LINGUIST List 17.3551

Fri Dec 01 2006

Diss: Historical Ling/Socioling/Text&Corpus Ling: Morse-Gagne: 'Vik...'

Editor for this issue: Hannah Morales <>

Directory         1.    Elise Morse-Gagne, Viking Pronouns in England: Charting the course of THEY, THEIR, and THEM

Message 1: Viking Pronouns in England: Charting the course of THEY, THEIR, and THEM
Date: 30-Nov-2006
From: Elise Morse-Gagne <>
Subject: Viking Pronouns in England: Charting the course of THEY, THEIR, and THEM

Institution: University of Pennsylvania Program: Department of Linguistics Dissertation Status: Completed Degree Date: 2003

Author: Elise E. Morse-Gagne

Dissertation Title: Viking Pronouns in England: Charting the course of THEY, THEIR, and THEM

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics                             Sociolinguistics                             Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English (eng)                             Middle English (enm)                             Old English (ang)                             Old Norse (non)
Dissertation Director:
Anthony S. Kroch James Milroy Donald A. Ringe
Dissertation Abstract:

THEY, THEIR, and THEM are of Scandinavian origin, having entered English inthe wake of the 9th-century Viking settlements of northern England. Inspite of having surprised and intrigued linguists for a century thisphenomenon is still poorly understood. I investigate both its linguisticand social aspects through four avenues: recent historical research; thepronoun paradigms used in early medieval Scandinavia and England, as nearlyas these can be ascertained; the dynamics of the dissemination of theScandinavian pronouns through Middle English texts; and current findings onthe characteristics and outcomes of different language contact situations. The pronouns did not enter English in spite of the nature of the contactbetween the English and the Scandinavians, but because of it. Assumptionsthat their relations were necessarily adversarial are not borne out by thehistorical evidence. The paradigms usually given for the Scandinavianpronouns and the English demonstratives are anachronistic; a closerapproach to those forms permits us both to clarify the changes the pronounsunderwent in the transfer to English, and to discard the idea that THEIRand/or THEM stem from the English demonstrative. Claims that theScandinavian forms appeared very early in English (surfacing as Old English thaege and theora) depend on the belief that written conservatismdisguised writers' spoken usage for centuries. This is refuted: MiddleEnglish texts, while they must be analyzed with caution, provide muchdemonstrably accurate evidence for the pronouns their writers used. Analternative analysis of thaege is provided. Theories that the Scandinavianpronouns were borrowed in spite of potential disruption to the structure ofEnglish, or that structural similarities between the languages permittedthe loan, are examined and shown to be equally ill-founded. The data doesnot support the hypothesis that English speakers adopted the Scandinavianpronouns to repair homonymy in the English paradigm. Models of languagecontact and findings on the transfer of closed-class items are presented aspossible routes towards a better understanding of how THEY THEIR THEM cameto be used by monolingual speakers of Middle English.