Early Modern English grammar: Change
Main sources and/or further reading
Lass, Roger. “Phonology and morphology.” Volume III of The
Cambridge History of the English Language. 1999.
Adamson, Sylvia. “Understanding Shakespeare’s grammar: studies in small words.” Reading Shakespeare’s
dramatic language: a guide. Ed. Sylvia Adamson, Lynette Hunter, Lynne Magnusson, Ann Thompson and Katie Wales. London: Arden, 2001.
Adamson, Sylvia. “Animacy, animism and ‘natural’ language.” Paper presented at LMEC, 30 August 2001.
Blake, N.F.. A grammar of Shakespeare’s language. London: Palgrave, 2002.
Hope, Jonathan. Shakespeare’s grammar. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2003.
Barber, Charles. Early modern English. London: Andre Deutsch, 1976.
Beal, Joan. English in modern times 1700-1945. London: Arnold, 2004.
Görlach, Manfred. Introduction to early modern English. Cambridge University Press. 1991.
Nevalainen, Terttu and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg. Historical sociolinguistics: language change in Tudor
and Stuart England. London: Longman, 2003.
“Our period inherits an already degraded morphology, and most of the later developments involve further simplification and reduction. …
…There is a continuing decrease in morphological expressiveness; the locus for grammatical information becomes syntax rather than word-form …”
Continued generalization of productive morphemes, e.g.
· noun plural –s
o native words from other classes, e.g. shoen ‘shoes’ (mad Ophelia), eyne ‘eyes’ (verse)
o loanwords, e.g. Gk->Lat heros ‘hero’
· possessive –s
o from OE –es in strong M and N nouns
o not from reduction of his to is to s, despite widespread C16th /17th “the King his foole” (and Juno hir bed &c.)
· weak verbs
o former strong verbs: “Three times today I holpe him to his horse”; “by strong hand wrokne” ‘wreaked’
o loanwords: Lat. aestimare ‘estimate’ conjugated weak
· the odd exception with foreign loanwords, e.g.
o seraphim, antennae
o My bonds in thee are all determinate [‘determined’]
Loss of some forms
· e.g. 2nd person singular pronoun (and verb ending)
§ ME status (more fixed)
§ EmodE attitude (more unstable)
· but cf. PDE dialectal youse, yiz, y’all, you(se) guys
Pronoun case levelling continues in a small way
· object you replaces subject ye
· in Quaker usage, object form thee replaces subject form thou
o “associated with the general trend of the disappearance of case contrast”
And strong verb form levelling too—but “each verb has its own history”
· tendency to level past and participle (like weak verbs)
o e.g. stand, stood, stood
o e.g. hold, held, held
Morphs move down from the north
· verb present 3 sg. –(e)s replaces –(e)th
o variation can be regional, social, stylistic
Deletion of /-*C/ in weak position
· plural –es becomes -s
· possessive –es becomes –s
· verbal –(e)s becomes –s
o except after sibilants: churches, lurches
Variation between synthetic and (newer) analytic strategies, e.g.
· noun ‘possession’: ‘s vs of (pretentious in C16th?)
o more likely with higher animates & subjective function: the boy’s arrival
§ Syracusa’s sack ‘the sack of Syracuse’
o John’s painting vs the painting of John
· adjective comparison: -er/-est vs more and most
o nothing certainer
· inflected subjunctive vs other strategies
o inflection: If it be th’affliction of his loue, or no
o subordination (if it is…)
o modal periphrasis (if it could be …)
o word order: had it been …
Continuing proliferation of phrases
· multi-word prepositions and conjunctions
o “They called us, for our fierceness, English dogges”
o “Let’s assist them, for our case is as theirs”
· noun adjuncts:
o Hackney coach
o MAD COW FEED SCARE
§ but Cook: village of the natives
· ‘group-verbs’, ‘multi-word lexical item with verbal function’ (Denison/Beal)
o Wise up!
o Don’t mess it up!
o Deal with it!
o You can’t get away with this!
· verb phrases indicating ‘aspect’
§ That thus he suffers for ‘that he is suffering for’
§ What do you read my Lord? ‘are you reading’
o progressive passive:
§ the grammar is printing ‘is being printed’
§ Now showing at a theatre near you!
§ early occurrence in Southey’s private letter of 1795 describing dental pain: like a fellow whose uttermost upper grinder is being torn out by the roots
· auxiliary DO
o in negation, questions
§ analogy with modal constructions?
· Will/did he receive you well?
· I won’t/didn’t make my bed.
o for emphasis:
§ I do believe in fairies, I do, I do!
o now obsolete: unemphatic
§ “What we do determine, oft we break”
o ‘Grammaticalization’ of modal verbs: from ‘lexical’ to ‘attitudinal’
§ lexical: e.g. OE willan ‘to want’
§ attitudinal: e.g. “That will be the doctor”
1. tension in EmodE between the two (Hamlet ex in class)
Lots of variation generally (from PDE perspective!)
· e.g. strong verb forms OE wrītan, wrāt, writon, gewriten
o I wrote, I writ
o I have written, I have writ, I have wrote
· e.g. adverbs without and with –ly
o “She will speake most bitterly and strange”
o “Excellent, excellent well”
o “to knocke you indifferently well”
· e.g. emphatic/redundant negation
o “This was no Damosell neyther”
· e.g. emphatic/redundant comparison of adjectives
o “This was the most unkindest cut of all”
· ‘codification’ of English grammar began later
· ‘control’ of variation in the C18th: stay tuned …
Are there any patterns? Adamson has synthesized some of the changes
· development of possessive its (OE his)
o connected with rise of biological gender
· specialization of other pronouns
o newer relatives: who vs which
· “the senseless windes … who in contempt shalle hisse at thee again”
· “John Mortimer, which now is dead, …”
o interrogative: who vs what
· decline of certain impersonals: it dislikes me -> I dislike it, it yerns me not
· specialization of prepositions by and with
o ‘He was torne to pieces with a Beare”
o “I saw him put down the other day, with an ordinary foole