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Early Middle English for today

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alternative approaches to contracted verbs

speculation and background notes

OE contracted verbs are those strong verbs which once had an <h> in the infinitive form, in Primitive Old English, but which had lost this by the 8th century, the era of our earliest surviving records of the written language. That <h> survived in the 3rd person singular preterite form, right up to Chaucer's time. These "h-less" infinitives can be found in 5 different strong classes as well as 1 weak class:

4 options for dealing with these "h-less" verbs in eME:

The question that needs to be asked at this point is this: "Does any of this complexity or inconsistency disappear in eME? In other words - is a pattern of simplifation evident in the eME sources?"

Before we even look at the eME sources to answer that question, it might be an interesting exercise to speculate on some possible paths of development that these contracted verbs might follow in eME, and then compare the forms that arise form that exercise with real eME forms. Here then are four possible paths of development. Note that in each option we would proceed as we do with any other lexical item - each form within a conjugation would be based on the coresponding standard OE form, but additional eME forms would be permitted, if supported by either Orm or PC2 and at least one other eME source:

  1. no regularisation: no pattern of simplification is evident in eME sources; the eME forms are inherited directly from OE, and thus reflect all inconsistencies and deviations from the common pattern of the class to which the verb belongs;
  2. maximum regularisation with 'h': 'h' has lingered in variant forms, perhaps in certain dialects, often in related adjectives and/or nouns, and in the case of the strong verbs - in the 2nd and 3rd person singular foms; eME forms tend to extend this 'h' by anlaogy, to the remaining present tense forms and the infinitve; vowel differences are also smoothed over; so we adapt all infinitive and present tense forms to the normal pattern of their respective verb classes and restore the pOE <h>;
  3. maximum regularisation with 'g': as above, except that 'h' between vowels regularly becomes 'g' in eME; so, we adapt all infinitive and present tense forms to the normal pattern of their respective verb classes and insert a <g> between vowels, where pOE had <h>;
  4. minimum regularisation: adapt all infinitive and present tense forms to the normal vowel pattern of their respective verb classes, but leave out the pOE <h>.

An illustration of the 4 options, for each class:

Weighing up the options

The bottom line is this - in practice, none of the options above is entirely satisfactory. Options 1 and 4, are preferable since they produce results which are closest to actual eME forms. What is noticeable in the actual eME forms is that a simplification did occur but not quite in the direction indicated by the options above. <h> wasn't reinstated (nor <g> in its place) but there was an assimilation of vowels in the 2nd and 3rd person singular to the vowel of the 1st person singular and the infinitive. This vowel however wasn't necessarily the vowel of the predominant pattern within the class concerned. So for example, Orm has fo_t` where OE had fo_ and fe_ht`, but the option 4 form *fa_t` is not attested.

Once eME spelling is applied to the OE forms in the list above, the strong classes 1 and 7 are the only ones in which there is a clear departure from the normal vowel pattern of that class. With respect to class 1, most secondary eME sources support option 4 wri_en rather than option 1 wre_n. However a strict reading of the principles laid down for extracting eME, would disallow wri_en, since a similar form cannot be found in either Orm or PC2. And for class 7, Option 4 would give fa_n which has little if any support in secondary eME sources. Option 1 fo_n on the other hand, is well supported in eME, Orm included.

On reflection, the best way to proceed, the way which produces the forms most likely to have prevailed in the East Midlands circa 1200, is to adopt a mixed approach which borrows from both Options 1 and 4, as follows:

The benefits of this approach are as follows:

Preferred option

Concluding remarks:

Background notes on fo_n/fangen and ho_n/hangen:

Orm and Lmn have fon while PH3 has foangen and Ch has fonge. Orm has fot` and Owl ifot` pr sg3. The fact that both Piers and Gaw have fangen in the infinitive indicates that this form probably coexisted in the eME period with fo_n and prevailed after 1300.

MED records the following forms: fon (v.) Also i-fon, von; foth, foht`, fet`; ipv. fo, y`efoh; p. feng, fing, fong, fang; ppl. i-)fonge(n, fangen, i-)fon

It's interesting to compare the forms in related languages: O. Sax. fa__han, fangan : Frs. fean, fangen: O. Frs. fa : Dut. vangen, vaau: Ger. fangen, fahen: M. H. Ger. vĂ¡hen: O. H. Ger fa__nan: Goth. fanan : Dan. faa, faae: Swed, fa, fanga: Icel. fa__, fanga : Lat. pangore to fasten

ho_n/hangen forms in our eME sources are: Lmn hon inf heng pt sg3, Orm heng pt sg3, Owl hot` pr sg3, StJ hon inf, SO henge pt sg3, Ch he(e)ng pt sg3

The evidence for fangen and hangen as ME reflexes of the OE infinitives ho_n and fo_n, is strong enough to warrant their inclusion in eME, alongside ho_n and fo_n. However the evidence for present tense forms following the "expanded" pattern - fangen and hangen, is patchy. Ch has hongeth/hangeth, probably influened by the ON hengja, but there are no recorded instances of the present tense forms *fang~e *~est *~et` *~en prior to 1300. On the other hand, contracted present tense forms show up in both Orm - fot` and Owl - ifot`. Consequently, eME presents the contracted forms in bold (i.e. as the pre-eminent or default forms), with the "expanded" forms in brackets.

changes to verb paradigms OE > eME