The Expression of Third Person in Older and Contemporary Varieties of English

Judy B. Bernstein
2008 English Studies: A Journal of English Language  
Contemporary varieties of English display word-initial th-across grammatical forms: definite articles (the), demonstratives (that, this), pronouns (them, they), existential subjects (there), relative pronouns (that), possessive pronouns (their), and others. Are these instances of th-merely unrelated coincidences or do they suggest an underlying systematicity? I argue that these forms share syntactic properties and an initial third-person morpheme (th-) corresponding to D(P) (see Longobardi
more » ... . Although many of the relevant forms are associated with definiteness, no form is absolutely barred from appearing in non-definite contexts, and some (e.g. existential there) are typically associated with indefiniteness. Nevertheless, several authors have identified English th-as a definiteness morpheme (Déchaine and Wiltschko 2002 , Leu 2005 , Campbell 1996 or a morpheme involved in deixis (Klinge 2004), which would be associated with D(P). The question for this talk is, is there any diachronic evidence to support the claim about English th-as a marker of third person? Preliminary examination of the relevant Old English (OE) patterns offers no obvious direct support for the claim and might in fact be consistent with an analysis of OE þ-as a definiteness or deixis morpheme, or with one of OE þ-as simultaneously a marker of definiteness and of third person. Deeper examination, however, suggests that subsequent changes in the English nominal system made way for the shift of þ-(from a marker of definiteness or deixis) to a general marker of third person. Evidence of this shift may even be found in contemporary varieties of English. Broadly speaking, OE third person pronouns and demonstratives pattern with their contemporary counterparts in the following ways: third person pronouns overwhelmingly display word-initial h-and demonstratives word-initial þ-. OE nominative and dative forms for third person pronouns are illustrated in (1) and for demonstratives in (2) and (3) The nonparadigmatic forms underlined in (2) are interesting, especially since se is identified as an early definite article (OE se wulf 'the wolf', Lass 1994).
doi:10.1080/00138380802252917 fatcat:crfytcbqwne6xfjj7fbo6whto4