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Early Middle English for today

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more on noun paradigms in eME

alternative approaches, speculation and background notes

why OE feminine strong nouns often turn up in eME with final 'e', and other interesting tidbits

Neuter (and masculine) wa-stems and feminine wo-stems

There are several options for adapting OE wa- and wo-stems to eME:

  1. similar alternation to OE: ~e (or no final vowel) in nom/acc sg, ~we dat and ~wes gen/pl in all eME reflexes of these words;
  2. ~e in all cases, in all eME reflexes of these words;
  3. ~we in all cases, in all eME reflexes of these words;
  4. ~we in all cases, in any eME reflex where an example with ~we can be found in nom case in either an East Midland text or ModE, otherwise ~e in all cases;
  5. either ~e or ~we in any case, in any eME reflex of these words (depending on preference of user);
  6. ~we in all cases, in all eME reflexes of these words, where a related (derived) adjective or verb has ~w; examples: y`arwen sarwen
  7. all eME forms have nom/acc sg form baluw, scaduw, sinuw etc, with gen/pl baluwes, scaduwes, sinuwes and dat sg baluwe, scaduwe, sinuwe.
  8. all eME forms have nom/acc sg form balu, scadu, sinu etc, with gen/pl balwes, scadwes, sinwes and dat sg balwe, scadwe, sinwe; in fact - new universal rule: -u is the only unaccented ending which does not become -e.

A further approach, one which combines a few of the approaches above, is as follows: choose the form derived from the OE nominative - the one without w, as the default form, where that form exists in either Orm or PC2 and at least one other eME source. If that isn't the case and ModE has a reflex, the ModE form determines the eME form. If ModE has both forms, the eME form has both forms. Otherwise (i.e. failing all the preceding conditions), the default eME form is without w.

Adopting this approach, bale, mele, smere, sare, bade, sinwe, scade/scadwe, mae_d/mae_dwe and lae_swe would be preferred.

options based on ModE

  1. the reflexes of OE masculine and neuter wa-stems drop <w> (in all cases);
  2. the reflexes of OE feminine wo-stems retain <w> (in all cases);
  3. most reflexes of OE masculine and neuter wa-stems with alternation in vowel length, drop <w> and lengthen the stem vowel (in all cases);
  4. in the reflexes of OE wa-stems, gen, dat and pl assimilate to nom/acc sg;
    in the reflexes of OE wo-stems, nom/acc sg assimilate to gen, dat and pl;
  5. in the reflexes of OE wa- and wo-stems, <-w-> falls from the ending, unless ModE has a reflex with final <-w>;

A consistent approach - one which takes the majority form and applies it universally, would give us cne_, tre_ and strae_ - reflexes of the OE nom/acc sg (without w). In striving for simplicity, on the other hand, we look for forms which any user could produce with only the aid of an OE dictionary, and their own ModE. Where a word has a dual stem in OE, the ModE reflex determines the stem on which the eME form is based. Again, this is the ModE test in action. In this particular case, simplicity is favoured over consistency, giving us cne_, tre_ and straw as the default forms in eME. Note - the genitive and plural for cne_ and tre_ are obtained by simply adding s. The dative form is unchanged from the nominative. strawe nom/acc sg of course, becomes strawe dat and strawes gen/pl.

Nevertheless, cne_ tre_ nom/acc sg with cnewe trewe dat and cnewes trewes gen/pl are acceptable alternatives, since a dual-stem pattern exists for those two words in Orm and at least one other eME source. Equally admissible are strae_ nom/acc/dat and strae_s gen/pl. Ch has both stree and straw nom/acc sg and stres pl.

The following applies to the first group of OE wo-stems only: implement the pattern observed in ModE - the reflexes of masculine and neuter wa-stems and feminine wo-stems, have final -we(s) where ModE has -ow(s), otherwise they have final -e(s)..

Thus bale, mele, smere, sare, bade, sinwe, scadwe, mae_dwe and lae_swe are preferred.

Users are of course welcome to not only vary the stem in the reflexes of the OE feminine wo-stems, but to introduce <-w-> into some or all of the forms of the reflexes of the OE neuter wa-stems, e.g. bale nom balwes pl, sine nom sinwes pl;

Masculine (and neuter) a-stem nouns ending in h

There are several options for adapting OE a-stem nouns ending in h to eME:

  1. no change from OE; i.e. final h is retained in the singular nom/acc and the vowel lengthened (if short), in the plural and oblique cases only; note this would give vowel alternation in eME; e.g. OE mearh me_ares > marh *mae_res;
  2. final h is dropped and the singular vowel is lengthened (if short) in all cases, singular and plural; e.g. *ma_r *ma_res;
  3. final h and short vowel are retained in all cases, singular and plural, but <h> /x/ becomes <g> /G``/ in the plural and oblique cases; e.g. ferh *ferges;
  4. final h is dropped in the plural and oblique cases but the short vowel is retained in all cases, singular and plural; e.g. marh mares;
  5. no. 4 applies (immediately above); however additional eME forms arise where9:
    1. an h-less form is found in both OE (a variant) and either Ch or the OED; e.g. sco_ and sho(o);
    2. a variant form with final -g is found in OE and a form with final -(o)w(e) is found in either Ch or the OED; e.g. fearg and farrow;

Here's option no. 5 above, expanded somewhat: final -h drops, in the plural and oblique cases only, but the short vowel preceding a dropped h does not change. For example: eME walh, marh have the plural forms wales, mares. However, where OE had a variant ending in -g and a corresponding form in -(o)w(e) survives in Ch or is recorded in the OED9, then an alternate eME variant emerges with an -h ending in the singular nom/acc, and -ge(s) in the plural and oblique cases, for example: farh - farges. Note - in eME, <h> /x/ regularly becomes <g> /G``/, between vowels. Finally an h-less (variant) form in both OE and either Ch or the OED produces an h-less form in eME. The plural is formed by simply adding -s, for example: scho_ - scho_s. Where final -h remains in the singular in eME - e.g. walh, the -h drops and -s is added in the plural and possessive forms. Thus we would have scho_ - scho_s and farh - farges alongside selh - seles, ferh - feres, walh - wales and marh - mares.

summary of options based on ModE

  1. the stem vowel is not lengthened when <h> is dropped.
  2. six reflexes of OE masculine a-stem nouns ending in <h>, also drop the <h> in nom/acc sg, and add <e> where a consonant preceded the <h>;
  3. the three remaining reflexes of OE nouns ending in <h>, maintain the <h> in nom/acc sg, and extend it as <g>, to gen, dat and plural;
    or
  4. in most reflexes of OE a-stems, nom/acc sg assimilate to gen, dat and pl;
  5. in the reflexes of OE a-stems, final <h> becomes <e> after a consonant; otherwise, if ModE has a reflex which ends in a vowel, it falls.
    or
  6. final <h> becomes <e> after a consonant;
  7. final <h> remains after a vowel, unless ModE has a reflex which ends in a vowel, in which case, it is dropped;

an approach based on the pattern observed in ME and ModE:

There are two main routes to take then. We could simply work case-by-case, and apply to each word the basic principle for determining the lexicon of eME - that is to adopt the standard OE form, subject to eME sound and spelling changes, and to permit any additional form(s) supported by either Orm or PC2 and at least one other eME source. Or we could take a different perspective, and look for a pattern which could be applied to the whole group, especially a pattern which might reduce the number of irregularities.

A normalised form of any language ought to be about reducing irregularities where appropriate. It ought to strive for maximum consistency. So I think it would be a mistake not to seize the pattern that emerges in the MED's entries for these words, because that pattern, which is outlined in more detail below, brings this group of nouns back into the fold. They emerge, behaving like the vast majority of nouns, so that the user can confidently apply the same basic set of tranformations he or she has already learned, to get their plural, possessive (and dative) forms. This is the ModE test in action, once again.

To form the plural of a noun in eME, we add -es, unless the word ends in -e, in which case, -s is added. There is also the eME rule that final -h /x/ regularly becomes -g- /G``/, before a vowel (i.e. when -e or -es are added, e.g. burh burges). A practical approach then to deriving eME forms from OE nouns ending in -h is this: where OE had variant plural or oblique forms in -g, or a corresponding form in -(o)w(e) survives in Ch or ModE, then an alternate eME variant emerges with an -h ending in the singular nom/acc, and -ge(s) in the plural and oblique cases. Thus we have: farh - farges8, wo_h - wo_ges and slo_h - slo_ges. In all other reflexes of OE nouns which normally dropped final -h in oblique cases and the plural, final -h is also dropped in nom/acc sg, in eME. Thus we have scho_ - scho_s, fe_ - fe_s, sele - seles, fere - feres, wale - wales and mare - mares in eME.

In this group of additional eME forms, there are two main changes from the standard OE forms. These changes are dealt with below:

retention of short vowel before lost final h

An issue which needs to be investigated a little further is the stem vowel in the oblique cases and plural forms when h was dropped, in OE. If short, was it lengthened, as many OE grammars indicate? Bosworth & Toller gives a short vowel in all its examples of oblique cases and plural forms of mearh, wealh, feorh and seolh. And the fact that we have Wales in ModE - a direct descendant of the plural of OE wealh, would suggest that the ea in OE wealas9 was short. *We_alas would give us ModE Weals. Similarly, OE me_aras and se_olas would give ModE *mears and *seels respectively, while OE mearas and seolas would give the expected ModE forms *mares10 and seals11.

It seems that a short stem vowel was not lengthened when final h was lost, where a consonant preceded <h> in OE. So, the appropriate eME plurals are seles, wales, feres and mares.

It's also apparent that final h was not just dropped, but also replaced by e, where a consonant preceded <h> in OE. That would be an appropriate test then for determining the retention of final h in the eME reflexes of OE wa-stems. So that the appropriate eME nom/acc sg forms are sele, wale, fere and mare.

One option for normalisation is to incorporate this pattern into the ModE test. We would start by simply asking - "Is there a ModE reflex without final gh or w?" If so, eME drops h, and if a consonant had preceded the h, e is added. If that is our test, then additional eME nom/acc sg forms are sele, wale, mare, fe_ and sco_ with corresponding gen sg & pl forms seles, wales, mares, fe_s and sco_s.

That approach can be neatly summarised in the following summary and table:

a-stems ending in <h> are dealt with as follows in eME:

  1. final <h> becomes <e> after a consonant, where ModE has a reflex without final <gh>;
  2. final <h> is dropped after a vowel, where ModE has a reflex which ends in a vowel;
  3. a short stem vowel is not lengthened when <h> is dropped, unless the stem vowel came immediately before the <h>.
OE nouns which drop final -h in oblique cases and the plural
OE alt OE PC2/Orm/Ch MED ModE eME
wealh - we_alas we_al, wal-, Walas, Walena, Wala [waelh Lmn] wale Wales (foreigners) wale - wales
mearh - me_aras mear, mearg mare Ch, [meare AW], [mare LH] mere mare - mares mare - mares
seolh - se_olas seol [sele Hav] sele seal - seals sele - seles
feorh - fe_ores gen fe_or, feorg [fere PA] fere [= life/spirit] ferh - ferges
feoh - fe_os fe_o feh Orm, fee Ch fee fee - fees fe_ - fe_s
sc`o_h - sco_s sco_ sho Orm, sho Ch sho shoe - shoes sco_ - sco_s
slo_h - slo_s slo_g, slo_ges slow/slough Ch slough slough - [sloughs] slo_h - slo_ges
wo_h - wo_s wo_g, wo_ges, wo_ge woy`he Orm, woge PC1 wough [= wrong/ depravity] wo_h - wo_ges
fearh - fea_res   [iferhet AW p ptc] farwen inf farrow - [farrows] farh - farges

Miscellaneous notes:

  • more examples of eME nom sg with final -h: Orm woh, OED wough, Lmn waelh;
  • oblique and plural forms with -g-, e.g. wo_ges wo_ge, were found just as often as forms without, e.g. wo_s wo_, in OE; in the MED we find Orm woh woy`he dat, Lmn woh woy`e dat, AW woh wohe dat and PC1 woge dat;
  • it's likely that ModE mare - mares is a reflex of eME marh - mares, both with short vowel; eME mere (from OE miere, meaning mare), would not normally give us the ModE form mare6; eME marh (from OE mearh, meaning horse or steed), would however;
  • ModE farrow is probably a reflex of an OE variant *fearg. The likely development of the final consonant was g(e) (/G``/), then w(e) and finally ow; this would mirror the development of OE mearg to ME mar(o)we and ModE marrow;
  • thus far I haven't found any forms with final -y`h` inOrm;
  • if lOE had walh with corresponding plural *wa_les, this would have reached late ME and ModE as Woals or Woles;
  • Wealemere, Walebroc, Waleie, Walebroc; these are all surname and placename entries in MED dated between 1100 and 1200 AD. which indicate nom sg without h (or posibly gen with short vowel);
  • c1225 Body & S.(2) (Wor F.174) 79/2:  Ic þin wale iwearþ, hu so [þu wol]dest.
  • a1300 Þar þe, child is (Dgb 53) 15:  Þar þe child is kinge and þe cherl is alderman and þe wale [L Exterus] biscop, wa þene lede.
  • a1250(?c1150) Prov.Alf.(Mdst A.13) 253/164:  Nis no wurt woxsen in wude ne in felde þat efre mu3e þe fei3e fere [Trin-C: þe lif; Jes-O: furþ] uphelden.

OE strong feminine nouns

The pattern for strong feminine nouns in OE differed slightly, depending on vowel length. If the noun had a short internal vowel, like scinu, it ened in 'u'. But if the noun had a long internal vowel, like glo_f, it had no final vowel. However, in all the oblique cases (accusative, genitive, dative) in the singular, there was always a final vowel - 'e', whether the noun had a long or short internal vowel.

So the various cases for OE glo_f, in the singular, ran like this:

  • nom. glo_f
  • acc. glo_fe
  • gen. glo_fe
  • dat. glo_fe

It's interesting that many from this group of OE nouns - i.e. strong feminine (o_-stems) with long internal vowel, turned up in Middle and Modern English with a final 'e', in the nominative case. ModE glove is one example. Leave from OE le_af is another.

While this isn't a pattern applied consistently in eME, it's common enough to warrant recognition of the variation with final 'e' as permissible. Some examples in Orm are - lefe (laefe), lare, while, from OE le_af, la_r, hwi_l.

Note - strong masculine and neuter nouns didn't develop this way in eME. Nouns such as sto(o)n in Chaucer and daei in the Peterborough Chronicle, never have a final 'e' in the nominative singular. This is probably because they had no final vowel in the accusative case in OE. Arguably, the accusative is the case in which a noun is most often found, which could well explain the extension of the accusative's final 'e' marker to the nominative, in strong feminine o_-stems in eME.

simplification of noun paradigms OE > eME