The Transformation of Old, Middle, and Modern English

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Muh. Fathan Zamani
The State Islamic University of Maulana Malik Ibrahim Malang

English has been an unquestionable language since first appearance in ancient time which was known as Old English. It was then transformed as Middle English with new style before being modern English until recent year. One of the slight differences of those patterns is the pronouns. As an English learner it is inadequate to learn modern English only with ignorance of both Old and Middle English. The paper is not created for the purpose of historical learning but rather to explain the process of changes and its relation with the language shift. Introduction

The history of English language falls into three periods; Old English, Anglo-Saxon, commonly known as the period of full 2 inflections. E.g. stān-as, stones; car-u, care; will-a, will; bind-an, to bind; help-að (= ath), they help. It extends from the arrival of the English in Great Britain to about one hundred years after the Norman Conquest,—from A.D. 449 to 1150; but there are no literary remains of the earlier centuries of this period, Middle English; the period of leveled inflections, the dominant vowel of the inflections being e. E.g. ston-es, car-e, will-e, bind-en (or bind-e), help-eth, each being, as in the earlier period, a dissyllable. The Middle English period extends from A.D. 1150 to 1500; Modern English, the period of lost inflections. E.g. stones, care, will, bind, help, each being a monosyllable. Modern English extends from A.D. 1500 to the present time. It has witnessed comparatively few grammatical changes, but the vocabulary of our language has been vastly increased by additions from the classical languages (Smith, 2012). The transformation of full two inflections to lost inflections affects the pronouns. E.g. Ic, mīn, mē (OE of I), ik / ich / I, me, myn (ME), and I, me, my, mine (MOE).

The Pronoun cases in Old, Middle, and Modern English
“One of the most striking distinctions between form classes and structure classes is that form-class words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs) are subject to change in form through the addition of derivational and inflectional morphemes” (Thomas P. Klammer, 2006). It is unquestionably assumed as the basic major problem of English language. The change of pronouns assuredly affects the understanding of both speaker and listener. A pronoun is traditionally defined as a “noun substitute”, but that is not exactly accurate (Klammer, Schulz, & Volpe, 2006). In the old English language, the pronouns used are classified into many classes regarding five cases – nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative – which are commonly known as the basic cases of old English language. The examples are third person singular personal pronoun; nominative héo (she), accusative híe (her/object), genitive hire (her/possessive), and dative hire ((to) her) (McGillivray & McMann, 2012). These pronouns are changed into some simple forms of pronouns in the Middle English language; nominative sche (she), hire/here (her/oblique) and genitive hire/here (her). Here is the table of pronouns:

Old English | Early Middle English | Late Middle English | Early Modern English | ic | ich | I | I |
þu | þou | thou | thou |
he | he | he | he |
heo | he, heo, ha | she | she |
hit | hit | hit | it |
we | we | we | we |
ge | ye, you | ye, you | you, ye |
hi | hi, heo, ha | they | they |

It can be very difficult to distinguish the words for ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘they’ in early Middle English, since they all look pretty much the same. You need to judge by context. The forms for ‘she’ and ‘they’ given above are not a complete list of all the possible variant spellings (Kleinman, 2009). Those forms do not differentiate one another in the Early Middle English as stated above.

Language Shift
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