Question 9 Middle English Characteristics

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Question 9 Middle English Characteristics

Post  Mar1e on Tue Apr 05, 2011 2:13 am

9) Describe the characteristics of Middle English.
Fennell. A. Barbara.(2001) A history of English: A Sociolinguistic Approach. Australia.

The consonants :
• Consonantal changes in the system are slight during this period, a characteristic feature of English. Certain voiced consonants became voiceless and other voiceless consonants became voiced; consonants could occasionally also be lost completely. Thus, /w/ was lost before a following /o/ if it came after another consonant:OE swa>ME so.
• ME lost consonant clusters beginning with /h/, so that hring became ring and hrof became rof. (>roof) Significantly both of these consonants were glides, i.e not obstruent, among which change was limited to the feature of voice.
Consonant changes from Old English to Middle English.
Old English Middle English Meaning
Hlaford lord lord
Hnappian nape nap
Hlaene leane lean
Hnutu nute nut

Vowels in Stressed Syllables
• There was also little changes in the vowels in stressed or accented syllables. Most of the short vowels, unless lengthened, passed unchanged into ME. But short ae was lowered to [a] and “y” was unrounded to “i” ( OE craeft >ME craft) The other vowels a, e, i, o, u remained unchanged, as in OE catte >cat; bedde >bed...

• Amongst the long vowels, the most important change was the raising and rounding of a long a>o: OE ban > ME bon (‘bone’)
Other OE vowels preserved their quality in ME : medu > mede ( ‘mead’); fif >fif (‘five’)

• OE diphthongs were all simplified and all diphthongs of ME are new formations resulting chiefly from the combination of a simple vowel with the following consonant ([j] or [w]), which vocalized.
• OE long vowels were shortened late in the OE period or early in ME followed by a double consonant or by most combinations of consonants EX: ( gretter with a shor “e” developed as the comparative of OE “great”(with long “e”)
• The changes are not noticeable in spelling, but they

Vowels in Unstressed Syllables
• The general obscuring of unstressed syllables in ME is a most significant sound change, since it is one of the fundamental causes of the loss of inflection.
Lengthening and Shortening
• Lengthening of a, e and o took place in open syllables of disyllabic words.
• Open syllables end in a vowel, while closed syllables end in a double consonant. nsonant between the vowels goes with the second syllable leaves th
• Disyllabic words a single co e first syllable open.
• Shortening occurred in Early Middle English in 2 environments:
a) Before double consonants and consonant clusters, except the clusters above that caused lengthening
b) In the first syllable of a trisyllabic word.

The formation of Middle English Diphthongs
• This phenomenon involves changes in the consonants as well, as the glides [w] and [j] and the voiced velar fricative develop into the second member of the new diphthongs.

Loss of Inflections
• By the end of Old English period, unstressed vowels were being reduced to [ e] This change coupled with the reduction of other sounds, caused the loss of grammatical endings in ME.

• NOUNS: Distinctive endings – a-u-e-an-um of OE were reduced to <e>/[ e à l’envers] in ME. In the noun there is one inflectional relic in the singular the genitive –es, while one form serves for all in the plural
• ME sing stone -- ston-es

• ADJ: they lost all distinction between strong and weak declensions, except in monosyllabic adjectives ending in a consonant. E.g., in young vs. Yonge; strong adj. Of this type have yong – Sing yonge – Plur.

Middle English Syntax
• The adj. Was still placed before the noun with single ajd: An erpely servant.
• Some Ajd. Followed nouns, expecially if translated from French to Latin.

• Phrasal modifiers typically followed the words they modified.

EX: the sins that come from gluttony and from lechery.

• Articles developed: a from “one” and pe from the demonstrative. Pe was used for uniqueness (the sun) and definiteness/givenness ( the man I know)

• The –of possessive was an innovation of ME.

EX: according to the laws of our land.

• Group possessives are jus appearing in ME and they are typically made up of possessive + noun+ noun modifier.
EX: Christ, the king’s son of heaven.

• Prepositions occasionally follow objects, especially if the object is a pronoun.
EX: He said to himé.

• There are not so many compound verbs, but they do start appearing in ME. The perfect tense become common in ME with –be and –Have as auxiliaries.

• The verb to be develops as a passive auxiliary; by develops as the agent marker:

EX: (men) that wol nat be governed by hir wyves.

• By ME the modals shall and will are associated with the future, as well as the quasi-modals, be going, be about to.
• Do began “explosive” growth and its use varied dialectally and over time. 4 major functions:
a) As a pro-verb: one that substitutes for a verb in a sentence : He likes appels and I do, too.
b) As a causative in some dialects (e.g. ME make or Have)
c) Periphrastically as an alternative to simple tenses in late ME.
d) In negatives and interrogatives: Father, why do you weep?
Word Order
• Word order patterns become more fixed.
• 1 major exception: pronominal obj. Often preceded the verb.


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