Variation, Contact and Change
Edited By Juan Camilo Conde-Silvestre and Javier Calle-Martín
s-Pluralisation in early Middle English and word frequency: Ryuichi Hotta
Ryuichi HottaChuo University
s-Pluralisation in Early Middle English and word frequency1
In the historical study of English, it is well-known how various nominal plural formations in Old English (hereafter OE) have been historically reduced to effectively the only one, -s. Histories of English (Strang 1970: 259–261, 296–298), Lass (1992: 109–112), and Baugh and Cable (2013: 95; 160), to name a few, mention this historical process only in passing as if the topic had already been discussed enough. They normally describe the growth of s-pluralisation as follows: in OE, the suffix -as, for the majority of strong masculines, was already a dominant nominative/accusative plural marker; in Late Old English and Early Middle English, the suffix grew in productivity, affecting, by analogy, many nouns that historically did not take -as; by Late Middle English, most nouns formed their plural forms with -es with its vowel variable, leaving intact only a small group of high-frequency lexemes, many of which have survived irregular to this day.
Indeed the description above of the general trend of s-pluralisation is well supported by historical evidence and cannot be doubted. It is not equally well understood, however, how individual nouns changed and varied in plural formation in the period when s-pluralisation was growing in productivity. As is the case with many language changes, the generalisation of the s-plural was a process that proceeded gradually over a fairly long span of time. In the long-standing process, individual...
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