LINGUIST List 6.959

Tue Jul 11 1995

Disc: He/She

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. , Disc He/She

Message 1: Disc He/She

Date: Mon, 10 Jul 1995 00:04:27 Disc He/She
From: <>
Subject: Disc He/She

Dear Linguist List Subscribers,
For the continuing discussion of the pronouns, I have some lines of data from
the 17 manuscripts of the A-Version of Piers Plowman. They can generally be
said to be representative of 15th century usage. Is it not strongly suggested
in the lines that "proverbial he", and perhaps the "original" morphology of
the so called "generic-he", was feminine, not masculine? What a strange thing
to say! Can this be accurate?

Looking at the Middle English pronouns, using the modern paradigm to evaluate
them, is misleading and inconclusive. When the development of Middle English
"his" or "him" is evaluated without taking into consideration their
development from Old English morphology, much of the story is lost -- that
these two "masculine" forms were also neuter, and in this later sense ("not
one or the other"), served well for the indefinite singular -- by way of
development from the OE masculine/neuter obliques; and the feminine forms
were morphologically related to the plural. In the following lines, the
h-stem subject is the feminine(/plural), NOT the masculine. Am I wrong?

(Playing for a moment the devil's advocate) don't these lines below fly in
the face of feminist theory as it sees the "he" "stealing cognitive space",
whereas in fact, they are feminine forms?

I would like to have some feminist theory input about these lines of
evidence. If so-goes-the-language, so-goes-the-culture (a la Whorf), what can
we make of the "hers" =3D "theirs" identity found widespread in Middle English
morpholgy, and what can we say about the "proverbial he" in the following
being feminine?

Is there anybody strong in feminist theory, particulary a feminist
him-/herself, who can discuss this in the general forum? Is my understanding
correct that feminist history sees the h-stem feminine as having dropped from
living English by 1300? Please help.

Do not hesitate to contact me personally about any aspects of this, pro,con,
or indifferent.

( * =3D unavailable character)
Passus III Line 229

A =

Ch And he =FEat gripeth gifts, so [?] god helpe,
D And ho so gripeth here gifts, so me god helpe,
E =DEai =FEat grypi=FE such gifts, sa me god helpe,
H But he =FEat gripeth siche 3eftis, so me god helpe,
H2 And he =FEat grypes here gifts, so me god helpe,
H3 =

J And he =FEat gripi=FE mede, so me god helpe,
K And thay =FEat grepyn her gifts, so me god helpe,
L And ho =FEat gripeth heore 3eftes, so me god helpe,
M And 3e =FEat grypit here 3iftis, so me god helpe,
N And he =FEat gripeth 3e gift, so me god helpe,
R And he =FEat grypyt 3oure gifts, so me god helpe,
T And he =FEat gripi=FE here gifts, so me god helpe,
U And he =FEat gripeth here gold, so me god helpe,
V And heo =FEat 3iftus heore gifts, so me god helpe,
W He =FEat gripeth here 3eftes, so me god helpe

Passus III Line 230

A Schul ab*e it full bitterly or ellis =FEe bok lyeth
Ch Shal ab*e bitterly or =FEe bok lie*th
D Shal ab*e it bitterly or =FEe bok lyeth
E Sall ab*e it full bytter as =FEe buke tellis
H He schal abigge it bitterly or ellis =FEe bok li*e=FE
H2 Shal ab*e it biterly or =FEe bok lyeth
H3 Shal ab*e it bitterly or =FEe bok li*e=FE
J Schulun aBugge wel bitterly or =FEe bok lyeth
K Schallen abigge hit wel bitterly or =FEe bok lyeth
L Shal ab*e hit wel bytter or ellis =FEe bok lyeth
M Scholyn abiggyn wol bytter or =FEe bok liet
N Shal ab*e hit wel bitterly ar =FEe bok lyeth
R Shal ab*e ful bitterly or =FEe bok lyes
T Shal ab*ie it bitterly or =FEe bok li*e=FE
U Shal ab*e ful bitere or =FEe bok lyes
V =DEei schullen aBugge bitterly or =FEe bok li*e=FE
W Shal ab*e it bitterly or =FEe bok ly
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