The evolution of the genitive noun phrase in early Middle English

Myers, Sara Mae (2009) The evolution of the genitive noun phrase in early Middle English. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
Download (292kB) | Preview
Printed Thesis Information:


This paper looks at the evolution of the genitive noun phrase in early Middle English texts. Through an examination of six texts, representing three different regions and their separate textual traditions, I explore the development of genitive noun phrases, both in form and function. Each text is examined independently; early Middle English writing shows great dialectal variation, and each dialect, often each scribe, has a unique genitive system. It is through these individual "micro-systems" that we can see the details of the development of the genitive noun phrase, details which show that the genitive noun phrase did not develop uniformly throughout the country, but that speakers had several options for re-interpreting or replacing the Old English genitive constructions.

I begin with the West Midlands, represented by The Lambeth Homilies and Layamon's Brut. It was in this region that the tradition of copying and studying Old English texts was maintained the longest, and here that the effects the Old English standard can still be seen even in the early thirteenth century. From here I move to the East Midlands, to The Peterborough Chronicle Continuations and Vices and Virtues. Unlike the other texts in this study, these two texts do not have a known source text; as such, they are invaluable for seeing how scribes wrote in their own native dialect. I finish with two texts from Kent, The Kentish Sermons and The Ayenbite of Inwit. These are translations of Old French texts, and as such are an excellent source for the possible influences of French upon the English genitive noun phrase.

Within these texts, some of the issues I examine include: the gradual restriction of the genitive singular inflection; the very varied plural genitive forms; the rise in of-phrases; the decline of modifier genitive functions, and with them modifier genitive forms; the influence of a source text; and the non-genitive replacements of former genitive constructions. While there are some features which are common to all texts (such as the use of -es as the genitive singular inflection), there are many which are peculiar to a single scribe (such as the use of the pronoun his rather than -es or of), and which show how complex language change can be. There is no single genitive path along which all speakers went.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Middle English, genitive, historical linguistics, dialects.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Supervisor's Name: Smith, Dr. Jeremy
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Ms Sara Myers
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-514
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Feb 2009
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:19

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year