Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Origin and Diffusion of English 3SG-S

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Origin and Diffusion of English 3SG-S

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Verbal 3sg -s is generally attributed (in one way or another) to Norsification. Recent accounts fail to motivate both the generalization from 2sg to 2pl in the north and the restriction of-s to irregular monosyllabics in Early Modem English. Generalization from is/was and has to other (irregular) monosyllabics of high frequency is confirmed by the distribution in Ogura and Wang (1996). That there was no direct link to Nordic is clear from the general absence in the early period of 3sg -s on verbs borrowed from or influenced by Old Norse.

1. Scandinavian hypotheses

Verbal 3sg -s is generally attributed (in one way or another) to Scandinavianization. Recent accounts fail to motivate both the generalization from 2sg to 2pl in the north and the restriction of -s to irregular monosyllabics in (southern) Early Modem English.

There have been no fewer than three different ideas of the way in which -s is the result of Scandinavian influence. The first hypothesis is that the identity of the second and third person singular in Old Norse prompted the same identity in northern English, with -s directly borrowed from Norse. Keller (1925) dates the Scandinavian change of -s/-z to -r in 10th c. (1), Thus, OIce. em, ert, er ('am, are, is') at the time of the settlements was em, es, es. (2)

Keller cites barutz 'he breaks/you break' on the Bjorketorp stone (600-800) as evidence of the identity of 2/3sg during the viking period (cf Kisbye 1982: 81). This 2/3sg identity is ostensibly mirrored in the Lindisfarne and Rushworth Gospel glosses (10th c.), where 2sg -s variably occurs in 3sg; cf (Lindisf.) loseo/loses 'loses' (Mt. 10.39); cymeo 'comes' (Matt. 24: 50) beside cymes (Matt. 24: 46); lufao 'loves' (Matt. 6: 24) beside lufas (Matt. 10: 37); etc. (Berndt 1956: 106, 209; Brunner 1965: 271-273). The supposed reflex of this situation is generalization of is through the entire singular (is I, etc.) in the focal area (Kolb 1965: 139-141).

The second Scandinavian hypothesis takes English 3sg -s from the reflexive-medio-passive -sk. This hypothesis can be disposed of quickly. For one thing, -sc was consistently written in Norse manuscripts until mid 13th c. (Ottosson 1992: 57-59, 117-119). Moreover, -sk is directly represented in several English words, e.g., bask < OIce. baoask 'to bathe (oneself)' (de Vries 1977: 22; Kisbye 1982: 80; cf Hansen 1984: 62). Note also the Anglicized form of OIce. bu-a-sk 'to prepare oneself; get ready' in ME busken 'prepare; get ready; array; go' (Moskowich-Spiegel Fandino 1993: 512-515; de Vries 1977: 63), preserved in northern busk 'make ready' (Thorson 1936: 22).

The general idea of the third of the main Scandinavian hypotheses is that -s was a phonetic adaptation of -p under Nordic influence. Kroch, Taylor and Ringe (2000: 379) see the imposition of less marked -s for more marked -p as a result of imperfect learning of English among the Scandinavians of the Danelaw. They acknowledge that Old Norse had /p/. but argue that (1) replacement of a marked by an unmarked segment is frequent in adult language acquisition; (2) Norse had /o/ except word-internally while English had /o/ only word-internally; (3) in Norse, /s/ but not /p/ could occur in final position; and (4) verbal endings in Old English were weakly articulated and prone to misperception. This last point is especially misleading because the third person ending, as van Gelderen (2000b) shows, was very strong in earlier English, and even allowed for prodrop, in contrast to the first and second person endings which were prone to reduction since Old English and rarely allowed pro-drop. It is likely this very streng th of the third person that enabled -p to resist for so long a time against innovated -s.

Moreover, the Kroch, Taylor and Ringe view is a relatively minor variation on Jespersen's speculation that "-s was ... substituted for -p because it was more easily articulated" (Jespersen 1942: 18). …

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