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

Personal Endings of Ablaut Verbs in Early American Writings

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

Personal Endings of Ablaut Verbs in Early American Writings

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The present paper deals with verbal endings in seventeenth and early eighteenth century American English. Since it is a corpus-based study, a collection of early American texts was compiled and afterwards processed manually. The major guidelines adopted in the process of corpus collection are as follows: the chosen texts represent diverse types of formality and different relationships to the spoken medium. In order to facilitate the discussion of the development of the third person indicative present singular verb inflection as well as the subjunctive in the new variety of English, the American findings are related to the contemporary developments recorded in the British corpus tailored as a supplementary collection aiming to parallel the American texts. The following personal endings are touched upon in the present article: second person singular (-st), third person singular (-th, -s, and zero endings), third person plural (zero vs. -s), and, finally, the subjunctive.

**********

1. Periodization

This paper concentrates on verbal endings in seventeenth and early eighteenth century American English. The time span between 1620-1720 has been picked for the purpose of the present analysis, as this century constitutes a perfect period for the linguistic study of the beginnings of American English. Although it is apparent that the foundations of American English (in the present article, the New England-based variety is labeled early American English (1) lie in the British variety of English of the late 1500s and early 1600s, the language, once in America, starting from the third decade of the seventeenth century, can be perceived to have evolved autonomously (Kyto 1991: 3). This period can be further subdivided into three sub-periods in order to trace the diachronic change taking place among the verbal endings. The subdivision is based on a number of external factors. The beginning of the first sub-period, embracing the time span 1620-1650, is set by the arrival of William Bradford and the separatists in Plymouth in 1620. As for the language of the first Colonists, it was British rather than American English. The time limits of the second sub-period (1662-1692) are set by the Synod of 1662, dubbed the "half-way covenant", which, to a certain extent, was the embodiment of the onset of the decline of the Puritan doctrine. The beginnings of the last decade of the seventeenth century witnessed the secularization of life and the disintegration of the old social order (Kyto 1993b: 116). Linguistically, the new generation, born in America, started to shape the new offshoot of English. The last period (1700-1720) bears witness to a feeling of national independence which increased due to further changes in social order, the shifted life-focus from England to America, and, finally, the diminishing importance of the puritan doctrine.

2. Corpus of Early American and British English

The Northern American English section of the Helsinki Corpus is not accessible yet, therefore, the corpus of American texts was compiled for the purpose of this research and afterwards processed manually. Since the study of the language of the Northern Colonies presents a more rewarding starting point for a study of early American English (Kyto 1991:186, Rissanen 1985), (2) the current analysis is focused on writings produced in New England. A number of factors determined the choice of the Northern material. As the Southern colonies maintained closer bonds with their British homeland, one can assume that works written in this region might have been more influenced by British English than the ones written in New England. Furthermore, the advancement of New England at the time (as compared to Virginia) in the matter of education, faster spread of print in the North, and, finally, the mere availability of the New England material justify the choice of the seventeenth and early eighteenth New England idiom as the object of linguistic scrutiny. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.