LINGUIST List 6.889

Tue Jun 27 1995

Disc: He/She

Editor for this issue: Anthony M. Aristar <>


  1. , Feminine HE

Message 1: Feminine HE

Date: Sun, 25 Jun 1995 12:58:01 Feminine HE
From: <>
Subject: Feminine HE

Feminine HE

 Ouch! No doubt about it, pronouns and gender are touchy topics.
Robert Millar (in metaphorically slapping me around a little in the
ad hominem mode) makes some good points but mistakes my focus a bit,
misspeaks my findings somewhat, and misstates the fuller
design of my position a lot. His Linguistic List Vol-6-835 (22 Jun
1995) responds to my Vol-6-806 (12 Jun 1995).

 I DON'T mean to say that, as Robert Millar attributes, "'she'
entered English as a whole suddenly at the advent of printing" --
PuhLEEEZE. I DO mean to say that the H-stem feminine suddenly,
after printing begins, disappears forever from the written record.
My broader conclusion is that the H-stem feminine was alive for
centuries beyond the OED's orthodox-view account of its purported
demise. I DON'T discount the Sh-forms during the periods when and
in the regions where they are amply attested. Far be it. I DO,
however, maintain that the "significant" cause, in the overview,
for the disappearance of the H-stem feminine was, not that it began
to resemble phonetically the masculine, but rather the
standardizing force of printing (the motive for this is a separate
question). And, too, there is the telling evidence that spoken
pronoun use is often quite different from written. And I am
suggesting that some of the OE H-stems survived in speech beyond
printing's seeming signal of their demise.

 The late survival of the H-stem feminine has the implication for
socio/political linguistics that 18th century grammarians, regarded
during these past decades as androcentric (for having written down
the "he rule") must be admitted to not have been so -- "he" is the
principal thrust of the androcentric argument, right?

 I am tempted to apologize for my insensitivity to other people's
faculty for correctness. In this case, it resulted in Robert Millar
suffering mood swings -- feelings he shared with us -- his sorrow,
his anger, regarding my position. My intention was not to
academically abuse or linguistically victimize anybody. But despite
his mood swings, we may all nonetheless benefit from his hot
flashes of insight appropriate to his rejoinder to my native
morphology of singular "they" hypothesis. But I will not continue
the "they" discussion here, however, so's not to detract from the
late survival of the H-stem feminine presently under discussion,
and indeed much more the hot topic.

 Robert Millar says that he suspects that I only have a slight
understanding of dialect diversity, and that my discussing material
from _Piers Plowman_ and _Ayenbite of Inwyt_ is a way to
"circumvent... LALME, McIntosh and Samuels." First I would suggest
that he provide fuller citations, this for the benefit of those on
the list who concentrate in other areas of linguistics than this
subject; and second I would like to make available to him and
anybody else some of my charts resulting from my indexing and
sorting ALL the citations for ALL the forms for ALL the third
person pronouns in the OED.

 M.L. Samuals, "Dialects and Grammar," in _A Companion to Piers
Plowman_ (ed., John A. Alfred, 1988), specifically identifies by
dialect nine of the seventeen manuscripts of the A-Version of
_Piers Plowman_. These are the ones that had already been
identified in Kane-Donaldson, 1960 (_Piers Plowman, The A-Version_,
George Kane), after generations of effort. The book is a momentous
compendium that in my thinking was conceived with the intention of
making work such as mine possible. I use the seventeen manuscripts
of the A-Version of _Piers_ as the mainstay of my argument. Samuals
is unable to identify the dialects in nearly half the manuscripts
of Piers.

 I specifically focus on _Piers_ because it is a manageable
corpus that anyone can go and check for themselves. _Piers_ is a
great source for studying diverse forms because the forms are all
variations on the same text. Where can one find such a wealth of
data for comparative analysis? And Piers can also be considered the
first highly "popular" work in medieval English, and for this
reason, the scribes, in copying the work for their intended
audiences, would tend to avoid esoteric, literary, and archaic

 The "cult of auctoritas" is the conservative emulation of older
forms by the copying scribe. Robert Millar alludes to this to
explain the H-stem feminines found in manuscripts of _Piers_. I
have met with this criticism before. I will make available to
anyone who wants them particular lines as found in all seventeen
manuscripts, and rather than the conservation of forms, the
contrary of the auctoritas principle seems to be found in _Piers_,
whereby the scribes, in copying from the original, tended to modify
it to regional conventions. I am not saying that auctoritas was not
in many instances of medieval scribal practice the rule. I'm saying
that looking at lines of _Piers_, through the seventeen
manuscripts, sees in them a tremendous diversity. And even so, the
use of the H-stems in all the manuscripts -- assuming for the sake
of argument they were not in colloquial use -- indicates that they
WERE well known, nonetheless, doesn't it?

 Robert Millar reads between my lines that I consider the Anglo-
Normans as "wicked." Not so. Chronocentrism in the reading of
history is as inimical to reason and human understanding as is
ethnocentrism in the reading of culture.

 He holds to the orthodox view and says that "the rising London
standard spread much more rapidly than it ever would have done in
an age of purely manuscript culture." But wouldn't the London
"standard" better be called the status dialect. It is mistaken to
assume that writing, before and after printing, reflected how
people generally used language day-to-day. Most people talk like _I
love Lucy_ and _The Honeymooners_, not like _The New York Times_.
Today, for example, the indefinite/proverbial "he" is primarily a
written status form; the singular "they" a spoken form. I think it
is very safe to assume that then, just as now, there is a common
English and a status English within a particular regional dialect.
It is on the basis of this assumption, coupled with evidence for
the widespread knowledge of the H-stem feminine in the generations
before printing, that I am postulating the late survival of the H-
stem feminine.

 Anybody who would like to have my charts showing the
"persistence" of all the feminine and masculine H-stem forms from
the 11th century on, comparative exhibits of lines through the
seventeen manuscripts of _Piers_, pronoun paradigms from the same
manuscripts, and perhaps a few other items -- they are available
for a dollar copy charge and two stamps for USA. Jeffrey Weber,
2843 N. Spaulding Ave., Chicago, Illinois, 60618, USA.

 This current transmission is more an aside than the summary that
will be forthcoming. I have received an excellent critique from
Wittysan (Sean), which he sent also to Robert Millar, and would be
happy for the asking to share it and my response as this inquiry
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