English Grammar

The historical development of the English articles. The definite article

The historical development of the English articles. The definite article

The infinitive in Northumbrian often loses its final -n and ends in -a: drinca ‘drink’, sinza ‘sing’. The 1st person singular present indicative ends in -u, -o (for West-Saxon -e): ic drincu ‘I drink’, ic sinzo ‘I sing’. The 2nd person singular present indicative and the 2nd person singular past indicative of weak verbs often ends in -s (for West-Saxon -si): pu drinces ‘thou drinkest’, pu lufodes ‘thou lo-vedst’. This means that the initial consonant of the pronoun ‘pu did not join on to the verb forms. The 3rd person singular present indicative also, often ends in -s: he drinces ‘he drinks’. The plural indicative present often takes the ending -as for West-Saxon -ap: hia drincas ‘they drink’.

The cause of this spread of the -s-ending is not clear. It may have been partly influenced by the form is of the verb wsan.

The 1st participle sometimes has the suffix -ande (for West-Saxon -ende). This is due to Scandinavian influence.

The plural present indicative of the verb wesan is arun (for West-Saxon sind).

Some strong verbs become weak in Northumbrian. Thus class I verbs: stizan ‘ascend’ has stizede; zripan ‘catch’ zripede, hrinan ‘touch’ hrinade; class II verbs: reocan ‘smell’ has reohte, supan ‘taste’ supede; class III: bindan ‘bind’ has binde, drinzan ‘insist’ drinzde, swinzan an ‘swing’ swinzde, war pan ‘throw’ worpade, strxz-dan ‘sow’ strx^de, frejnan ‘ask’ fre^nade; class VI verbs: hebban ‘lift’ has hefde; class VII verbs: slsepan ‘sleep’ has slsepte, ondrsedan ‘dread’ ondnedde, sceadan ‘divide’ sccadade.

All these phenomena show that in Northumbrian a reduction of inflections was taking place in the ОС period already. This was probably partly due to Scandinavian influence.

Attribute and head word.

An attribute usually precedes its head word, e. g. enzlisc zewrit ‘English text’, onzemanz o?urum mistlicum and manizfealdum bis^um ‘among other various and manifold affairs’, hu zes?lizlica tida ‘what happy times’, se foresprecena hunzur ‘the above-mentioned famine’, ealle о?rе bec ‘all other books’, ?fter for?yrnendre tide ‘after the passing time’. However, a numeral attribute may follow its head word, e. g. his suna twezen ‘his two sons’, ?one naman anne ‘the name alone’; also ?a bee ealle ‘all the books’.

An attribute often follows its head word when used in direct address: wine mm ‘my friend’, fre-drihten min ‘my lord’, Beowulf leofa ‘dear Beowulf. An attribute consisting of the pronoun se and an adjective also follows its head word: Sidroc eorl se alda ‘earl Sidroc senior’.

A genitive attribute usually precedes its head word: para cyninza zetruman ‘the kings’ troops’, Nor?manna land ‘the Northmen’s land’, Seaxna peod ‘the Saxons’ people’, monizra manna mod ‘many people’s mood’. But sometimes it comes after its head word: on o?re healfe p?re ea ‘on the oilier side of the river

In studying the declension of substantives in ME, we have to consider the Southern dialects, on the one hand, and the Midland and Northern, on the other.

In the Southern dialects, distinction between genders and between strong and weak declensions was to some extent preserved, but differences between various types of strong declension were obliterated. Later, distinction of genders was weakened in connection with the development of the definite article, which lost its declension altogether.

Parenthesis means that the sound in question could drop. A second form coming after a comma means that alongside of the first form due to phonetic development a second one appeared, due to analogy.

With feminine substantives, weak declension endings (-en, -ene) spread from the weak to other declension types; in the singular the -ii-cnding was dropped, and all eases of the singular number had the endmg -e. The -e was also joined on to substantives with a long root syllable, which had no ending in Hie nominative singular, such as iir ‘honour’, synn ‘sin’. Only a few substantives remain outside this tendency, such as hond ‘hand’, might ‘might’, cow ‘cow’.

As a result of these changes the following system of declension arose:

The -en-ending of the plural was also extended to two neuter substantives which had in OE belonged to the -es-stems, viz., child ‘child’ and el ‘egg’. In OE the nominative plural of these substantives had been cildru and ?zru; now they were changed into children and eiren.

The declension of substantives with a root stem, which had mutation in the dative singular and in the nominative and accusative plural, developed in ME Southern dialects in the following way:

The substantive boc ‘book’ lost its mutated forms: its plural is boken, bakes. The substantive burh ‘borough’ lost mutation in the dative singular and in the nominative and accusative plural. The dative singular form byriz > buri, biri, beri survived only as the second component of compound nouns — names of towns, which originally had the form of the dative case, such as Canterbury <OE Cantwarabyriz, dative of Cantwaraburz; Atter-bury < at p?er byriz ‘at the city’.

Northern and midland dialects.

In Northern and Midland dialects all distinctions between different stems of strong declension and between strong and weak declension, and those between genders disappeared. The genitive singular ending of the ston and dor type substantives spread to all substantives; this also applies to the nominative and accusative ending -es (< OE -as) of the nominative and accusative plural ot the ston type substantives; it also spread to the genitive plural of all substantives.

In 14-century literary English (Chaucer and Gower), developed from Midland dialect, the following declension system is found:

Substantives in -f and -th keep the alternation of voiceless and voiced consonants, e.g. lif ‘life’, gen. sing, lives, plural lives; path ‘path’, gen. sing, pathes [?], plural pathes [?].

Several substantives with a root stem, which had mutation in the nominative and accusative plural, have the following system of declension-

Thus mutation is grammaticalized as a sign of plural number.

Several neuter substantives preserved their nominative accusative plural form without an ending: thing, yer, hors, shep, swin, der. As will be readily seen, some of them are names of animals. Some masculine and feminine substantives also preserved plural forms without ending, e.g. winter, night. Gradually, however, the -es-ending penetrates into these words: thinges, yeres, monthes.

Several substantives which belonged to the weak declension preserve their -n-plural: oxe — oxen; eye, ye — eyen, yen; fo — fon; to — ton. The substantive sceoh ‘shoe’, which had been a strong declension substantive in OE, acquired an -n-plural in ME: sho — shon. The weak en-ending also spread to the substantives brother -brethren, doghter — doghtren, and stister — snstren. Meanings which had been expressed by case endings now devolve to prepositions, in the first place of (for the genitive), to and wip for the dative.

Demonstrative pronoun.

The OE forms of the demonstrative pronoun (or definite article) se, seo were changed into pe, peo on the analogy of the forms derived from the root p-. In Early ME forms like pe, peo, pat functioned both as demonstrative pronoun and as article. Since the 14th century, however, the form pat was only preserved as a demonstrative pronoun form.

Simultaneously, the declension system of the pronoun was undergoing changes. The form pos (from OE pas, nominative and accusative plural of the OE demonstrative pronoun pes) became the plural of pat.

Early ME declension.

However, in the 13th century declension of the definite article tends to disappear. Thus, while we find in Layamon’s Brut (about 1200) phrases like to pan kinge (OE to p?m cyninze), mid pan flode (OE mid p?m flode), the Апогеи Riwle has, alongside of of pen epple (OE of рагт ?pple) mid te word (te assimilated from pe after mid; OE mid р?т worde). Similar changes occur in other case and gender forms. In Late ME the definite article finally becomes invariable.

The other demonstrative pronoun, OE pes, developed in the following way in ME: singular this (from the OE nominative and accusative singular pis), plural thise, these; singular that (from the OE nominative and accusative singular neuter p?t), plural tho, thos

The Adjective.

The declension of adjectives underwent substantial changes in ME. Declension of adjectives had always been determined by agreement with substantives in number, gender and case. In Germanic languages the use of strong and weak adjective declension depended on whether the adjective was preceded by the definite article or a similar word, or not. The disappearance of grammatical gender in ME substantives and the reduction of case endings led to a considerable change in adjective declension, too. Besides, the characteristic weak-declension ending -en was dropped. So the only case ending in adjectives came to be -e, and the highly developed OE paradigm was reduced to the following system:

In the Northern dialects, declension of adjectives was completely lost: the only surviving case ending -e was dropped, and the adjectives became invariable.

In the other dialects adjectives in -e became invariable, such as newe, trewe.

The indefinite article.



Numerals from 1 to 3 are declined.

Numerals from 4 to 19 are usually invariable, if used as attributes to a substantive, but they are declined if used without a substantive. Numerals denoting tens have their genitive in -es or in -a, -ra, their dative in -um.

The word ‘both’ bezen, bu, ba is declined in the same way as twezen, tu, twa.

Numbers consisting of tens and units are denoted in the following way: 22 twa and twentiz, 48 eahta and feowertiz.

The pronoun sum ‘some’ is sometimes used in a meaning close to the articles as in the sentence: wses sum bropor ‘(there) was a (certain) brother’ pa stod him sum топ set purh swefn ‘then (there) stood a (certain) man near him in his dream’.

Mostly, however, a substantive in an indefinite application is not accompanied by any determinative, as in the sentence he was swype spediz man ‘he was a very rich man’.

In a few words the consonant v when followed by another consonant changed into u, as in hafoc, gen. sing, hafces > havkes > haukes and on the analogy of the genitive haukes a new nominative hauk was derived; nafozar > navgar > nauger ‘auger’.

This word eventually lost its initial n- as a result of what is called metanalysis: the phrase a nauger was, as it were, reinterpreted as an auger, with the intial n- of the substantive apprehended as a final n of the indefinite article.

There are more examples of this kind of metanalysis. A substantive might either lose or acquire an initial n-. Thus OE ejete ‘newt’ acquired an initial n- owing to a reinterpretation of an ewte as a newte in ME. The ME substantive ekename ‘additional name’, ‘nickname’ also acquired an initial n-: an ekename > a nekename. The ME substantive naperon (from French naperon), on the other hand, lost its initial n-: a naperon > an apron.

A similar phenomenon is also found in some substantives whose final -s, originally belonging to the stem, was apprehended as a plural ending. Thus, OE ?lmesse ‘alms’ (from Lat. alimosina from Greek eleemosyne ‘pity’) yielded ME alines > MnE alms; ME richesse (from French richesse) yielded MnE riches, apprehended as a plural form; OE byrzels ‘grave’ — ME buriel, MnE burial (it was also influenced by its synonym funeral, of French origin); French cerise, cherise yielded ME and MnE cherry.

In ME an indefinite article arose. As in many other languages, it had its origin in the numeral an ‘one’. First signs of such development were already seen in OE. Then long a in an unstressed position was shortened, and there appeared an unstressed variant an. When the long ”a” changed into long open 9 the numeral became on; the divergence in sound between the stressed and the unstressed form furthered the separation of the article from the numeral.

When on or an was followed by a word beginning with a consonant, the -n was dropped, and there arose the variants o, a. With the numeral, this alternation was later abandoned, and the form ”on” came to be used in all environments. With the indefinite article, the alternation of an and a depending on the initial sound of the following word has been preserved until today.

Now that the word the has its counterpart in the word a(n) it is possible to say that English has an article system represented by two words: a/an and the.

In OE, as we have seen, an article appeared when the meaning of the demonstrative pronoun was weakened. In this way a new grammatical category within the system of substantives came into being: the category of determination, represented by the opposition: article/absence of article.

In ME we see a further development in this field: a second article appears here from the OE numeral an. This development must be interpreted as a split in the category of determination, its marked member now splits into two varieties: the definite represented by the article the (from OE se, with substitution of initial s- by th- influenced by other case forms, which were derived from the root p-in OE already). Thus, the whole system of determination may be represented in the following way: 1st opposition: no article (unmarked) vs. article (marked); 2nd opposition: within the second item of the 1st opposition: definite article the vs. indefinite article a(n). The difference between OE and ME in this respect can well be illustrated by comparing the OE examples given above with the following example from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with the same substantive man:

He was an esy man to yive penaunce ‘He was an easy man to absolve sins’.

Here the indefinite article a was used in a context in which in OE there had been no article at all.

The conclusion, the article a(n) has become a part of the system having the same position as the article the, is confirmed by the fact such sentences as he was easy man have become impossible by Chaucer’s time [1, c.174].

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