The early Middle English reflexes of Germanic *ik ‘I’: unpacking the changes

Roger Lass, Margaret Laing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The phonological shape of the PDE first-person nominative singular pronoun ‘I’ is assumed to have a simple history. The final consonant of WGmc *ik ‘palatalises’ (i.e. fronts and assibilates), and later drops, yielding [iː], which develops through the Great Vowel Shift into something like [ai]. However, the late Old English and early Middle English evidence indicates that such a simple narrative does not match the attested data. Rather, there are significant temporal, geographical and variational aspects, including complex lexical diffusion. The Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English, Corpus of Tagged of Texts contains 145 texts that include one or more variants of the pronoun ‘I’. Between them, they exemplify an intricate history. In this article we unpack the changes that have brought about the attested complexity. As a basis we use the etymology of this item created for the recently published Corpus of Narrative Etymologies (CoNE), which itself interfaces with its accompanying Corpus of Changes (CC). The history of this small grammatical word ultimately needs to be considered against the wider background of velar palatalisation in general and in relation to the reflexes of other commonly occurring items of a similar structure. But the changes visible in ‘I’ seem not to be fully replicated in any of them, and here we confine ourselves to its particular and apparently unique history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-114
Number of pages21
JournalFolia Linguistica Historica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventEighth International Conference on Middle English (ICOME 8) - University of Murcia, Murcia, Spain
Duration: 2 May 20134 May 2013

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Old English
  • Middle English
  • First person pronoun
  • Palatalisation
  • Lenition
  • Phonology


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