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'Yo'! Baltimore Kids Create a Pronoun

A cartoon Baltimore students were given during a study of the use of "yo."
A cartoon Baltimore students were given during a study of the use of "yo."

The word "yo" is not just a greeting or a way to get another's attention anymore. It's being used as a gender-neutral pronoun by middle- and high-school students in Baltimore, Md.

A few years ago, a group of Baltimore teachers in a linguistics class at Johns Hopkins University discovered that many of them had heard the spontaneous use of "yo" in the classroom. Here are some examples:

"Yo handin' out papers." Meaning, she/he, the teacher, is handing out papers.

Another common one: "Peep, yo!" Or, "Look at him/her!"

Then there's "You acting like I said what yo said" and "Yo been runnin' in the halls."

You get the idea.

So Elaine Stotko, professor of the linguistics class, and Margaret Troyer, Stotko's student and Baltimore teacher, did a study on the use of the pronoun and published their findings in American Speech.

In one phase of the data collection, 115 students were given a set of cartoon drawings with characters "made to look like the African American children at the school." The students were asked to fill in the conversation bubble using slang, which was defined as "informal language, the way you talk to your friends, not the way you talk in school."

According to the study, of the 115 students who participated in that phase, 47 used "yo" as an attention-focusing device in one or more of their conversations. Eight out of those students also used "yo" as a third-person pronoun.

Visit our blog to find out how they used the pronoun.

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