LINGUIST List 6.806

Mon 12 Jun 1995

Qs: Swedish list, Eng pronouns, 'English Only' laws

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  1. Adams Bodomo, Swadesh list
  3. , Q: "English Only"

Message 1: Swadesh list

Date: Fri, 9 Jun 1995 15:43:18 -Swadesh list
From: Adams Bodomo <bodomoCsli.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: Swadesh list

Does anyone have a copy of the Swadesh word list at hand ? I should
like to get a copy by email as soon as is practicable. Thanks in

Adams Bodomo
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Date: Fri, 9 Jun 1995 20:40:59 -FEMININE-HE, SINGULAR-THEY
From: <>

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Dear Language Scholars.
 I am presenting the following material as a discussion item. One
of my ultimate purposes is to contribute to the revised OED due out in 2005.
For a paper I am currently working on, I'm requesting comments and
contributions. A summary will be forthcoming.

 Mine is a new set of explanations for the two most regularly
discussed grammatical oddities of English: indefinite/proverbial HE
and singular THEY. (I will also touch on THEM and THEIR.)
 The orthodox view of pronoun history (for SHE, THEY, THEM,
THEIR) involves the north-to-south "wave theory," as stated as
early as 1866 by Richard Morris. It is the theory that is set forth
in the OED and has never been questioned. The feminine H-stem,
according to this accepted view, was displaced in the language in a
wave of cultural diffusion when the feminine pronunciation
began to approximate that of the masculine pronoun in the 12th and
13th centuries. The other pronouns discussed here also involved the
north-to-south waves of diffusion.
 My contention is that the significant cause for the historical
replacement of these pronouns (except for the H-stem subject plural) was the
standardizing force exerted by the PRINTING PRESS -- it happened rather
quickly -- not waves of cultural diffusion over centuries.
 In my analysis of the seventeen manuscripts of the A-Version of
PIERS PLOWMAN, the H-stem feminine is found with great regularity. How can
this be explained? In many lines, the occurrences in the manuscripts of
H-stem feminines outnumber the Sh-forms found in the same lines. Many
manuscripts use BOTH forms. The manuscripts are copies of copies of copies.
On the bases of the manuscripts that have been dated, I place the "average"
manuscript within a few generations of the advent of printing.
 My explanation, perhaps the Anglo-Norman rulers had a predilection for a
distinction in the masculine/feminine singular. While the folk generally used
the bi-gendric "egalitatian" H-stem form in the vernacular, the more
politically correct Sh-form was preferred at Oxford/Cambridge, in proper
social etiquette, and in writing when
referring to a "lady." When Caxton began his enterprise, the Sh-form (as well
as the others spoken of here) became enforced as the correct form through the
great power of the press. And the H-stem feminine remained known in the
spoken language, alongside the Sh-form, well beyond printing. It had NOT
dropped from speech and become archaic by 1300. When the "prescriptive"
grammarians prescribed indefinite-he, this H-stem still carried in its
semantic domain a bi-gendric reference.
 Although the seventeen manuscripts of PIERS is my main corpus of evidence,
there are various kinds of other evidence to support my theory for the late
survival of the H-stem feminine in the colloquial of the middle ages. One of
the more interesting is the existence of the H-stem feminine in Gullah (when
and if west African origins are discounted). Other supporting evidence can be
found in various places in the OED. It is scanty and scattered, but
nonetheless there. H-stem and SH-form feminines existed for centuries, side
by side, as formal and informal, although, for sure, in many cases the
distinction was lost.
 "Hi was a fair wifman" is found in the mid-14th century AGENBITE
OF INWYT (I am currently translating this work). In it, the
pronunciation of the feminine pronoun is the same as the modern
masculine! (the vowel had not yet diphthongized). The supposition
that this H-stem is a "literary form," as suggested by the OED (presumably
this means copied in manuscript from an earlier exemplar) is untenable
because the AGENBITE was translated directly from French.
 I have extracted the pronoun paradigms from all the manuscripts
of the A-Version of PIERS. In addition to the great evidence for the
wide use of the H-stem feminine centuries beyond its supposed demise, the
H-stem plural (although extremely rare) can also be found (in line Prologue
63 it is used to satisfy alliteration!). And IN EVERY MANUSCRIPT of PIERS the
H-stem obliques (modern THEM and THEIR) are to be found (often alongside
the TH-forms). And then, in a generation after printing, the H-stems
for SHE, THEY, THEM, and THEIR seem to vanish!!, at least from the written
evidence. The H-stem feminine held wide currency in the colloquial of the
middle ages and therefore, supported by other evidence, was not unknown to
the prescriptive grammarians a few centuries later. The accepted theory that
the H-stem feminine dropped from the language before 1300, prior to the time
the poem "Alysoun" was written, is in need of revision. PIERS shows it to
have been very much alive in the 15th century.
 An explanation for the replacement of the H-stem plural
nominative by THEY, a replacement occurring earlier than the other
pronouns in question, has never been proposed. Wouldn't there have
been pressure for some alternative to the OE H-stem subject plural as a
result of the disappearance of the preterit plural during this
period? Because the English verb lost its marker in the preterit
for number, the H-stem plural (which shared the same form with the
feminine singular nominative) became in some contexts ambiguous for number. A
new form was needed. Although a Norse form may have reinforced it among
northern speakers, there was a NATIVE singular form available from the same
set of OE demonstratives that gave us THE. THE and THEY appear to be duplets.
If this is so, then the singular morphology of THEY is in fact historical and
has been alive in the colloquial for a very long time!! THE, in OE a
singular, developed as a singular/plural (THE car/cars), extended to the
accusative, but lost its absolute (stand-alone) use. THEY, retaining the
pronunciation of OE THE, was restricted to the nominative, and became the
UNAMBIGUOUS WRITTEN PLURAL by 1400 -- but in the colloquial it retained also
its singular morphology.
 Later, in regard to THEM and THEIR, Caxton used the Th-forms as
the UNAMBIGUOUS PLURALS because the H-stems for these pronouns had throughout
England a tremendous diversity of forms. For example, in one (written)
dialect HER would be a feminine/singular/possesive, in another it would be an
all-genders/plural/possesive. Caxton needed forms that would be universally
understood, hence the written Th-form obliques replaced the H-stems in an
historic blink of the eye -- not in a wave of cultural diffusion that
coincidentally wafted through London at the time Caxton set up his print
 A well supported case can be made for the late survival of the
H-stem feminine, into the 15th century, and hence a case for its cultural
currency at the time of the prescriptive Grammarians. If this is so, the
exclusion of one gender from "cognitive space" would not apply, and hence the
motives of these grammarians would have to be reassessed.
 If in fact the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis DOES apply to pronouns, then I
invite comment to help me understand two facts. 1) That for two-thirds of the
history of English the subject pronoun used to refer to a group of men/boys
was a form that was identical to the feminine singular; and 2) the expression
by a pronoun of "possessing" something by men/boys was also for two-thirds of
the history of English expressed by a form that was morphologically
marked for feminine but not masculine.
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Message 3: Q: "English Only"

Date: Fri, 9 Jun 1995 23:18:57 -Q: "English Only"
From: <>
Subject: Q: "English Only"

Content-Length: 1562

My recent query on WWI era suppression of German in Iowa has brought up
another issue. Many in the linguistics field commonly use a term "English
Only" by which they mean a movement whose members (many of whom are
non-native English speakers) refer to themselves as the "Official English

To me the term "English Only", possibly intentionally, implies a total ban on
the use of any other language. The only proposed "official English"
amendment I've seen is the one proposed by the organization U.S. English.

 It stated very clearly that it was not to be
construed as restricting the use of languages other than English in private
life, daily business affairs, or in situations in which the speaker's safety
is at stake. I've also seen polls, particularly from California, that claim
that anywhere from 60% to 85% of various immigrant groups, that would be
affected by such an amendment, actually favor one, in direct opposition to
activist groups claiming to represent them.

I can't imagine people favoring an "English Only" amendment that would place
a total ban on use of their native languages. Leaving aside the blanket
idea that "life is politics," can anyone tell me of a recent case (say, in
the last 30 years) in which a law that would completely ban use of languages
other than English has come up for a vote somewhere in the U.S.? I don't
think it's impossible. I'd just like to see one, if there have been any.

James Kirchner
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