Early Modern English grammar: morphology & morphological change

Main source Campbell's book on historical linguistics.


Sorry that I didn’t budget time well enough to have delivered this in person.

I hope that the conversion to html won’t have killed the hierarchy of points!


Several purposes

·         to sketch a few facts about EModE morphology (but you will all be reading Crystal and Millward)

·         to draw your attention to some resources (in ascending order of horror)

·         Crystal

·         Millward

·         books on early modern English by Charles Barber, Manfred Gorlach

·         the Cambridge History of the English Language volumes (particularly recommended!)

·         for the obsessive: abstracts of articles found in the e-index “Linguistics & Language Behavior”

·         to outline a common process of morphological change: analogical change

·         will do this simultaneously

·         to get you thinking about linguistic variation. If variants survive EModE, are they like:

·         “They’ve got(ten) more interested now that she’s finished with spelling.” (UK/US)

·         “graven images” (archaic, adjectival)


Distinguish “descriptive” and “prescriptive” grammar

·         prescriptive (Crystal 366): subjective evaluation of one variety of a language as better and more correct than another

·        the “better” variety is usually the formal, written variety presented in dictionaries, grammars

·        prescriptivism at least partly responsible for eliminating variant forms of, e.g., strong verbs

·        strong verbs (have vowel alternation), ex:

·        steal; past tense I stole; past participle: I have stolen (the –en is historical)

·        in EModE different forms could coexist, but the nonhistorical ones were eventually branded as incorrect

·        Cap’n Cook, late 1760s: “to be stole”, “have been drove”; his editor substituted the correct forms “stolen” and “driven”

·         descriptive (Crystal 366): objective, systematic description of “the patterns of usage which are found in all varieties of the language, whether they are socially prestigious or not”

·         ask if anybody’s aware of consistently using grammar that they know is technically incorrect, and when they do!

·         really common example: “I’m laying on the bed” (lay should have a direct object; it’s the “transitive” form)

·         lexicographers now use corpora when compiling dictionaries

·         if lots of people spell <judgement> with two <e>s or use flaunt to mean “flout”, should those forms go in the dictionary?


Division of “grammar”

·         morphology (word form: noun plural –s, verb past tense –ed)

·         syntax (word arrangement, order: use of do in questions)

·         not for a while


Morphology of English a fairly short subject

·         relatively few inflections


PRONOUNS have more forms

·         number: big thing in EModE: implications of the eventual loss of thou

·         OE second person singular form

·         how does PDE cope with not distinguishing number in the second person?

·         gender: which “person” distinguishes gender? 3rd

·         are there any EModE 3sg forms that cause ambiguities?

·         case: pronouns change shape to distinguish subject and object

·         professor, but she/her

·         are there any EModE changes that level or extend case distinctions?


·         NOUNS

·         some minor plural paradigms

·         loanwords like cactus, -i

·         to what extent are these productive?! Ask Zach!

·         native: ox, goose, sheep

·         healthy enough that the loanword moose entered the sheep class. Perceived analogy:

·         similar meaning: denoted an animal

·         not dissimilar sounds: long vowel

·         most nouns mark plural, possession with –s

·         apostrophe can be discussed in the context of disambiguiation

·         it’s the “productive” plural marker

·         some words ending in –s have had that –s removed to form new singulars: loanwords sherry, cherry, native word pea

·         specific kind of analogical change: a kind of folk etymology called back formation

·         people assume that a word has a morphological composition that it didn’t originally have (root + affix, usually) and remove that affix, creating a new word: back formation

·         e.g., the assumed model was the class of regular plural nouns ending in -s

·         another model is agent nouns in ­-er

·         -er usually added to verbs to form an agent noun

·         sometimes removed from nouns to form new verbs

·         letch from lecher


·         ADJECTIVES can mark comparative and superlative in two ways

·         “periphrastic” strategy with more, most appeared in ME: most wonderful!

·         variation in EModE: Millward’s exx are Shakespeare’s more bold and violentest

·         inflections -er and –est native to OE: exx monosyllables older, oldest

·         historically the inflections had caused mutation of the vowel before them (o to e from old to eldest)

·         survives in a very few relics: elder, eldest

·         restricted in meaning

·         mostly subjected to levelling, analogical: forms reduced

·         OE lang, leng-: from 2 to 1 -> long, longer, longest

·         prompt them to cough up length and strength


·         VERBS

·         lexical verbs mark present 3 sg with –s

·         I’m distinguishing these from modals (He will)

·         OE marked it with –th

·         Sidney’s poem “The nightingale” has convenient variation!

·         originally regional: -s from the north

·         by C16th, formality: prose, biblical stuff

·         by C16th, lexical: -th hangs on longer with common verbs doth, hath

·         phonological: -th hangs on longer with certain base-endings (washeth, teacheth)

·         meter: -th gives poets an extra syllable (“Nightingale” set to a song)

·         rhyme: -s rhymes with more things!

·         prompt them to cough up plural nouns

·         regular verbs like help mark past tense with –ed

·         past tense and past participle have the same form

·         past tense:

·         “She bored her students.”

·         past participle: combined with BE to form the passive in:

·         “A tunnel was bored under the English Channel.”

·         irregular verbs include

·         “strong” verbs like speak, spoke, spoken

·         don’t mark past with suffix (vs heard)

·         have vowel alternation (ablaut)


Let’s look at some changes in the English verbs to see how they illustrate processes of analogy

·         main model: “productive” class of regular verbs form past tense with ed

·         “to those that have...”: regular verb class absorbs verbs from other sources

·         tendency for old strong verbs to go weak, with the regular verbs as models

·         levelling: reduces number of forms

help used to be strong (holpen was past participle!)

·         almost always model for loanwords

·         She illustrated the lecture with examples plundered from textbooks.

·         but not all new/irregular verbs become regular

·         EModE: past participle of verbs from Latin ­participle often –ate

·         ...that children be catechised and educate in the knowledge of the grounds thereof (Gorlach 53/40)

·         how the Latin participle in –at- tended to get adapted at first

·         reinforced by native words whose roots ended in a t sometimes don’t have –ed

·         The example was put on the board.

·         They had cast their lot with a loser.

·         the loanword strive came in strong: analogical extension (extends an alternating pattern to new forms that hadn’t undergone the alternation)

·         analogy with model: strong verbs like drive, ride, rise

healthy old class (cf zero plurals like sheep)


·         indeed, strong verbs old but common and not unhealthy!


·         some strong verbs stay strong but get remodelled

·         some strong verbs stay strong but level the number of forms

·         via prescriptivism: EModE I have stole, I have stolen -> PDE I have stolen

·         some regional variation between got and gotten (US has both)

·         got “possess”: I’ve got brains

·         gotten denotes less static concepts: “obtain”, “become”, “move”

·         They’ve gotten a new boat

·         They’s gotten interested recently

·         He’s gotten off the chair

·         sometimes archaic past participle survives as adjective:

·         “graven image”

·         OE stelan, stael, stolen: the past participle vowel eventually moved into the past, so that we now have only two vowels, steal, stole, stolen

·         model?

·         regular verbs have same form in past and past participle

·         so do irregular weak verbs: hear, heard

·         OE specan, spaec, specen “(infinitive, past sg., and past participle of speak” got its o by analogy with a very similar class, identical in infinitive, past, but NOT in the past participle

·         OE stelan, stael, stolen (l or r: bear, tear, etc.)


·         some weak verbs have gone strong: analogy with hardy class of strong verbs

·         formerly weak: dig and stick

·         modelled on strong verbs like drink, sing?

·         why am I giving these ex? (short vowels)

·         but same vowel levelled into both past forms


Review of some terms

·         analogical levelling: reduces alternation within a paradigm

·         help goes weak

·         analogical extension: introduces alternation

·         dig goes strong

·         folk etymology: changing a form on the basis of imagined associations

·         back formation: assuming that a word has a morphological composition that it didn’t originally have, usually a root + affixes, and removing the “affix” to make a new form

·         sherry from sherris