simplification of noun paradigms in eME
Comparing Early Middle English (eME) to Old English (OE), we note these key changes to noun paradigms:
complete by 1150
- the OE declensions are reduced to one, based on the masculine a-stems;
- the plural ending for all cases is -es;
- in addition to the irregular plurals which have survived to ModE, there are a handful of nouns with plural ending in -en and a slightly larger group with no plural ending;
- the nominative singular of strong feminine nouns generally gains a final e in eME.
- all reflexes of OE nouns ending in <g>, have <h> as the final consonant in the nominative singular;
underway in eME
- the dative singular case is no longer indicated;
- there is no stem alternation; the <w> of OE wa- and wo_-stems and the final <h> of certain OE a-stems, is either dropped or extended, throughout the paradigm;
- the small group of unmarked genitives acquire the characteristic -es ending;
Note: unless specified otherwise, eME denotes the normalised early East Midland used in this site.
core vs optional grammar
The changes to noun paradigms which were complete by 1150 pass to both the core grammar and the optional grammar of eME. Changes to noun paradigms which were underway in early Middle English pass to the core grammar but not to the optional grammar. For a detailed discussion, see Normalisation 3: grammar.
The core grammar, which has fewer anomalies and exceptions, is aimed at the beginner. This is the grammar that appears in Audrey and the attercop, book 1 of Englisc buten taeres (the first 800 words). The optional grammar, which inherits more of OE's anomalies and exceptions, appears in normalised versions of OE and ME texts, and in the weblog of this site.
"the modern paradigm"
As Henry Alexander remarked in 'The Story of Our Language' (p.90): "Of the many types of nouns in OE, very few are left in ME, and in those that surive the number of forms is scarcely greater than today." Burrow and Turville-Petre in 'A Book of Middle English' (p.23) point out that "this diversity of forms was simplified from an early date in northern and eastern parts of the country. In the mid-twelfth century, The Peterborough Chronicle has what is essentially the modern paradigm":
|dat.||tun or tune|
"After prepositions the noun in the singular sometimes has the dative -e, but is as often uninflected" (my emphasis).
All OE noun declensions have fused into one. This single essentially modern paradigm applies to the vast majority of nouns in eME, regardless of OE provenance.
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The irregular plurals used in this site are those found in East Midland texts1 - the Peterborough Chronicle (PC2), Ormulum Homily (Orm), Cloud Of Unknowing (Clo), Sir Orfeo (SO), Chaucer2 (Ch), as well as ModE.
ModE has a small number of irregular plurals which aren't formed by adding -(e)s: mice, lice, geese, feet, teeth, men, oxen, children, brethren, sheep, deer.
eME has these same irregular plurals, as well as a few more, which are highlighted in the table below. There are four types of irregular plurals in eME, the first three of which are still found in ModE:
- plurals with internal vowel change;
- plurals in -(e)n;
- no plural ending (i.e. unchanged);
- plurals in -re;
|1. plurals with internal vowel change|
|fe__t||fe_t||fet PC2, feet Ch||feet|
|men||menn||men PC2/Ch (mennes Ch)||men|
|wi__fmen||wi_fmenn||wimmen PC2 (wommennes Ch)||women|
|2. plurals in -(e)n|
|e__gen||eagan||ey%h`ne Orm pl.dat., (e)yen Ch||eyes|
|halgen||halgan||hally%h`enn Orm, halechen PC2||hallows|
|wa__wen (optional)||wa_wan||wawenn Orm||miseries|
|3. no plural ending (i.e. unchanged)|
|sce__p||sce_ap (e_)||sheep Ch||sheep|
|naet||ne_at||neet Ch, neat OED||= beasts, oxen|
|winter/wintre||winter||wintre PC2, winter Ch||winters/years|
|~nes(se) (e.g. kindenes[se])||~nes (e.g. cyndnes)||kindenes Clo||kindnesses|
|4. plurals in -re|
|cildre||cildru||chilldre Orm, children Ch||children|
|plural in -nes|
|le__nes (optional)||le_on6||le(o) le(o)ness Orm, leo(n) Lmn||lions|
- Lmn (a West Midland text) had the irregular plural word - word;
- Chaucer's plural forms in -(e)n are ignored where both OE and ModE have -(e)s, e.g. shoon for eME scho_s (OE sco_s, ModE shoes);
- an alternative form to OE g`efa_ was fah, with plural fa_; Lmn had i-fa, i-fo and fo for ModE foe while Sir Orfeo had fo and Ch had fo(o);
- The eME equivalent of ModE brothers/brethren is an interesting case. OE had two plural forms - an unchanged bro_d`er and less often - bro_d`ra. This should give bro_t`er and brot`re in eME. But Chaucer has brethren (and brethehed for ModE brotherhood). Possibly there were several competing forms in eME - bro_t`er, brot`re(n), bret`re(n).
- in fact most units of measure for time or space were singular in Ch;
- also acc/gen/dat sg; a weak noun borrowed from Latin in which the nominative case is leo and genitive - leonis; an alternative with regular possessive and plural ending -es, is the additional eME form lion, introduced early from Anglo-Norman and found in Lmn, AW, SO and Ch;
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wa- and wo- stems and a- stems ending in <h>
There is no stem alternation in nouns (or adjectives) in the core grammar of eME. The <w> of OE wa- and wo- stems and the final <h> of certain OE a-stems, is either dropped or extended, throughout the paradigm, in all cases. See Normalisation 3: grammar for the application of principles 3 & 4 in general, as well as a summary of their application to the reflexes of wa- and wo- stems and a- stems ending in <h>. A detailed account of the treatment of wa- and wo- stems and a- stems ending in <h> can be found below.
For most of the OE nouns which exhibit stem alternation, a pre-1250 form enables us to level the paradigm. The stem levelling aspect of that pre-1250 form (i.e the insertion or deletion of <w> or <h/g>), is extended to the other forms within the paradigm via principle 3. And the paradigm levelling of the majority of wa- and wo- stems and a- stems ending in <h> can be extended to the remaining few words in those groups, courtesy of principle 4. For those same few words, the ModE test decides the final form - with or without <w> or <h/g>.
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wa- and wo_-stems
Neuter (and masculine) wa-stems
There are two main types of wa-stems in OE. The first group has an ending in -u for nom/acc singular and plural and an ending in -w~ for all other cases. All but one are neuter. Masculine bearu is similar but has the expected nom/acc plural forms (with -w~):
Neuter nouns like melu melwes (meal/flour) include: bealu bealwes (evil), smeoru smeorwes (fat), searu searwes (device) and teoru teorwes (tar). The lone masculine noun of its type is bearu bearwes (grove).
The second group, again mainly neuter nouns, has a dual stem with alternation of vowel length: -e_o (or -e_a) in nom/acc singular and plural, and -eow~ (or -eaw~) in all other cases. Masculine t`e_o(w) is similar but has the expected nom/acc plural forms (with -w~):
Neuter nouns like cne_o(w) cneowes include: hle_o(w) hleowes, tre_o(w) treowes and stre_a(w) streawes. There are very few masculine nouns with possible loss of <w> like t`e_o(w) t`eowes (servant). Clark Hall 4 lists all of these nouns except hle_o with a final <w>. See Wright 5 (pp 176-83 are available in this site at Wright on wa_- and wo_-stems) and Normalisation 3: grammar for more detail.
There are a handful of masculine wa-stems which don't lose final w and don't have alternation of vowel length: de_aw (dew), t`e_aw (custom), be_aw (gadfly) la_re_ow (teacher), la_tte_ow (leader), bri_w (pottage, porridge), g`i_w (griffin, vulture), i_w (yew) and sli_w (tench [fish]). These don't present an issue and pass as expected to eME - daew daewes, t`aew t`aewes, bri__w bri__wes, y%i__w y%i__wes etc.
There are two main types of wo_-stems in OE. The first group has an ending in -u for nom singular and an ending in -w~ for all other cases.
A second group is similar but has a long stem vowel and no final vowel in the nominative singular.
Nouns of the sinu sinwe (sinew) type are: beadu beadwe (battle), and sceadu sceadwe (shade). freatwe (ornaments) and geatwe (armour) have no singular form. gearu (equipment) occurs more often as gearwe (in all cases), in OE texts.
Nouns of the mae_d mae_dwe (meadow) type are: lae_s lae_swe (pasture) and blo_dlae_s ~lae_swe (blood-letting).
There are a handful of feminine wo_-stems which don't lose final w and don't have alternation of vowel length: hre_ow (repentance), sto_w (place) and tre_ow(t`) (faith). These pass to eME as hre__w hre__wes, sto__w sto__wes, tre__wt` tre__wt`es.
reflexes of wa- and wo_-stems in ModE
The reflexes of these nouns in ModE reveal a pattern. This may not be clear at first, since some have <w>, and some don't: meal, bale, smear, tar, knee, lee, tree, straw, sinew, shade/shadow, meadow (mead) arch, (leasow) obs. It is interesting to note however that none of the neuter nouns have retained <w> except straw, while all the surviving feminine nouns have a form with <w>. This is no doubt due to the fact that in OE feminine wo_-stems, only one case - nom sg is without <w>, whereas in OE neuter wa-stems, four cases are without <w> - nom/acc sg & nom/acc pl.
In ModE reflexes of the wo_-stems with alternation of vowel length, only one of the two stems has survived, with two exceptions (see below). Thus we have knee, tree, lee (refuge, shelter) and straw, but not *knew (in the sense of 'knee'), *trew, *lew or *strea.
Just two examples of the stem alternation evident in OE wa- and wo_-stems have survived to ModE - shade/shadow and mead/meadow. Note that there are subtle shades of meaning which distinguish shade from shadow, while mead is rarely used outside of poetry.
development of wa- and wo_-stems in ME
Not surprisingly, Middle English texts have considerable variation, which goes beyond the two doublets of ModE. In fact, all the ME reflexes of the wa- and wo_-stems have forms with and without <w>.
Here is a list of extracts from the MED entries for each of the OE wa- and wo_-stems cited above. East Midland and pre-1250 examples predominate:
- OE bealu bealwes (evil, misfortune) > Ch bale dat, Gow 1393 bale dat bales pl, MED bale; other forms include: bal(e)wes gen and balewen pl gen/dat; pre-1250 inflected forms without <w>: 1250 Wooing Lord bales pl
- OE melu mel(u)wes (meal, flour) > Orm mele acc, Ch mele nom/acc/dat, MED mele; other forms include: mel melu melewe melow(e) meluwe meole, 1300 mele dat, 1425 meles pl; pre-1250 inflected forms without <w>: nil
- OE smeoru smer(u)wes (animal fat, grease lard) > Orm smere acc (Vd Wright p 295 t`urh takes acc), MED smere nom; other forms include: HA 1200 smere (smeru) acc (Vd Wright p 296 wit` takes acc/gen/dat) gen? smerewes gen smerewe (uw) dat, 1211 smereshill, 1325 for t`e smere acc/dat; pre-1250 inflected forms without <w>: 1211 smeres gen
- OE searu searwes (device) - no entries in MED;
- OE teoru teorwes (tar) - HA 1200 tyrwan dat, VH 1225 tirwan, 1296 ter dat, MED ter; pre-1250 inflected forms without <w>: Gen.& Ex. 1250 ter dat
- OE bearu bearwes (grove) > MED berwe (baerwum, barewe, berewe, barou, baruwe); only 1 example of 15 in MED lacks <w>; pre-1250 nom/acc sg forms with <w>: 1197 barewe, 1242 berwe;
- OE cne_o(w) cneowes (knee) > Orm cnewwe dat cnes pl, Lmn cneo nom cneowe dat, AW cneon MED kne_; other forms include: 1225 Horn knes pl, 1300 Hav knes, 1275 cne, 1300 kne; pre-1250 inflected forms without <w>: cnes, knes pl
- OE tre_o(w) treowes (tree) > Orm tre nom/acc/dat treowwess gen tres pl acc/dat trewwess pl dat, Lmn treo nom/acc treouwe dat treowen pl acc treo-wrekes, AW treo dat treoes gen treon pl acc, Owl tro acc/dat? trowe dat tron pl acc, SO tre acc, MED tre_; pre-1250 inflected forms without <w>: Orm tre dat, Orm tres pl dat, AW treo dat treoes gen
- OE hle_o(w) hleowes (shelter, refuge, lee) > AW leohe (leouwe) dat, Gaw 1390 lee dat, MED le_; also: 1325 le; pre-1250 inflected forms without <w>: AW leohe dat
- OE stre_a(w) streawes (straw), (stra_wberig`e alt) > AW strea acc, Ch stree/straw nom/acc stres pl, HA 1200 strewe/streuw acc, VH 1150 streaw, Wint.Ben.Rule 1225 streow, VV 1200 strawe dat, SLeg.Nich. 1300 strawes gen, 1300 Henley Hosebondrie straue dat, 1280/1294 Straumongere, 1284 Strawlove, Gow 1393 stree nom/acc stres pl, Hav 1300 stra, MED strau; pre-1250 nom/acc forms with straw: nil
- OE t`e_o(w) t`ew~es (servant) > Orm t`e(o)ww t`ewwes gen & pl, AW t`eowe nom?, VH t`eowe nom t`eowes pl t`eowen pl acc, BH d`eowae d`eowaes pl, MED theu, NED theow; pre-1250 nom/acc forms with <w>: t`eww, t`eowe
- OE beadu beadwe (battle) - no entries in MED;
- OE sinu sinwe (sinew) > Ch synwes pl, MED sineu; first nom sg form with <w>: 1392/1398 senewe; nom sg with <-u>: 1325 sinu; pre-1250 forms include: HA 1200 sina(n) sinum pl (dat), senwe, Lmn senuwen, AW seonewen pl (dat); later: 1387 senewes, 1425 sinewes pl; note also lOE sinewe dat; cited in MED; pre-1250 nom forms with <w>: nil
- OE sceadu scead(u)we (shade, shadow) > AW schadewe nom sg, Ch s(c)hade shad(e)we nom schadowe dat, MED shade shadwe; also: TH 1200 shadewe nom sg, 1250 Orison Lord schadwe nom sg; 1200 HA sceade dat; names: 1166 Scadewell (nom?), 1221 Scade (nom?); pre-1250 nom sg forms with <w>: schadwe, schadewe, shadewe; pre-1250 inflected forms without <w>: sceade
- OE mae_d f nom mae_d(w)e dat mae_duan/mae_d(w)um pl dat, (mae_dwa m nom, mae_dwe f nom) (meadow) > PC1 maedwe dat, Lmn medewe dat medewen pl acc, Owl mede dat, Ch me(e)de medewe nom, MED me_de me_dwe; other forms include: HA maedun pl dat, 1240 Hardemedwe (name; nom sg?), me_d mead sg me_des me_den me_dwes me_duwen pl; note that both Clark Hall 6 and Bosworth & Toller (B&T) 7 list the nom sg form mae_dwa; B&T also offers the following example under mae_d: xii aecras an westhealfe d`aere strae_te and a_n me_dwa beneot`an d`aem hlit`e (xii acres on the west side of the road, and one meadow beneath the hill); it seems the variant mae_dwa was masculine; pre-1250 nom sg forms with <w>: mae_dwa m sg, Hardemedwe?
- OE lae_s lae_swe (pasture) > Ch le(e)se dat, PC1 laeswe dat, MED lese leswe; other forms include: 1300 lesewe dat? sg, lesow laeswe sg, leses lesen leswes lesewen leswe leswa pl and the names: 1236 Smythesleswe sg?, 1251 Sumerleswe sg?; pre-1250 nom sg forms with <w>: Smythesleswe?
What can we conclude from this? Unfortunately early East Midland (Orm and PC2) examples are scarce. However Ch and Gow (East Midland c 1380) clearly indicate a preference for forms without <w>, even in the plural (and dat sg), in reflexes of neuter wa-stems. Conversely, Ch has nom sg forms with <w> in reflexes of feminine wo_-stems. This is the pattern observed in ModE - neuter wa-stems end up dropping the <w> in the possessive and plural forms while feminine wo_-stems keep the <w> and spread it to the nom sg. But this tendency is evident earlier than Ch. In fact a majority of reflexes of wa- and and wo_-stems show levelling before 1250.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, most reflexes of the wo_-stems with alternation of vowel length, still have doublets, as in OE. The difference is that the old paradigms with stem alternation have been joined by simpler paradigms with a single stem. Plural forms can be found with and without w. So Orm has both tres and trewwess pl and cnes pl, alongside forms that mirror OE. Ch has singular forms stree and straw 12, as well as a plural stres. How best to deal with these duelling paradigms?
Normalising the reflexes of wa- and wo_-stems
The key, particularly in regard to the early stages of learning a language, is to offer the simplest route. This is where principles 3 & 4 come into play. The upshot is that while OE wa- and wo_-stems have a dual stem, their reflexes in the core grammar of eME, have a single stem.
The approach is as follows:
- we start with a noun paradigm that exhibits stem alternation, e.g. bale balwes or scade scadwes;
- in a pre-1250 text we find a form which removes the stem alternation for either the nom sg or gen sg or pl; e.g. balwes pl > bales pl and scade nom sg > scadwe nom sg;
- via principle 3 the stem levelling of one form (e.g. pl) is extended to the remaining form (e.g. gen sg) within the paradigm; so bales pl is extended to bales gen sg;
- courtesy of principle 4, the paradigm levelling of the majority of wa- and wo- stems can be extended to the remaining few words in that group; e.g. the bale bales pattern is extended to mele meles and scadwe scadwes to sinwe sinwes;
Thus we have:
- pre-1250 removal of stem alternation:
- bales, smeres, tere, barwe, tre__s, cne__s, le__, t`ew, scadwe, maedwe, [laeswe?]
- via principle 3 - extend removal of stem alternation throughout paradigm:
- bale bales, smere smeres, tere teres, barwe barwes, tre__ tre__s, cne__ cne__s, le__ le__s, t`ew t`ewes, scadwe scadwes, maedwe maedwes, [laeswe laeswes?]
- via principle 4 - extend pattern of simplified paradigm to entire group:
- mele meles, sinwe sinwes, straw strawes, laeswe laeswes
- special cases - via principle 4 but without ModE reflex:
- sarwe sarwes, badwe badwes
- for the principle 4 group (above), the surviving ModE form decides whether the nom sg stem (without <w>) or the inflected stem (with <w>) is applied throughout the paradigm; see the ModE test for more detail;
- in the absence of an additional eME form and a ModE reflex, the OE inflected stem (with <w>) is applied throughout the paradigm; that is the case for the two "Special cases" above;
- in the case of laeswe, there is doubt about the only example of pre-1250 levelling, which happens to be a name; for that reason the noun is enclosed in square brackets above and shifted to the principle 4 group;
- however, the reflexes of most strong feminine nouns with a long stem vowel have a final <e> in eME nom sg, following the pattern of oblique OE forms, whereas the corresponding OE nom sg ended in a consonant; e.g. glo_f glo_fe > glo__fe glo__fes; on that basis, laeswe as nom sg (along with maedwe) might be justified without explicit pre-1250 support;
- in the reflexes of feminine wo- stems, principle 3 is skipped, since there is only one form which exhibits stem alternation - nom sg; e.g. once scade becomes scadwe via principle 2, the entire paradigm is levelled;
- for cne__, le__ and tre__, the genitive and plural forms are obtained by simply adding s, (while the dative form in optional grammar is unchanged from the nominative);
- straw nom sg becomes strawes gen & pl; since the inflected form is applied across the paradigm, the strae(w) form(s) are ignored in the core grammar; see normalisation 5: issues for further discussion;
- eME optional grammar contains forms derived from the standard OE forms, which display stem alternation, e.g. - cne__ tre__ nom sg with cnewe trewe dat and cnewes trewes gen/pl, strae nom sg with strawe dat and strawes gen/pl, bale nom with balwe dat and balwes gen/pl, sine nom with sinwe dat and sinwes gen/pl etc;
- the MED records only entries with <w> (or <u>) for t`ew (servant);
- with one exception, all of the pre-1250 forms that are deployed under principle 3 above, also happen to be additional eME forms which emerge courtesy of principle 2 of the normalisation of eME; that exception is barwe (grove) which has no modE reflex.
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OE a-stem nouns ending in <h>
For OE masculine (and neuter) a-stem nouns ending in <h>, the rule set down in most grammars regarding the formation of the plural, is that the <h> dropped and the vowel lengthened (if short) before (a)s was added. Hence: fearh - fe_aras (pig), mearh - me_aras (horse), seolh - se_oles (seal), wealh - we_alas (foreigner), sco_h - sco_s (shoe), slo_h - slo_s (mire), wo_h - wo_s (wrong, depravity), eolh - e_oles (elk), sealh - se_ales (willow), healh - he_ales (corner, nook), ealh - e_ales (temple), eoh - e_os (war-horse) and horh - ho_res (phlegm, impurity). Neuter feorh (life, spirit) and feoh4 (money, property) behaved similarly, except that they were unchanged in the plural.
development of a-stems ending in <h> in ME
Here is a list of extracts from the MED entries for each of the OE a-stems cited above. East Midland and pre-1250 examples predominate:
- 1225 Body & Soul wale; ModE Wales; 1114 Walebroc and similar names - Waleie, Wallewurd (+2) all pre-1250; Lmn waelh
- AW meare nom/acc, Owl mere-wode nom sg in compound? (mare-crazy), 1200 LH mare acc/dat?
- 1300 Havelok sele acc, 1293 sele-smer
- 1150 Prov. Alf. fere nom/acc
- Orm feh, Lmn faei/feo acc, 1275 fee acc, 1300 fe acc
- Orm sho acc/dat?, shot`wang acc, 1200 TH sho t`uong acc, 1181 Eueresho & 1185 Schobete
- AW sloh nom, 1128 Slochtre nom, 1273 de la Slough, 1275 atte Slough, Ch slow/slough
- PC1 woge dat, Orm woh nom woy%h`e dat, Lmn woh nom woy`e dat, AW woh nom wohe dat woy`es pl, Owl woy`e, 1200 wohy`e
- 1425 faren pl; MED farwen inf (give birth to piglets, farrow); AW iferhet p ptc, 1340 Ayb yuary%ed p ptc
- 1279 elk, MED elk
- 1128 Dinneshall, 1222 Edenhal, 1250 Crumhale, 1267 Haluchton, 1280 Halghton, 1318 Halgh, Owl hale dat, 1350 hal acc/dat, MED hale corner, nook; corner of land by a stream; Scots/ModE (nth) haugh meadow by a river
- 1189 Saluhale, 1227 Salhho, 1281 Salweton, 1378 salugh, 1377 sallowys, Ch salwes, MED salou(e) willow; ModE sallow European willow
- 1200 HA hories, 1200 horewe dat, 1200 hore dat, Owl hore pl acc, 1300 horwy%, MED hor(e)
- no MED entries or ModE reflexes for *alh/*ale temple, *eh/*e__ war-horse, charger
alt OE forms
- we_al, wal-, Walas, Walena, Wala
- mearg, mear
- feorg, fe_or
- slo_g, slo_ges gen sg
- wo_g, wo_ges gen sg, wo_ge dat sg
- eolc, eolces gen sg
- sealh, sealg, salig, salhas nom pl, saligum dat pl
- horg, horu, hor(e)wes gen sg, hor(e)wum dat pl
pre-1250 & ModE support for dropping of <h/g> in nom sg:
- wale, mare, fere, fe__, sco__
pre-1250 & ModE support for retention of <h/g> (or <c>) in gen sg & pl:
- slo__ges, wo__ges, elkes, salges, [farges]
There are a couple of points to note initially. Firstly, OE itself had variants without <h> in the nominative singular (nom sg), for most of these words. And in at least three cases - slo_h, wo_h and sealh, there were variant oblique forms with <g>. In other words, dropping <h> throughout the paradigm and extending <h/g> throughout the paradigm, predates eME.
Secondly, the MED drops final <h> in the headword of the entries for most of the reflexes of the words listed above, but also cites nom sg examples with final <h> (or <g/y%(h)> or even <k>) for each, as well as oblique forms with <g/y%(h)>.
The early East Midland examples, i.e. those found in Orm and PC2, are somewhat scarce, and inconclusive. Orm has a nom sg with <h> - fehh, a nom sg without <h> - sho, oblique forms with <y%h`> (a reflex of OE medial <g>) - woy%h`e dat, and oblique forms without <h> - fe dat. PC1 has woge dat. Although not early ME, East Midland Ch has fee, mare and sho(o), all <h>-less nom sg. Early West Midland sources - Lmn, AW and Owl have a similar set of forms to Orm.
The ME forms recorded in the MED show two main changes from the standard OE forms. These changes are dealt with below:
retention of short vowel when final <h> was lost
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 8 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 wealas5 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 *mares6 and seals7.
It seems that a short stem vowel was not lengthened when final <h> was lost, where a consonant preceded <h> in OE. However if lengthening did take place, it was short-lived, and had been reversed by the beginning of the 13th century.
final <h> becomes <e>
The MED not only drops final <h> in the headword of the entries for each of the reflexes of the words listed above, but also has final <e>, where a consonant preceded <h> in OE.
This feature isn't exclusive to later ME. It begins early. From Body and Soul, one of The Worcester Fragments, ca 1225, we find: Ic t`in wale iweart`, hu so [t`u wol]dest. From 1300, we we have: T`ar þe child is kinge and t`e cherl is alderman and t`e wale [L Exterus] biscop, wa t`ene lede. And The Proverbs of Alfred ca 1150 gives us: Nis no wurt woxsen in wude ne in felde t`at efre muy`e þe feiy`e fere uphelden.
In short, it seems that final <h> was not just dropped, but also replaced by <e>, where a consonant preceded <h> in OE.
Normalising the reflexes of a-stems with final <h>
The approach is the same as that taken with the wa- and wo_-stems. Principles 3 & 4 are applied, to offer the simplest route for beginners. The upshot is that while OE a-stems with final <h> have a dual stem, their reflexes in the core grammar of eME, have a single stem:
- we start with a noun paradigm that exhibits stem alternation, e.g. wealh we_ales or slo_h slo_s;
- in a pre-1250 text we find a form which removes the stem alternation for either the nom sg or gen sg or pl; e.g. walh nom sg > wale nom sg and slo__s gen sg > slo__ges pl;
- via principle 3 the stem levelling of one form (e.g. gen sg) is extended to the remaining form (e.g. pl) within the paradigm; so slo__ges gen sg is extended to slo__ges pl;
- courtesy of principle 4, the paradigm levelling of the majority of a-stems with final <h> can be extended to the remaining two words in that group; e.g. the wale wales pattern is extended to sele seles and slo__h slo__ges to farh farges;
Thus we have:
- pre-1250 removal of stem alternation:
- wale, mare, fere, fe__, sco__, slo__ges, wo__ges, elkes, salges
- via principle 3 - extend removal of stem alternation throughout paradigm:
- wale wales, mare mares, fere feres, fe__ fe__s, sco__ sco__s, slo__h slo__ges, wo__h wo__ges, elk elkes, salh salges
- via principle 4 - extend pattern of simplified paradigm to entire group of nouns:
- sele seles, halh halges
- special cases - via principle 4 but without ModE reflex:
- farh farges, alh alges, eh eges, horh horges
All of the discussion in this section can be neatly summarised in the following table:
|wealh - we_alas foreigner||we_al, wal-||-||1225 wale||wale||Wales||wale - wales|
|mearh - me_aras||mear||-||AW meare, 1200 mare||mere||mare - mares||mare - mares|
|seolh - se_olas||seol||-||[1300 Hav sele]||sele||seal - seals||sele - seles|
|feorh - fe_ores gen; life, spirit||fe_or||-||1150 PA fere acc||fere||-||fere - feres|
|feoh - fe_os||fe_o||-||Lmn feo/faei acc||fee||fee - fees||fe__ - fe__s|
|sc`o_h - sco_s||sco_||Orm sho||1200 TH sho||sho||shoe - shoes||sco__ - sco__s|
|slo_h - slo_s swamp, mire||slo_ges gen||-||[1275 atte Slough]||slough||slough - sloughs||slo__h - slo__ges|
|wo_h - wo_s wrong, depravity||wo_ges gen, wo_ge dat||Orm woy%h`e dat, PC1 woge dat||Lmn woy`e dat, AW wohe dat, Owl woy`e dat, 1200 wohy`e dat||wough||[OED wough]||wo__h - wo__ges|
|fearh - fe_aras little pig||-||-||[AW iferhet p ptc; given birth to piglets]||[1425 faren pl; piglets/farrows?; farwen inf; give birth to piglets]||[farrow - farrows litter of piglets; give birth to piglets]||farh - farges|
|eolh - e_oles elk||eolc, eolces gen||-||[1279 elk]||elk||elk||elk - elkes|
|sealh - se_ales willow||salhas pl, saligum pl dat||-||[Ch salwes]||salou(e)||sallow European willow||salh - salges|
|healh - he_ales corner, nook; land by a stream||-||-||1250 Crumhale, [1280 Halghton]||hale||haugh meadow by river||halh - halges|
|ealh - e_ales temple||-||-||-||-||-||alh - alges|
|eoh - e_os war-horse, charger||-||-||-||-||-||eh - eges|
|horh - ho_res phlegm, mucus; dirt, impurity||[horwes gen sg]||-||[1200 horewe dat, 1300 horwy`]||hor(e)||-||horh - horges|
- slo__h, wo__h, salh and farh retain (and extend) final <h> for different reasons: slo__h and salh via principle 2 since vestiges of final <h/g> remain in the ModE reflexes (as either <gh> or <w>) and oblique forms with <g> and <y%(h)> are found in pre-1250 sources; wo__h and farh because they qualify via principle 4 but without a clear ModE noun reflex, thus invoking the OE nom sg form (see ModE test);
- halh halges doesn't qualify via principle 2 because the pre-1250 support is for *hale nom sg (see names) while the ModE form haugh supports halh halges;
- in line with the existing eME convention whereby final -h /x/ regularly becomes -g- /G``/ before a vowel (e.g. burh burges), slo__h, wo__h and farh have gen sg & pl forms slo__ges, wo__ges and farges respectively; see also OE slo_ges wo_ges;
- ModE farrow (litter of piglets) may be a reflex of OE fearh, via ME *farowe, *farghe (found only in plural faren); or it may be a nominalisation of farrow (give birth to piglets) from ME farwen (possibly from an unattested OE *fearg(i)an); OE consonant + <g> + vowel routinely becomes ModE <ow>, e.g. folgian > follow; see Normalisation issues for a comparison with mearh;
- OE feoh may not have had a plural; Bosworth & Toller 9 doesn't list a plural form, however the MED gives pl gen fe_ona;
- for wealh we_ales there are several OE examples with a rather than ea - Walas/Walena/Wala; it's not clear whether the <Wal> in the compound names Walebroc, Waleie, Wallewurd is a nom sg form without <h> or a special oblique combining form;
- some dictionaries (e.g. the American Heritage Dictionary) give the etymology of ModE mare as OE miere (mare), influenced by forms of mearh (horse, steed); the MED gives the source of mere (riding horse, steed) as OE me_ares (ea), me_are (ea), etc. (infl. forms of mearh, *merh 'horse') & WS my_re (y), A *me_re (e) 'mare'; it seems more likely that the source of ModE mare is ultimately OE mearh via ME mare, an alternate form listed under mere in the MED;
- in disyllabic words with an open first syllable, the short vowels /a e o/ in the first syllable were lengthened during the first half of the thirteenth century, so cneden > /knE`:d@`n/ > knead, speken > /spE`:k@`n/ > speak and seles > /sE`:l@`s/ > seals;
- were horh and horu two separate words? see Normalisation issues;
- with two exceptions, all of the pre-1250 forms that are deployed under principle 3 above, also happen to be additional eME forms which emerge courtesy of principle 2 of the normalisation of eME; those two exceptions are wo__h wo__ges and fere feres which have no ModE reflex; wough is listed in the OED but the latest entries (also in the MED) date from 1500, which is on the cusp of the ModE era.
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Masculine ja-stems (and other anomalies)
Only OE here herig`es presents variation in the stem. This variation doesn't survive to the ME period. The MED has no entries with <y/y`/g`>. Orm, Lmn and Owl, for example, all have here dat.
The stem alternation in OE haele haelet`- has been ignored, for the simple reason that haelet` is often found in nom sg as well. Lmn has haeled` nom sg. The MED and OED both give heleth.
Unchanged possessives (optional)
One of the optional features of eME grammar is that a few possessives take no <(e)s> ending. These are mainly nouns of relation, descended from OE stems in -r of the minor declension, in which a genitive marker was absent: fader nom/gen and similarly - mo__der, suster, bro__t`er, dohter. An OE feminine ō-stem of the strong declension, in which the genitive marker (along with acc & dat) was a final <e>: sa_wol sa_wle produced sa__wle nom/gen. On the other hand, lafdiy% and herte are descended from OE weak declension nouns, in which the genitive marker (along with acc & dat) was a final <an>: hlae_fdig`e hlae_fdig`an, heorte heortan.
Examples of nouns of relation with no ending for gen sg are: Orm brot`err nom/gen, Ch fader nom/gen, PC1 faeder gen, Orm moderr nom/gen and Ch modir gen. Ch also has modres gen. Other counter-examples prior to 1250 include moderes (Genesis and Exodus 1250) and faderes (Poema Morale 1175).
Examples of possessives without ending from the weak declension group are: Ch ladi lady gen and herte gen. Ch also has hertes gen as does his contemporary Gower. Orm consistently has he(o)rrtess as the genitive.
As for feminine ō-stems, Orm has both sawle gen and sawless gen.
Given that possessive endings in <(e)s> can be found for each of these groups of nouns prior to 1250, unchanged possessives are not a feature of the core eME grammar. See Normalisation: grammar for more on the application of principle 4.
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nominative form of strong feminine nouns gains a final <e> in eME
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 ended 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 not surprising then 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 nom sg. ModE glove is one example. Leave (permission) from OE le_af is another.
Some examples in Orm are lefe (laefe), lare, sawle, while from OE le_af, la_r, sa_wel, hwi_l.
While this isn't a pattern applied consistently in eME, it's common enough to warrant recognition of strong feminine (o_-stems) with long internal vowel as a group to be dealt with under principle 4, and thus to give all eME reflexes a final <e>.
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. The decisive factor is undoubtedly the lack of final vowel in acc sg as well as nom sg in OE masculine a_-stems:
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- c1225 Body & Soul.(2) (Wor F.174) :: The Worcester Fragments, ed. D. Moffat (1987). 62-81.
- a1300 Þar þe child is (Dgb 53) :: M. Förster, Frühmittelenglische Sprichwörter, ESt. 31 (1900). 15.
- a1250 (?c1150) Prov.Alf. (Glb A.19) :: The Proverbs of Alfred, ed. O. Arngart (1955). bottom of even pp. 104-10, bottom of pp. 120, 122, 124, 126-29
- Clark Hall J.R., A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 1960
- Wright, Joseph & Wright, Elizabeth Mary, Old English Grammar, London : H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1914, pp 176-83
- Clark Hall op. cit.
- Bosworth, Joseph. "Mae_d." In An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online, edited by Thomas Northcote Toller, Christ Sean, and Ondřej Tichy. Prague: Faculty of Arts, Charles University, 2014. https://bosworthtoller.com/22023.
- Bosworth op. cit..