English Language Research Group Seminar
Speaker: Sara Myers (University of Edinburgh)
Topic: The survival of unambiguous Old English adjective case endings in early Middle English texts from the Southwest Midlands
Abstract: This paper focuses on the survival in early Middle English (eME) of the –ne and –es singular adjective forms in texts from a single region. These two forms, from the Old English (OE) strong masculine accusative and strong masculine/neuter genitive, respectively, are the only unambiguous OE adjectival case endings which survive in eME texts. In a corpus of text samples localised to the Southwest Midlands (SWM), the –es form accounts for more than half of all genitive singular adjectives, while –ne accounts for only 10% of all accusative singular adjectives. Analysis of the surviving instances of the two forms indicates that the factor which plays the greatest role in the more robust survival of –es is its use in certain fixed expressions, in which a particular subset of adjectives modify certain head nouns (kinnes and weies). In these fixed expressions, the extent to which the genitive function has been preserved along with the genitive form is debatable.
The study is based on data in the Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English corpus. The analysis is focused on a single region in order to minimise the effect of divergent regional developments. Of the text samples which have been localised to the SWM, there are 27 which have at least one –ne accusative adjective token and at least one –es genitive adjective token. The text samples span a period of approximately 100 years, c.1200–c.1300, and are roughly evenly divided between prose and poetry; the majority are eME compositions rather than eME copies of OE compositions.
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