut off from God, but get da kine life dat stay to da max foeva.”
(John Tell Bout Jesus 3:16)
Is that not wonderful?! I’m dying! I love it!! And it’s a love born out of appreciation for the spoken word and the differences between languages. Linguistics is incredibly fascinating and I would throw out some examples but I have a tendency to gush and I’m sure not everyone finds these things as interesting as I do, so we’ll move on.
(But just a quick little example anyway for anyone that cares: Native Spanish speakers have a hard time differentiating between the /s/ phoneme “SSSSS” and the /z/ phoneme “ZZZZZ”. When quizzed, they will usually identify both of them as /s/ because there is no /z/ sound in Spanish. For some, (usually bilingual from a young age) they can’t recognize the difference when it’s subtle but for others it is impossible for their ear to pick up on /z/ at all because their ear was never trained to decipher it as a child. Craziness!! So cool!! I could gush for a few more paragraphs, but I won’t. You’re welcome!)
All that being said, with native English speakers and educated people, I can be a bit less forgiving… Fine. I can be downright judgmental, depending on the situation. But I am aware of it and I try to curb my tendency to
bash people over the head with their keyboards correct people. I’m mostly successful, because I know that no one likes the grammar police and no one likes to feel stupid or to think that someone else thinks that they are stupid. I do find myself, however, getting a little judgy when people who should know better, repeatedly use the same incorrect grammar. It irks me. I understand lazy writing and lax proofreading –I’m guilty of it more often than not– but some things REALLY get to me. But again, we won’t go into that.
In spite of being a stickler for good grammar in some situations, I often find myself being “creative” when it comes to my own writing. I get no end of eye-rolls from my husband when I make up non-existent words that fit grammatical rules of prefix/root/suffix and that can actually be deciphered using the same rules. It amuses me. And, hey, if Shakespeare can do it, why can’t I? The problem is that I sometimes find myself forgetting if words are “real” or not. But, again, I don’t really mind. People can roll their eyes at me and get judgy, but I’m having a grand old time over here in my little corner of the internet.
Getting to the meat of the issue, I did a little poll on Twitter and Facebook yesterday about a word that has been part of my vocabulary since I was very young. This is the question I posed: “ya’ll or y’all”. The results surprised me. As I was expecting, people from northern states or from other countries chose “y’all” because of the grammatical “correctness” of it. (And let’s just ignore the fact that contracting “you all” at all is grammatically incorrect.) It was people from southern states that surprised me. I was expecting more to say “ya’ll”, but quite a few did not. (I love that my former roommate threw me a curve ball with her “Not a contraction.” theory and “yall” entered the running. Fantastic! Isn’t language great?) What I found interesting is that almost all of the southern people that chose “y’all” told me WHY. (Contraction. “You all” minus “ou”, apostrophe goes here, etc.) I’m thinking that, perhaps, many of them grew up with “ya’ll” like I did and after learning grammar rules applied them to the apparently much contested word. I can’t be sure, but that’s my theory.
Anywho, the reason the question occurred to me at all was that I was reading a snarky website that was making fun of people with horrible grammar. For anyone without the desire to click on said link, some examples include things like a little knick-knack for teachers that says: “YOUR THE BEST!” ::shudder:: The thing that got me thinking was a greeting card that said: “HEY YA’LL!” In the comments, someone brought up the point that, as someone from the South, they had always seen it written that way (ya’ll). Of course, there was a snide “In case your not joking…” kind of reply to the comment that explained contractions in a condescending way. I get it. Contractions, “you all” should be “y’all”, blah, blah, blah. But when it came right down to it, I actually prefer “ya’ll”.
That’s right. I prefer the “wrong” version.
But I’ll tell you why. Firstly, since I grew up seeing it written as ya’ll, to me, it looks “right”. But my second reason is (slightly) less visceral than that. Pronunciation. When I look at “y’all”, in my mind, it would be pronounced with a slight yuh (i.e. yuh-all) and that’s not correct at all. I can’t help it. “Y’all” reads yuh-all to me. It could be that my mind is just trying to justify my preconceptions and I’m okay with that. But don’t think I’ll ever be able to get behind “y’all”. Yuh-all. Give me a break! ;)
So, in short, if you see me writing “ya’ll”, it is not out of ignorance. It is a deliberate action of defiance against grammar rules. Or not. But I do so knowingly. And I will continue to do so, in spite of what anyone has to say!
Ya’ll come back now, y’hear?