August 15th, 2004



A post today in the uw community requested the help of all the readers by saying "I need your guys help".

Now this expression made my linguistic ears perk up. I -- having grown up in the American South -- would have said "y'all's help" or (in a more formal setting) "your help". The problem this querent presents has to do with a car accident, but recalls a frequent further problem of morphological structure -- the productive affix denoting possessive ('s orthographically) and the productive affix denoting plural (s) have the same phonological realization (/ɨz/ or /z/ or /s/, depending on its context). We run into all sorts of orthographic problems with this to begin with on more common nouns: the fox's den, and the foxes' den are both rules that need to be learned separately.

But it struck me as an interesting and challenging problem when combined with English's ugly syncretism with respect to number in the second person, not to mention its non-compositionality when combining the possessive morpheme with pronouns (I/my, we/our, but Bob/Bob's, etc).

How else might we try to do what the uw querent wanted? I can imagine:
  • I need youse guys' help -- New Jersey?
  • I need your guys help -- Washington, apparently
  • I need y'all's help -- the American South?
  • I need all y'all's help -- the American South ?(for some reason this one seems particularly felicitous to me)
  • I need your help -- CNN/NPR standard
Any other suggestions?