Roy Blount Jr. has a combined review (in last Sunday’s NY Times Sunday Book Review) of The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English (University of Tennessee Press, 2004), edited by Joseph S. Hall and Michael B. Montgomery, and Suddenly Southern: A Yankee’s Guide to Living in Dixie (Fireside, 2004), by Maureen Duffin-Ward; he praises the former and eviscerates the latter, all the while tossing in handfuls of succulent dialectal expressions taken from the dictionary:
Under ”splunge,” for instance, we read: ”She would fill the kittel to the crack with muddy water and splunge chips and leaves down deep into it with her hands and watch it close till she said it was done enough to eat.”… Under ”wonderly” we read: ”I have been thinking what a wonderly sight it will be to sit by the fire and look at the snow through all them new glass winders!”
He expends a good deal of energy on Duffin-Ward’s annoying contention that y’all is singular:
Recently I became aware of an airy new Southern lifestyle publication — Y’all: The Magazine of Southern People — out of Oxford, Miss., that might better be entitled Y’all: The Magazine That Doesn’t Know What Its Own Name Means. In its premiere issue, Y’all declared that: ” ‘Y’all’ is singular. ‘All y’all’ is plural.” That bit of blatant misinformation also appears in the ”Dixie Dictionary” portion of ”Suddenly Southern.”
I don’t know whether Y’all picked this up from Duffin-Ward or vice versa. She is not the first non-Southerner to insist that Southerners may call a single person ”y’all,” but to my knowledge she is the first to declare categorically, in the face of everyday evidence and all philological authority, that it is always a single person we so address. But she isn’t one to brook elucidation. With regard to the singularity of ”y’all,” she writes: ”Southerners will beg to differ here. They insist that even though they use it to address one person, it implies plurality.”
Something — either second-person-plural envy or hyperjocularity — has affected Duffin-Ward’s ear. People in the South do indeed sometimes seem to be addressing a single person as ”y’all.” For instance, a restaurant patron might ask a waiter, ”What y’all got for dessert tonight?” In that case ”y’all” refers collectively to the folks who run the restaurant. No doubt the implication of plurality is hard for someone who didn’t grow up with it to discern. It may even be that Duffin-Ward has heard a native speaker, in real life, violate deep-structure idiom by calling a single person ”y’all.” That would be arguable grounds for saying that ”y’all” is singular on occasion. But how can she have missed daily instances of people unmistakably addressing two or more people as ”y’all”? When a parent calls out to three kids, ”Y’all get in here out of the rain,” does she think only one child is being summoned? (”All y’all” is of course an extended plural: ”Y’all listen up! I mean all y’all.” Often it is pronounced ”Aw yaw.”)
(I’ve italicized the magazine’s name for clarity.) The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English sounds wonderful, and I expect I’ll enjoy flipping through a copy in a library someday, but at $75 it’s a tad rich for my own bookshelves.
(Thanks to Elias for kindly letting me use his computer during my Berkshires visit!)