I’ve always disliked speaking to groups of friends or people in a formal settings because the second person plural pronoun ‘you’ has never felt quite right. This grammatical unease has been a source of discomfort my whole life, but without having an outsiders’ perspective on English grammar, I was never able to quite understand my dissatisfaction with the word ‘you’ when applied to groups.It was not till I took my first Spanish class that I realized the source of my dissatisfaction. Spanish has two pronouns for groups of people: Vosotros and Ustedes. With the first being informal, and the second, formal. Since we don’t have a comparable pronoun in English, the closest term we have is the slang: you-all.
In fact, you-all is so widely used that it is frequently contracted to y’all, and is well known for such famous expressions as “How y’all doin?” or “Where y’all come from?”. When a slang term becomes so popular that it gets its own contraction, this is a strong signal that English speakers are demanding this second person plural pronoun. However, you-all is not the only variation. People also use youz, youz’all, you guys and my favourite: youz all guyz.
But these terms are slang, and not permissible in the English language. However, it’s understandable that these terms have entered popular usage—and this is because they serve a useful function, as they’re linguistic short cuts.
Recently, I’ve become interested in poetry, not so much as an art from, but more as a practice more interested in the effects of words rather than their substantive meaning. While taking a crack at my first poem, I decided that it was a bit lame, and needed some enhancing—so I decided that old English would give it Shakespearian sparkle.
While writing my first poem, I realized that my old English was a bit sketchy, and I wasn’t quite confident that I had correctly deployed thee, thou, thine and ye according to the rules of proper archaic English. Not wishing to offend Elizabethan ears, I decided to look up the rules of old English and while doing so, I realized that the English languages does have a second person plural pronoun: ye, but it has gone out of popular usage. In particular, ye is a way of saying you-all, but it’s more intimate, signifying a highly personalized group address.
I would argue that the introduction of slang versions of the second person plural pronouns must be taken as a sign that English need to reintroduce the second person plural pronoun. Although we have slang terms we may use, we need to think of the possible confusion that may result if we don’t clean up the language. Just think of the chaos that may result from unstandardized core grammar. Imagine if there were five types of I or three variations of she, and on this matter s/he has come into popular usage as a non-gender specific variation of gender-specific pronouns which should probably be it, but which sound strange to the English ear because our language only permits reference to people according to their gender: and thus s/he makes sense but is also a bit strange. And now with the introduction of Ali-G grammar, our pronouns are under attack. For example, Ali-G has been quoted saying “Is you on crack or somethin’?” and “Iz got a terrible DJ’ing injury: I still ain’t got full mobility in me main mixing finger.”
Clearly, the abuse and introduction of the slang pronouns needs to be taken as a sign that you just doesn’t quite do the job. It leaves us unsatisfied to the point where we must rebel from the English language and seek alternative pronouns.
Considering that you-all, y’all, youz, etc…are clearly slang. Considering that these words are shoddy grammatical quick fixes for ye. Considering that ye is officially part of English’s heritage. And considering that people are demanding a second person plural pronoun, we must bring back the ye.
To help facilitate this linguistic revolution, ye may support this cause by doing the following:
Start introducing ‘ye’ into your daily usage. Ye may have to practice till it feels correct. Whenever ye hear yourself thinking ‘youz-all’, try to remember ‘ye’.
Contact all major dictionaries, newspapers and publishers and ask them to prominently feature ‘ye’ in all successive publications.
Lobby your educational ministries to place ‘ye’ back in your national curriculum.
If ye’re a writer, performer, singer, public speaker, introduce ‘ye’ into all public discourse. And in particular, contact Ali-G and ask for his celebrity endorsement on our revolution.
Help undo the introduction of slang second person plural pronouns by adopting the following colloquialisms “How ye doin?” or “Where ye come from?”
Help fix up the Wikipedia ‘ye’ page and promote it wherever possible: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ye_(pronoun)
If ye feel overwhelmed by resistance against ‘ye’, and are feeling demoralized, seek support from friends who speak Latin-based languages, or other languages
that possesses this grammatical feature. They’re likely to understand your frustration and can provide ye with needed support.
As a Briton who has been learning Dutch, I am a big fan of their (informal) second person plural ‘jullie’! For years now I have been frustrated also by the apparent lack of an English second person plural. I even went so far as to praise an American friend for the use in her country by some of the slang word ‘y’all’, because at least it was more concise than saying the more correct ‘you all’. Of course I subconsciously knew already ‘ye’, most clearly in my mind from the hymn ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’, however ‘ye’ did not register in my mind explicitly until I actively looked for ‘second person plural English’ on the internet. After I realised the power of ye I then looked for others who were calling for its resurrection. Now I plan to (at the least) use it contextually in my spoken language, e.g. ‘where ye come from?’. I wish ye all the best in this task, however ye choose to do it, and may ye spread the power!