English is so stripped-down, so shorn of grammatical clues, thingamabobs, and “this end up” arrows, that if you didn’t study Latin, German, or Russian, you’d never realize that English too had a dative case (indirect object) and an accusative case (direct object). To illustrate: in “give [to] the dog his food,” the dog is the indirect object; in “walk the dog,” the dog is the direct object. In German, the language in which I discovered these things, the dative “to the dog” is “dem Hund,” and the accusative dog to be walked is “den Hund.” Once you have grasped this distinction in another language, you can feel it in English even though it’s not marked.
We manage to make our meaning clear by word order, juxtaposition, and context, and the words not fixed in their particular role of the moment by case endings seem freer and more mobile, like Americans. (Chinese, I’m told, has even less grammar and makes no time, case, or number changes in its words at all; they are simply strings of unaltered nouns and uninflected infinitives, modified only by their proximity to each other. Can anyone confirm or correct this? Randy?)
But there is at least one grammatical hole in English that gapes like a missing tooth. You can tell it’s there because people have tried repeatedly to fill it. None of the tries have attained to official status; they’re all dismissed as uneducated or slangy, regional or generational dialect. Nonetheless, we keep using them, like temporary patches grown permanent, because we need to fill the hole.
That hole is the second person plural pronoun.
We’re supposed to say “you” when we mean one person and “you” when we mean a bunch of people, and damn it, that just doesn’t work. So we’ve had:
yous(e) – Brooklyn
y’all – South (“all y’all” for a really large group)
you guys – urban youth (applied to both genders)
Which of these do you think is the best solution? (I think it’s “yous” — which simply pluralizes the pronoun by applying a universal rule. Ironically, this is considered the most “uneducated”-sounding of the three.) Should one of them be made official? Do you have yet another, new candidate for English’s second person plural pronoun? Or must we just keep on scraping by, stumbling into the hole? It’s frustrating not to have a word there!