Saturday, August 16, 2003

http://www.atlasbooks.com/howideaswork/index.html -- the first ad which appeared as I began this blog. Talk about serendipity...!

OK, let's do something useful. I want to establish conclusively that the correct spelling of the word "y'all" is, in fact, "y'all", and not "ya'll". My little sister says y'all don't get this yet, so apparently some ejoomakayshun is in order here. Strap on your thinking tuque and cram this into your brain.

In English, when an apostrophe is used within a word, it generally denotes the excision (that's "removal", if you are dumb) of one or more letters. For example, "don't" is a contraction of "do not", with the "o" having been excised ("removed") from the word "not" and replaced with an apostrophe, and the two words shoved together. Similarly, "he'll" is short for "he will", with the "wi" having been excised, along with the space. "They've" is, of course, short for "they have", with the space and the "ha" having been excised. In no case of which I can think offhand is the apostrophe ever placed anywhere other than where the excised letters and/or spaces were. If we want to contract "you all" into "y'all", then, the obvious way to do it is to replace the "ou" and the space with an apostrophe, leaving us with "y[ou ]'all".

Now comes my little sister claiming that it is generally accepted in "the south" -- wherever that is; evidently someplace lacking in linguistic rigor -- to put the apostrophe in "y'all" between the a and the first l. This would make sense only if we'd begun with the word "ya", which we obviously didn't. (Also note that, even in this hypothetical scenario, it would be no less proper to contract "ya all" into "y'all" than it would be to contract it into "ya'll". Arguably it would even be clearer -- that is, cause less informational loss from the original wording to the resulting contraction -- since "ya'll" could be short for "ya shall" or "ya will", but "y'all" has no other obvious potential expansions -- none, that is, besides "you all", which means the same thing anyway.) So, while her assertion may be correct, it is (presuming that it is indeed correct) only evidence of ignorance.

When confronted with the above logic, she raises the further protest that, even though the logic is flawless, it is immaterial; that English is a language where accuracy is determined by acclamation of general usage rather than any transcendent rules which must be obeyed (my paraphrase of her comments). Far be it from me to deny that languages, our own included, do change over time, or to attempt to idolize any given language at any given time (though I do reserve the right to enjoy/prefer, and expound upon my enjoyment of and/or preference for, a given language at a given time for a given purpose), or even to claim that one linguistic rule must be found right and another conflicting rule wrong. We are free to choose our linguistic rules, and the process will necessarily involve, it seems to me, some chaos from time to time. However, I do insist that there are correct and incorrect deployments of the rules, and there are correct and incorrect spellings of words (some words have multiple spellings which are accepted as correct; these are the unavoidable semantic doings of the swirls of chaos, and, provided neither is in outright violation of any rule, I do not protest their existence, though, again, I do reserve the right to express and defend a personal preference).

"Y'all" is a correct deployment of the rules of English, while "ya'll" is not. There is no advantage to "ya'll" vs. "y'all", while there is a disadvantage. Therefore, "y'all" -- not "ya'll" -- is the correct spelling. Q.E.D.

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