What a marvel regional speech is, for those who can get into it. People in Greeneville assured me that there are still plenty of folks farther up in the hills, and even there in town, who speak Smoky English. But Southern talk doesn’t have to be as rich as all that to be interesting. In the Sav-a-Lot supermarket one afternoon, I was involved in a four-part conversation, of maybe three seconds’ duration, that illustrated the meanings of “y’all” and “all y’all.”
I was waiting to pay for pimento cheese (something you can’t get in the North) and soda crackers. In line ahead of me a man was just reaching the register with what looked like a week’s groceries for a big family. Behind me were two people holding as few items as I was: a young woman with a ring in her navel and a man wearing a housepaint-spattered T-shirt that said “The Savior: Stronger Than Nails.”
An employee showed up to open a second line. To the three of us holding few items, he said, “Couple y’all come over here.”
Partly out of politeness as to who would go first, and partly by way of time-and-motion assessment, we exchanged entirely sufficient glances and vocables without wasting a single syllable. “Fact ... ,” I said.
“Time he’s ... ,” said the T-shirt man.
“N’ more’n we’ve ... ,” said the pierced woman.
We were all three moving already as the new register man said, “Yeah, all y’all.”
–Me, quoted in The New York Times, November 21st, 2004