Monday, January 02, 2006

Who Dat?

Tonight I did something I haven't done in almost 20 years. I said the word "y'all". It just slipped out.

Since coming home, many people I've met for the first time have asked where I am from. When I tell them I'm from here, they are disbelieving. "You don't sound like you're from HERE."

Overseas, people have often been surprised that I'm American. They say my vowels are soft and rounded, more Canadian. When I tell people where I'm from, the response is often, "You don't sound like you're from THERE."

I remember the last time I ever said "y'all." It was when I was thirteen and visiting with my cousins up north. There was a terrible thunderstorm and in the dark I cried out, "Y'all, it's BAD out there." My cousins thought that was the funniest thing they had ever heard.

My feelings weren't particularly hurt, but I did realize that I didn't like being laughed at because of the way I spoke. From that point on I didn't want to talk funny. I didn't want to sound like I came from a particular place. That was always going to sound funny to someone.

By now, my speech patterns belong to nowhere.

I think tonight's accidental "y'all" was a subconscious claim of belonging. I come from here, not nowhere.

"Where am I from? I'm one of y'all."


Anonymous Natasha said...

I used to use "y'all" for the tourists when I worked as a waitress in New Orleans. I hoped that putting on the act they expected might increase my tips. It seemed to work, but was it really a good thing to be a trained monkey for the tourists? Didn't it perpetuate the myth that all New Orleanians speak a certain way? I have never used the word in my regular life, ever since I tried it as a child and my father told me, "we don't say y'all". In the long run he was right to tell me. I've worked and lived in so many places outside the South and have never had the way I talk get in the way of being taken seriously. To show my allegiance to New Orleans I instead use words like lagniappe and neutral ground liberally. Outsiders are charmed by the words and interested to learn about their history.

January 03, 2006 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Rachel Thompson said...

Funny, I lived in Chalmette till I was 13, and I felt weird talking in a "normal" way, so I made effort to talk like a yat at school and sounded like a midwesterner at home. (My dad's from Missouri, and mom's from Switzerland, so I probably had something of their accents). I don't think y'all is so bad or that it sounds uneducated.At least it's not sexist like "You guys."
But I don't say ya'll anymore unless I'm talking to someone from from back home. I just have to be in the right company.

July 06, 2006 1:12 PM  

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