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

The Pre-Verbal I- in Early Middle English: An Analysis of the Formal Parameters of the Prefixed Verbs

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

The Pre-Verbal I- in Early Middle English: An Analysis of the Formal Parameters of the Prefixed Verbs

Article excerpt


In contrast to the majority of works on the pre-verbal i-/y- in Middle English which usually attempt to explain the loss of the prefix, the present study focuses on the formal traits of the prefixed verbs. The intended aim of the study is to ascertain whether in the early Middle English period verbs had to meet any formal criteria for the use of the prefix. The linguistic data collected from seven prose texts composed at the beginning of the thirteenth century in West Midlands show that the morphological status of the EME i- extends beyond that of the preterite participle marker. The morphological dualism of the prefix--often blurred by its opaque semantics--becomes even more evident in a comparative analysis of the verbs taking the pre-verbal ge- in Modern Dutch and German with those preceded by i- in Early Middle English.

1. Introduction

The number of different, sometimes contradictory, statements on the formal circumstances of the use of the pre-verbal i- in Middle English shows that establishing the real morphological status of the prefix on the basis of purely formal traits of the prefixed verbs is problematic. By analysis of the use of the prefix in several selected texts of Early Middle English the current study confronts the traditional view of the prefix as a meaningless marker of the preterite participle with linguistic data in search of any systemic prerequisites within the verb for the use of the prefix. The study is therefore an attempt to ascertain whether purely formal parameters of the verb could motivate the use of the prefix, or whether this type of prefixation was fully independent of the formal factors. (l)

The potential dependence(s) between any of the parameters typical for the verb and the use of the prefix will be formalised according to such criteria as form, paradigmatic membership, mood, tense, etc.

Traditional descriptions of Middle English such as Brunner (1965), or Jordan (1974) usually present the prefix as an important dialectal feature of the South and South-West Midlands. As far as its use is concerned, Mustanoja (1960: 446) designates the prefix as "a sign of the past participle". Similarly Mosse (1952: [section] 95 n. iv) makes mention only of the preterite participle as the sole form that "might be preceded by the pre-verb y-, i-". (2) In their brief profile of Middle English dialects Bloomfield and Newmark (1965: 215) explicitly define the morpheme as "the past participle prefix".

These statements, implying that the use of the prefix was strictly confined to one form, appear to be an overgeneralisation when compared to Visser (1966: [section] 1126), who argues that this particular prefix "cannot be called a marker of the past participle form, since it was also prefixed to infinitives in Old and--under the forms [z.sup.e-], y- and i- --in early Middle English". The paradigmatic distribution of the prefix according to Kuhn and Reidy (1968: 1) includes more than two forms as the prefix precedes various forms.

Discussing the dialectal distribution of the prefix, Brunner (1965: [section]68) also purports that in border areas (it is not stated exactly where) verb forms are found "with both i- and -en", which may be construed as pointing at the ablaut alteration in preterite participles of strong verbs as the paradigmatic determinant of the use of the prefix. (3) Functionally the prefix in Middle English is treated on the same footing as the preterite-participle -(e)n ending not only by Brunner (1965). The loss of the preterite-participle marker -(e)n according to Welna (1996: 2.69. n. 5) was compensated by means of the functionally analogous prefix i-/y-. (4)

That the formal distribution of the prefix within the verbal paradigm also poses a moot point is evident in the statement produced by Wyld (1956: 37), who, in contrast to those mentioned above, points at the preterite as the form with which the prefix is often used in southern Middle English and admits that this preverbal element "indeed may be used before any part of a verb, often with no particular force, though it also has the function of making intransitive verbs transitive" (5) In addition to that, Wyld (1956) speaks about frequent omission of the prefix (probably due to high redundancy), especially in strong verbs. …

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