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I am currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In chapter 6 there is a sentence by Dill. Before leaving, he says

'Yawl write, hear?

What does this sentence mean? Does it mean that they should write letters to each other?

you all should write, hear me?

Or does it mean something else?

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You've got it right.

As you've recognized, this is dialect.

Yawl - this is a less common way of spelling the dialectical y'all, which is used as the second person plural.

Hear - this is a shortened form of the expression you hear, which is used in the same dialect as a rhetorical way of asking for confirmation or assent.

In more standard (but still informal) American English, the same sentence could be phrased: "You guys make sure to write to me, ok?"

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    Would it be fair to say that even "you hear" is a contraction of "did you hear me?"?
    – llama
    Aug 19 at 14:02
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    Note: depending on location, context, and speaker, "y'all" can also be first-person singular. Sometimes one even hears "all y'all' when the speaker wants to emphasize plurality. Aug 19 at 14:47
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    @Tom, maybe you're just remembering Gregory Peck who was always very well-spoken. The book's got a fair amount of this kind of speech. The very first bit of dialog includes things like, "You got anything needs readin’ I can do it...." and "Scout yonder’s been readin’ ever since she was born, and she ain’t even started to school yet. You look right puny for goin’ on seven."
    – Juhasz
    Aug 19 at 22:20
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    @llama, contraction usually only means dropping letters or sounds from words. Probably the more appropriate term would be conversational deletion. But I'd argue that, while "ya hear" probably originated from some variation of "do you hear me," its meaning has shifted away, such that you often cannot replace one phrase with the other. I.e. "Y'all write, do you hear me?" would sound quite strange.
    – Juhasz
    Aug 19 at 22:25
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    @llama: `you hear" is short for "did/do you hear me?", but it's not actually a question, as Juhasz says. I've heard it used enough (on TV, etc., not by people I know in real life) to be pretty sure the actual meaning is more like "make sure you heard / understood the previous". It's like an emphasis that the preceding is true, proclaiming the wisdom / truth of what was just said before it. Aug 20 at 21:16
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To expand very slightly on Juhasz's correct answer (because I don't have enough rep yet to comment):

  • "Yawl" - more colloquial way to spell "y'all", meaning "you all" (which is, in the majority of cases, the second-person plural, although as John Bollinger points out in the comments to Juhasz's answer, it can be second-person singular)
  • "write" - in this context ("Yawl write"), the understood phrasing implies "write" means "should write to me/us" (depending on context)
  • "hear?" - contracted form of "you hear?", itself contracted from "do you hear me?"

Thus I would consider the fully expanded phrase to be something along the lines of "You (all) should write to me, do you hear me?"

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    I've never seen "y'all" written as "yawl", and have to wonder if OP is reading a translation. (But then I just looked at the Internet Archive full text of the book, and there it is, three times; apparently I missed it when skimming through the book instead of reading it. Yet another reason to dislike the book.)
    – RonJohn
    Aug 20 at 6:30
  • Where I grew up, "y'all" rhymed with "hall" for the most part, but in the deeper South, I can imagine it comes out more like "yawl."
    – gmleuty
    Aug 20 at 13:26
  • Rhymed as is having the "h" sound too? (I live in the Deep South, and "y'all" is a homophone of "yawl", and rhymes with ball, call, doll, fall, gall, hall, mall, pall, stall, tall, wall, and yawl.)
    – RonJohn
    Aug 20 at 13:43
  • A fair point. I'm not a linguist, so I don't have the precision of terminology to describe it, but the difference (at least to me) seems to be in the sound of the vowel in "y'all" having (or not having) movement, i.e., where I grew up, "y'all" had a pretty flat sound similar to ⟨ɑ⟩, whereas I imagine a more Southern pronunciation seems to change slightly as the vowel is pronounced, closer to a diphthong. And as you say, that same feature is present in a number of words ending with -ll. As I said, though, I'm not a linguist, so I hope you can understand what I'm trying (and failing) to say.
    – gmleuty
    Aug 20 at 14:05
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    I'm not a linguist either... :D Personally, i usually say "you all", since "y'all" has become such a cliche misused and misspelled by Yankees. Using "y'all" in the singular really irritates me, while it and writing "ya'll" both hurt my grammatical sensibilities...)
    – RonJohn
    Aug 20 at 14:47
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It is a representation of the 2nd person plural pronoun as commonly used in the Southern states of the USA. It is more commonly represented as "Y'all" (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y%27all).

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    This doesn't really address what the phrase means, just one word from it.
    – bobble
    Aug 19 at 4:41
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You find this phrase in other regions of the United States, including the Northern states. The Warner Brothers' cartoon character "Bugs Bunny" was fond of using this phrase, saying "Goodbye, now! Don't forget to write!"

https://www.barbneal.com/the-collection/looney-tunes/bugs-bunny/

(see .mp3 sound clip, about halfway down)

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    Hi and welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. I think you have the beginning of a good answer. If you explained what "Yawl" means and the meaning of the phrase as a whole, that would significantly improve your answer.
    – Tsundoku
    Aug 19 at 14:49
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This is imperative mood, followed by a request for confirmation of understanding.

Other answers say that "Yawl write" means "you should write", but I think that is subtly different.

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