"You" is a weakness

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by MacGyver1968, Mar 8, 2008.

  1. MacGyver1968 Fixin' Shit that Ain't Broke Valued Senior Member

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    Ever since grade school, I've always wondered why the second person singular, "You" is the same as the second person plural, "You".

    I feel that this is a weakness in the English language, as it can create confusion. If I were addressing a group and said, "I need you to come with me." ,the people in the group would not know if I was addressing just one of them, or the whole group. I would have to use a hand gesture to point to an individual or a waving motion to indicate I was talking to the group.

    In the southern part of the US, we added the word "all" to the end of the "you" to indicate that is was plural. It eventually became the word "y'all". Other areas say "You guys" or "Yous guys".

    Is there any reason for this in the English language?

    What do you use as the second person plural pronoun?


    (Fraggle, if my terminology is wrong, please feel free to edit.)

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  3. temur man of no words Registered Senior Member

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    In some other languages that can be related to English the "respectful" form of "you" is the same as the plural form. So may be English lost the normal "unrespectful" form if it had one like the others.
     
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  5. "All those", is common. As is, "Among..." is one.
    Within defines are the most common. As in: "Everyone __whom__ is in accordance...". Where the objective form is important. This helps single out a selected group from a larger group.

    Another common one that hits at me is: "If...yourself..." where it's conditional. This allows the individual to choose participation in the selection of group definition.
     
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  7. mathman Valued Senior Member

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    In the US south, the expression "you all" (sometimes y'all) is used for the plural, while "you" is singular.
     
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    No, your terminology is correct and your point is well taken.

    This topic has come up several times. This is by no means unique to English. In fact it's an extremely common phenomenon in the Indo-European languages for people to strive for ever-more formal and polite ways to say "you." It's even happened in Chinese, although you don't hear it much since the egalitarian Communists took over.

    The first step is usually to co-opt the plural pronoun for singular. French vous, Swedish ni, Russian vy... and English "you." (Strangely, we took the accusative form instead of the nominative "ye.") Those other languages retain the singular pronoun, tu, du, ty, but English "thou" has been abandoned except in the liturgy and the Quaker dialect. (And strangely, the Quakers use the accusative "thee," there must be some consistent force at work here that I haven't seen explained.)

    This occasionally happens in the first person and it's called "nosism," from Latin nos, "we." The editorial we, the royal we, the papal we. I don't know of a term for it when it happens in the second person.

    In some countries, people eventually begin to feel uncomfortable with their new "formal" second-person singular pronoun and they search for something more formal than that. A common escalation is "your grace," which has been used in English.

    From this point, just about anything can happen. Spaniards got frustrated with the mouthful vuestra merced and condensed it into usted. At least it has a durable plural form, ustedes, "your graces."

    Italians use Lei, which means "she," but is also "it" since there is no neuter gender in Italian, and (I'm on shaky ground here) I think they're referring to "your grace" as "it." Germans do something even more bizarre and use Sie, which means "they." In both languages the original second-person plural pronoun, voi or ihr, still exists but only in the liturgy. (But in Yiddish ihr is still used for both plural and polite singular.)

    The Portuguese get the prize though. Like Spanish, vossa mercê was contracted to você (complete with the plural form vocês)... but they kept running with it and the phenomenon went through yet another iteration. Você and vocês are now used as familiar pronouns in many dialects. The new formal second-person pronoun in Portuguese is o senhor, a senhora, or a senhorita, "the gentleman" or "the lady."

    In English we do indeed feel the need for a distinction between singular and plural. Dialect or slang forms like "y'all," "you 'uns," " 'mongst ye" and "you guys" have been coined to fill the void.
     
  9. It stems from Middle-Latin. During great expansion, they needed a way to address in formal fashion, as polite as Sir or Madam, with respect. Rather than come here, it was in the form of

    tu, the famous et tu Brutus. Tu, converted to You in France, during the Middle ages is the accepted form.
    Se Vu Pla, Yu es mane comfrot. I think, rusty there.

    The 'o' was added as distinction and also as an objective phrasing. For past tense. As in: When _YOU_ did so and so...

    Tu is the derivation, whereas the French added a softer touch.
     
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    "Ye" (nominative) and "you" (dative and accusative) are authentic Germanic words, from Anglo-Saxon ge and eow. They are cognates to German forms such as euer and euch, inflections of ihr, the second-person plural pronoun, and go all the way back to the Indo-European root seen in Sanskrit yuyam, "you."
    English "thou" also goes all the way back through Anglo-Saxon. It's a cognate of Latin tu and Slavic ty, with the standard consonant shift from Indo-European T to Germanic TH, as set forth in Grimm's Law. (Dent- --> "tooth", pater --> "father".)

    Most other Germanic languages have lost the TH sound so "thou" is du in, for example, German and Danish.
     
  11. temur man of no words Registered Senior Member

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    If ty is tu, how wy is connected to you?
     
  12. MacGyver1968 Fixin' Shit that Ain't Broke Valued Senior Member

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    You were nice to answer my question....or should I say y'all?

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  13. greenberg until the end of the world Registered Senior Member

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    Depending on the situation, it is possible to find creative solutions for addressing a group of people, such as:

    Dear members, I would like you to ...
    To all Sciforumites ...
    Everybody, listen up ...
    Attention, please. We are now going to go to ...
     
  14. Depends on inflection. "Ye" can be lead with a following comment to indicate "Ya", which is 'yes'.

    Also, 'ye' is demonstrative. Meaning in Slavic terms, it is mostly accusational. Per:

    "Ye frein purlhbho ischt..." which is 'HOT'. Meanings derived...
     
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    It's not easy to research etymologies of foreign words, at least not for an amateur linguist. That said, I don't find any evidence that those two words come down from the same Indo-European root word. They appear not to be related at all.

    T- for the second person singular pronoun is almost universal in the Indo-European languages so it was probably the word used by the original speakers of proto-Indo-European 5,500 years ago (more controversial estimates push the date farther back). Germanic "thu" and Greek esy underwent phonetic modification, but in most languages it survives in strikingly recognizable form: Albanian ti, Armenian tu, Bengali tui, Farsi to, Gaelic thu, Kurdish tu, Latvian tu, Serbian ti, Tajik tu, Urdu tu.

    But the second person plural pronoun used by the original Indo-European tribe does not seem to have been passed down so uniformly. I'm not even sure what it was. One source confidently claims it was yu but it seems biased in favor of proving that our pronoun "you" has the most authentic pedigree. Yet it may be correct since Sanskrit yuyam shows that this word goes back before the family split into the Eastern and Western branches.

    On the other hand, Latin vos (which becomes French vous, Italian voi, Spanish vosotros) is superficially similar to the universal Slavic vi (spelled in various ways such as Polish wy). The V sound is very volatile and, for example, is a vestige of W in Latin and most Germanic languages, so this relationship may be an illusion. If there's any substance to it then this word might also go back before the Eastern-Western division.

    But the second person plural pronouns in the Indo-European languages come in quite a variety. Words similar to "you"/yuyam appear in Albanian and the Baltic languages, but it's Armenian duk, Bengali tora, Gaelic sibh, Greek eseis, Kurdish hun, Persian shoma, and Welsh chwi.

    One might suspect that the discomfort that has triggered the periodic replacement of the second person plural pronoun in modern languages was also felt in their ancestral tongues. The pronouns we see today might be the descendants of coinages like "you all" or "your grace." Greek eseis certainly looks like someone's attempt to build a plural form of the singular pronoun esy, like early 20th-century urban American "youse."
     
  16. Diabolical Mind Registered Member

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    Oh, so the 'southern part' of the US added the word 'all'? II thought the second person plural is 'you all' to begin with. For example.

    When approaching a group of potheads I would say, "You are a pothead." Now imagine you are among those potheads (even if you aren't one). You would think that I'm referring to 'you' ONLY as an individual. Not as a whole. In contrast, if I were to say, "You ALL are potheads." I'd be clarifying that I am referring to... well.. you all.

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  17. Asguard Kiss my dark side Valued Senior Member

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    why not just say "all of you come with me" or "i need you (and point at the person your talking to) to come with me"

    also your ignoring the body language that goes with it (ie you just look the person your talking to in the eye if you mean one person) or call them by name
     
  18. sowhatifit'sdark Valued Senior Member

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    The good thing about this is we don't have to think about how we address people who are full of themselves. They are also 'you.'
     
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    "You" is the original second person plural, although it's the objective case of long-obsolete "ye." The original second person singular is "thou," which you can still hear in the churches and read in the bibles of the Christian fundamentalists, who are convinced that God and Jesus spoke the English of the 14th Century which is therefore sacred.
    Most people say, "You are all potheads," although the other way does occur. Only Southerners have formed the possessive case of this pronoun y'all: yall's.
    You can say that, but it's a mouthful. Southerners talk at a noticeably slower cadence than other Americans, and about half the speed of Englishmen. They need a way to reduce the number of syllables in their speech or they'd never finish a sentence.

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    "Y'all" works just fine on the telephone. Pointing and body language don't. Besides, Southerners are big on manners and it's impolite to point.
     
  20. Asguard Kiss my dark side Valued Senior Member

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    if someone said "Y'all to me i would ignore them for being a rude prick

    If i want someone i look them in the eye and ask THEM to come with me, if i need a group i ask either for them each indervidually (if its a segment of a group) or say "all of you"
     
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    You sure got a hell of an attitude guy. People from the American South talk that way in meetings and nobody thinks anything of it. It's just normal to them. You Aussies say some really weird stuff but we just figure out what it means and let it go. Nobody talks weirder than the Brits and they think they're better than we are. Sometimes you really can't even understand them.

    Nobody's going to say "y'all" to YOU. It's a plural pronoun. They'll say it about a group. If you ignore a person from Alabama or South Carolina because he doesn't talk like you do, you're being ruder than the Americans who act snotty to foreigners because of their accents. At least accents really can be annoying if they're thick and difficult to understand. I doubt there's anybody in the anglophone world who doesn't understand what "y'all" means. Y'all have been watching our Western movies since they first got soundtracks.
    Last I heard there was no English equivalent of the Academie Française. Neither you nor anyone else gets to decide that people from other regions talk "wrong."

    It would be one thing if this was slang or the patois of the uneducated. But this is their dialect, the same as Brummy or Scots. Or 'Stryne.

    From Merriam-Webster.com, the online dictionary of the American language.
    It isn't even regarded as slang, or unpreferred. It's just dialect.
     
  22. Blue_UK Drifting Mind Valued Senior Member

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    Some people in dirty parts of the UK says "yous" to imply plural.

    What bothers me more than this confusion is the difference between 'you' and 'one'.

    For example "you can't do that" meaning "it's not possible to do that" should really be written as "one can't do that". But it sounds so poncy to most people. Of course, one shouldn't give a shit.
     
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    That came up in the USA around 70-80 years ago in the big cities. It's considered gangster talk and it's still thrown around in humor to imply a vaguely intimidating oaf. It was usually written "youse." Sometimes they even said "youse guys," which was redundant and reinforced the oafish impression.
    Just absolutely nobody says that over here any more. Only in formal speech, or for sarcasm or some other rhetorical effect.

    "Hey, who's the drunk broad over at the other end of the room?"

    "One does not speak of the company president's wife in such a manner."

    Never heard "poncy" before. It doesn't even show up in American dictionaries, I had to Google it.
     

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