A Brief History of “Yinz”

Daevan Mangalmurti, Writer

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In the nineteenth century, as the United States emerged from the wreckage of the Civil War, masses of Scots-Irish and Irish people began to immigrate to the industrializing nation. Among their gifts to America were Andrew Carnegie, McDonalds, and John F. Kennedy. But most importantly for Pittsburgh, they gave us yinz.

 

Yinz, along with words like y’all, youse, and yunz, evolved as Irish speakers switched from their native tongue to English. As they transitioned, they were confronted with a problem. English is a peculiar language in that it has no plural second-person pronoun. While hearing that term may make you want to stop reading immediately, bear with me. Plural second-person pronouns are what you use to refer to multiple people when you are talking to them. In Spanish, you would use vosotros or ustedes, while in French it would be vous. Irish is a language with a plural second-person pronoun. Transitioning Irish speakers, who could be uncomfortable with using you as a plural second-person pronoun, looked for an alternative. As a result various regionalisms emerged, like youse in New York and y’all in the American South. In western Pennsylvania, the best known of these variations is yinz, which has become a point of pride for Pittsburghers. However, yinz is just one part of a family of dialectical plural second-person pronouns, so I’ve created a chart showing the evolution of the word and its relations (pictured below).

 

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A Brief History of “Yinz”