Variation in Nominal Plural Formation in the Southern Dialects of Early Middle English(Kanto Review of English Literature) Variation in Nominal Plural Formation in the Southern Dialects of Early Middle English(Kanto Review of English Literature)
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In the southern dialects of Early Middle English, nominal plural forms were marked not only by -s but also by other endings such as -n and a final vowel. This makes a stark contrast with the northern dialects where the s-ending was effectively the only working plural marker. It is true that the s-plural was steadily spreading in the southern dialects, but the speed of the spread was so slow there that old and new forms commonly coexisted. In fact, the distribution of the plural formations available varied greatly even among texts that are of much the same period and dialect. This indicates that the nominal morphological system was undergoing a remarkable change and that the change was reflected differently in writing from one text to another. The present paper first provides a conspectus of the development of the nominal plural formation during the Early Middle English period. Then it addresses the text of the Poema Morale, which survives in seven versions, all written in the more southern dialects. After comparing the distributions of plural formations in the seven versions of PMor, I point out that the language represented in PMor is conservative, as far as plural forms are concerned, as compared to the distributions in other texts of the same period/dialect, particularly that of Ancrene Wisse/Riwle. Based on the great variation in plural formation across the southern dialects, I conclude that the development of plural formation in the southern dialects should be represented as a band in a graph that allows for morphological variation rather than as curved lines that just connect the averages. Finally I propose that the approach adopted in this paper can apply to the description of any language change, particularly to that of arguably the greatest morphological change that has occurred in the history of English.
- Studies in English Literature: Regional Branches Combined Issue
Studies in English Literature: Regional Branches Combined Issue 2(0), 285-305, 2009
The English Literary Society of Japan