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

On Some French Elements in Early Middle English Word Derivation

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

On Some French Elements in Early Middle English Word Derivation

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The present paper is a report on an on-going research concerning the productivity of some French suffixes in Early Middle English (1150-1350). The suffixes selected for discussion are: -esse, -age, -crie and -ment. The tools used for analysis are MED online, the Helsinki Corpus and several Early Middle English texts. The addition of the texts has been dictated by the fact that linguistic corpora are by and large inadequate for diachronic word-formation research.

The problem of the productivity of linguistic elements in the distant past has been analysed by a number of linguists and numerous criteria of productivity have been proposed. The treatment of the issue has not been free from controversies. Both Dalton-Puffer (1996) and Miller (1997) propose that French derivational suffixes became productive in Late Middle English. My investigations allow me to conclude that some suffixes must have been productive already in Early Middle English. The number of loanwords with transparent bi-morphemic structure, i.e. analysable French suffixes, seems to be sufficiently large at that time to warrant analysability.

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The present paper concentrates on one of the aspects of word derivation in Early Middle English (1150-1350), i.e. the problem of the productivity of French suffixes found in early loanwords. Four suffixes have been selected for discussion, i.e. -esse, -age, -crie and -ment.

The analysed material comes from MED online, the Helsinki Corpus and the following texts: Exodus and Genesis (EM 1250), Floris and Blancheflur (EM 1300), Havelok the Dane (EM 1300), King Horn (EM 1300), Lazamon's Brut (EM 1300), Of Arthour and Merlin (EM 1330), Guy of Warwick (EM 1330), Sir Orfeo (EM 1330), Sawles warde (WM 1225), Vices and virtues (WM 1225), Ancrene Wisse (WM 1230), Kentish Semons (K 1275), Ayenbit of Inwite (K 1340) and The poems of William of Shoreham (K 1350). The addition of some texts has been dictated by the fact that linguistic corpora are by and large inadequate for diachronic word-formation research (sec Miller's critique of Dalton-Puffer 1996, and Ciszek 2002). In my own research on the distribution of -lich(e) I have discovered for example that there were substantially more occurrences of the -li suffix in the West Midlands in ME1 (1150-1250) than one could find in the Helsinki Corpus because the corpus includes in many cases only portions of texts and not complete texts. It so happened that the last three pages of Sawles warde, which have not been included in the corpus, contain all five occurrences of-li which occurred in the whole text. It is worth pointing out that the whole ME subperiod (1150-1250) contained only 10 occurrences of the suffix.

The problem of the productivity of linguistic elements in the distant past has been analysed by a number of linguists and numerous criteria of productivity have bean proposed (Aronoff 1976; Burgschmidt 1977; Bybee 1985; van Marie 1985). The treatment of the issue has not been free from controversies. Because of lack of space, however, I cannot dwell upon them here. For the discussion of those issues I would like to refer the reader to Dalton-Puffer (1992, 1996: 215-25), Miller (1997: 238-48), and Cowie and Dalton-Puffer (2002). Particularly Miller (1997) and Cowie and Dalton-Puffer (2002) deserve special attention since among other things they approach productivity both as a theoretical primitive and as an operational concept in historical word-formation.

Both Dalton-Puffer and Miller propose that French derivational suffixes become productive in Late Middle English. My investigations allow me to conclude that some suffixes must have been productive already in Early Middle English. The number of loanwords with transparent bi-morphemic structure, i.e. analysable French suffixes, seems to be sufficiently large at that time to warrant analysability. (On transparency and productivity in word-formation see Zbierska-Sawala 1993. …

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