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Middle English Morphology Nouns

The OE system of noun declension was undergoing a constant process of simplification and unification during the ME period. The process was much more intensive in the north than in the south.

By the end of the ME period gender distinctions were lost nearly everywhere.

The variety of types of declension found in Old English no longer existed. With a few exceptions the nouns had all gone over to the former masculine a-declension. In the south, however, the n-stem declension was retained for a long time, and its endings were even added to some nouns of other stems. Thus the noun child (former s-stem) acquired the plural-form children instead of childre (< OE cildru). There existed also such forms as applen, horsen, scipen (< OE pl. æpla(s), hors, scipu), etc.

Of the OE case-endings only –es of the genitive singular and –as of the nominative and accusative plural (a-stems, masculine) were preserved as productive endings, ME –es [əs].

Instead of the four cases of OE we find only two cases in ME. The endings of the nominative, dative and accusative cases, singular, mostly fell together, and these case forms were fused to represent but one case, which may be called the common case.

The genitive case remained but it was used not so often as in Old English. It gradually narrowed its meaning to that of possession, so that it could already be called the possessive case. But unlike Modern English, the possessive case was not restricted to nouns denoting living beings.

In the plural the ending –es (from OE –as) spread to all cases of most nouns, so that, in fact, there were no case distinctions in the plural.

Here is a sample of the ME dominant type of declension.

  Singular Plural
Common case stōn stōnes
Possessive case stōnes stōnes

A few nouns retained the plural ending –en of the weak declension: oxen, eyen (E. eyes).

Some nouns preserved the uninflected plural forms of the a-stems, neuter gender. E. g. shēp, dēr, hors. (E. sheep, deer, horse).

Several nouns of the root-stems had different vowels in the singular and the plural forms: man – men, fōt – fēt; etc.

With the loss of case infections the role of prepositions grew ever more important. Many prepositional phrases came to denote the same relations that had formerly been expressed by case forms. Some meanings of the preposition of were akin to those of the ME possessive case. E. g. the drogte of March (E. the drought of March). Phrases with the preposition to replaced the dative case in expressing the indirect object. E. g. French of Paris was to hire unknowe. (E. The French of Paris was unknown to her). But the preposition was often not used in positions where it would be used in Modern English. E. g. As it seemed me (E. As it seemed to me.)

Date: 2014-12-22; view: 1536

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