The Origins Of Y’all

One word. Two continents. Three shores. Four centuries. Five separate dialects.

Where did “y’all” come from in the first place? - linguist Michael Montgomery:…Montgomery claims that “y’all” goes back to the Scots-Irish phrase “ye aw,” and he offers as evidence a letter written in 1737 by an Irish immigrant in New York to a friend back home: “Now I beg of ye aw to come over here.” As I understand Montgomery’s hypothesis, “ye aw” was Americanized into “y’all,” which is indeed a contraction of “you all” but would not have come into being without the influence of the Scots-Irish phrase.

A quick Google search of “ye aw” brings up numerous examples of this phrase being used in contemporary Scots. (Scots is a language spoken in much of Scotland which derives from middle-English. It influences, but is separate from, contemporary Scottish English.) This language was brought to Northern Ireland by Scottish planters, then brought to America by “Scots-Irish” immigrants.

A phrase in the Scots language was brought to the American South by Scots-Irish immigrants primarily from Northern Ireland. The word filtered down to slaves and their descendants, and became a feature of African American Vernacular English. African Americans moved to the Northern cities and brought this word with them. The beauty of English: teenagers in the Bronx appear to use a dialect word that comes from an unique language spoken in Scotland. 

Y’all arose as a contraction of you-all. Y’all fills in the gap created by the absence of a separate second person plural pronoun in standard modern English. This absence arose when thou/thee (singular) and ye (plural) disappeared, and you came to signify both singular and plural. This absence similarly gave rise to the phrases you-unsyou lot, or you guys. (Cf. yous, an informal plural second-person pronoun formerly used in New York City, still common in Ireland, often rendered “youse” in Australia and New Zealand, and yinz, an informal plural second-person pronoun commonly used in Western Pennsylvania and the Appalachians).Some evidence suggests that y’all could have evolved from ye aw due to the influence of African slaves who may have adapted the Scots-Irish term.

The Remarkable History of “Y’all”

Wikepedi pic -Frequency of either “Y’all” or “You all” to address multiple people, according to an Internet survey of American dialect variation

 Bernstein, Cynthia: “Grammatical Features of Southern Speech: Yall, Might could, and fixin to”. English in the Southern United States, 2003, pp. 108-109 Cambridge University Press