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Middle English Graphics and Writing


It is marked by influence of French scribes and new spelling conventions.

· ash (æ), eth (ð), thorn (þ) and yogh (3) are dropped, substituted for a ([a:] or [^]), th [ð] or [θ]), g correspondingly

· French loans "j" , "v" , “q”, “g”, “z”, “k”

· "q" and "z" more widely were used under French influence, "qu" substituted for “kw” (OE cwic, cwen →ME quicke, queen)

· use of o instead of u (come, love) as a way to avoid confusion caused by use of minims (vertical strokes) (OE cumin, lufu)

· c substituted for s as an influence of French loans like cellar, place, which affected the spelling of native words like lice, mice

· k got used before i/e, n (OE cene, cyssan, cneowkeen, kiss, knee), cf. cat, cool, cut, clean

· increased use of digraphs: th for thorn/eth sounds, ou/ow for long u (hour, round); doubling of vowels to indicate length (beet, boot); sh for palatal fricative [∫] (OE scamu shame); ch for palatal affricate [t∫] (OE ceap, cinn→ME cheap, chin); dg for palatal affricate [d3] (OE bricg → ME bridge) (but j in initial position according to French convention, ME just); gh for velar fricative [h] (OE þoht, riht→ME thought, right; wh for hw (voiceless aspirated bilabial fricative) (OE hwæt, hwil →ME what, while); gu for g, in French loans (guard, guile, guide, OE gylt →guilt).

Middle English Morphology

-loss of inflections

-loss of grammatical gender

-two noun cases: possessive and non-possessive

-all adjective inflections are lost, loss of weak/strong distinction

-introduction of Continuous and Perfect aspect; use of analytical way of rendering modality; use of auxiliary verb to form future tense

-relative rigidity of word order, increasing use of prepositions and particles


Middle English Nouns are characterized by the following features:

-Use of suffix -es for genitive singular and all plurals, e.g.

Singular plural

Nominative, Accusative, Dative stōn stōnes

Genitive stōnes stōnes


Nouns ending with –f and –th retained exchanging voiceless for voiced

Sg pl

N līf, path līves, pathes

G līves, pathes līves, pathes


Some nouns having umlaut in N, A, D (pl) were declined due to this scheme:

Sg pl sg pl

N, D, A man men fōt fēt

Gen mannes mennes fōtes fētes


Some neuter nouns retained the form of plurality without any suffixes: thing (things), yēr (years), hors (horses), shēp (sheep), swīn (swine) dēr (deer), as well as some masculine and feminine: winter (winters), mōneth (months), night (nights), though suffix -es gradually passes through this group of words making such forms appear as thinges, yēres, mōnethes.

Some nouns that referred to weak declension group in OE retained –en in plural: oxe –oxen, eye – eyen, brōther – brēthren, doghter – doghtren.

Loss of case inflexion reflected important shifts in language thinking, but the mechanisms of that as well as their connection with social life of the country can’t be described clearly. But it’s obvious that this process was enhanced by the influence of French as already in OF there was a tendency of introducing prepositional constructions instead of case inflexions. O. Jespersen believes that the cause of it lies in the Scandinavian dialects bordering on English in the 9-11 centuries. He is right to have pointed out nouns that sounded similar to those in English:

sunu (E) – sunr (Sc)

wind (E) – windr (Sc)

O. Jespersen supposes that in the process of communication the common root which was clear for both peoples was pronounced the most clearly whereas the flexion hindering mutual understanding was articulated unclearly, which led to reduction. This theory was very popular but seems unconvincing. If the phenomena of this kind had really taken place, they would have remained no less than the feature of the dialects of the frontier district. It is difficult to believe that such border dialectal phenomena could have changed grammatical structure of a certain language.

-Instead of disappeared flective forms there appeared prepositional constructions:

toOEĒode tō his hūse (went to his house): to loses the meaning of “towards” and renders indirect object relations.

ofOE He dyde helm of hafelan (He took the helmet off his head): of loses the meaning of “from, off” acquiring the meaning of the genitive case: ME: the droghte of Marche (the drought of March)

with - OEGefeaht wið ðone (fought with the army): withloses the meaning of “against” and acquires the one of instrument of activity : ME speken with tonge (speak a language)


-greatest inflectional losses: loss of case, gender, and number distinctions.

In weak declension there was lost a typical suffix of the plural –en. Thus the only adjective case inflexion was a weak –e, and a complicated OE paradigm came to such scheme:


Date: 2015-12-11; view: 1311

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Theme 10. Phonetic, morphological and syntax features of Middle English | Strong declension Weak declension
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