Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
This thesis examines the evolution of personal pronouns from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries, with a particular focus upon the southern literary dialects of that era. The baseline text for this analysis is the Anglo-Saxon poem The Dream of the Rood, although Bright's paradigm of Anglo-Saxon pronouns is also employed. The Owl and the Nightingale (circa 1200), The Fox and the Wolf (circa 1275), Piers Plowman (circa 1375), and Parliament of Fowls (circa 1375) are used to illustrate the changes in the forms of the pronouns over four centuries, Chaucer's Parliament serving to represent the emerging London standard. The results of this line-by-line analysis are presented in paradigms supported by narrative commentary which notes significant changes in pronoun forms from text to text.
Texts from the southwestern dialect from 1200 to 1375 were chosen because of the geographic and linguistic correspondence between them and the standard literary dialect of the Anglo-Saxon period, West Saxon. What we see in the analysis of the pronouns from these texts is a continuum of some aspects of the West Saxon dialect: the continual use of the dual case through 1200 (The Owl and the Nightingale), the use of the h- form third person pronouns through 1375 (Parliament of Fowls), and the use of the yogh and the thorn consistently into 1200 (The Owl and the Nightingale), the yogh even being seen in some words as late as Piers Plowman, though intrestingly not in the personal pronouns.
At the same time we are beginning to see variations in the pronoun forms anticipating the London standard. The changes in pronouns serve as a microcosm of the larger changes in the language which eventually result in the formulation of the London standard. While a number of the forms remain fairly constant, changing primarily in terms of simplification of spelling and reductions in the number of forms for a given pronoun, these changes illustrate the evolution of the language toward the London standard.
The changes in pronouns demonstrate the tendency of the language toward simplification. For example, the number of pronoun forms have decreased from fifty-three in Bright's paradigm to some thirty-four used in Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls. Moreover, the dual case still in evidence in The Owl and the Nightingale (circa 1200) has disappeared by Chaucer's time. By the late fourteenth century, the years of Langland and Chaucer, the secon person plural pronouns forms have been reduced to the y- forms (yow). In the same era, the first person nominative pronoun has largely been simplified to I, although Chaucer occasionally uses the southern ich for emphasis or, as in the Reeve's Tale, ik for charactarization (Fisher 964), both exceptions, however, noteworthy in that they represent conscious variations from the standard. This movement toward simplification and reduction of forms indicates the movement toward a standard dialect.
Bennett, Melissa Jill, "An Analysis of Personal Pronouns in Middle English Literary Texts" (1995). Masters Theses. 2125.