Old English weak verbs and their further development

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Old English weak verbs and their further development

Germanic type, the Past tense and participle 2 are formed by adding suff d/t. the only productive type. The number of weak verbs in OE by far exceeded that of strong verbs. In fact, all the verbs, with the exception of the strong verbs and the minor groups were weak. Their number was constantly growing since all new verbs derived from other stems were conjugated weak (except derivatives of strong verbs with prefixes). Among the weak verbs there were many derivatives of OE noun and adjective stems and also derivatives of strong verb built from one of their stems (usually the second stem-Past sg) ,e.g.

OE talu n tellan v (NE tale, tell)

OE full adj fyllan v (NE full, fill)

OE findan, v str fandian v (NE find, find out)

(Past sg fand)

The division of weak verbs into classes was based on the original stem-building suffix of a verb that was already hard to distinguish even in OE. The most important class is class 2, bec it’s the main productive class.

The great grouth in the number of weak verbs is due to the fact that all the new words that came into English were conjugated as weak ones.

Weak verbs formed their Past and Participle II by means of the dental suffix -d- or -t- ( a specifically Germanic trait). In OE the weak verbs are subdivided into 3 classes differing in the ending of the Infinitive, the sonority of the suffix, and the sounds preceding the suffix. The principal forms of the verbs in the 3 classes are given in the Table, with several subclasses in

Class I.

Principal forms. Classes. Infinitive Past Tense Participle II NE
I -an/ -ian (a) styrian (b) temman (c) dēman (d) cēpan (e) tellan (f) Þyncan -de/-ede/-te styrede temede dēm de cēpte tealde Þūhte -ed/ -d/-t styred temed dēmed cēped teald Þūht stir tame deem keep tell think
II -ian lōcian -ode lōcode -od lōcod look
III -an libban habban -de lifde hæfde -d lifd hæfd live have
Part.II of weak verbs, like that of strong verbs, was often marked by the prefix зe-. In the table the forms of Part.II are given without the prefix.

The main differences between the classes were as follows: in Class I the Infinitive ended in –an, seldom –ian( after [r]); the Past form had –de, -ede or –te; Participle II was marked by –d, -ed or –t. Some verbs of Class I had a double consonant in the Infinitive (Subclass b), others had a vowel interchange in the root, used together with suffixation ( types e and f).

Class II had no subdivisions. In Class II the Infinitive ended in –ian and the Past tense stem and Participle II had [o] before the dental suffix. This was the most numerous and regular of all the classes.

The verbs of Class III had an Infinitive in –an and no vowel before the dental suffix; it included only 4 verbs with a full conjugation and a few isolated forms of other verbs. Genetically, the division into classes goes back to the differences between the derivational stem-suffixes used to build the verbs or nominal stems from which they were derived.

The verbs of Class I, being i-stems, originally contained the element [-i/ -j] between the root and the endings. This [-i/ -j] caused the palatal mutation of the root-vowel, and the lengthening of consonants which becomes apparent from comparing the verbs with related words. [-i/ -j] was lost in all the verbs before the age of writing, with the exception of those whose root ended in –r.

In the Past tense the suffix -i- was weakened to –e after a short root-syllable (types (a), (b)) and was dropped- after a long one (types (c) and (d));if the preceding consonant was voiceless the dental suffix was devoiced to [t]. Hence cēpan-cēpte. If the root ended in [t] or [d] with a preceding consonant the dental suffix could merge with the [t, d] of the root and some forms of the Past and Present tense became homonyms: thus sende was the form of the 1st p. sg of the Pres. Tense Ind. and Subj. and also the form of the Past Tense, 1st and 3rd p. sg Ind. and all the persons of the sg Subj. ( cf. also restan-reste, wendan-wende, NE send,rest, wend).

Participle II of most verbs preserved -e- before the dental suffix, though in some groups it was lost (types (e), and (f)).

Two groups of verbs in Class I types (e) and (f) had one more peculiarity-an interchange of root-vowels: the Infinitive had a mutated vowel like all the verbs of Class I, while the other 2 forms retained the original non-mutated vowel-probably these forms had no stem-suffix at the time of palatal mutation. The diphthong [ea] in tealde (type e) is the result of breaking before [ld]; it is found in the WS dialect, the Anglian forms being talde, зe-tald. The absence of the nasal [n] in the Past and Participle II and the long vowel of Þyncan-Þūhte, зe-Þūht is the result of the loss of nasal consonants before fricatives.

The verbs of Class II were built with the help of the stem-suffix –ō, -ōj- and are known as ō-stems. Their most conspicuous feature- the element -o- before the dental suffix in the Past and Participle II-is a remnant of the stem-suffix. The Infinitives of all the verbs of Class II ended in

–ian but the root-vowel was not affected because at the time of palatal mutation, the verbs preserved the full stem-suffix -ōj- and the long [o:] protected the root-vowel from assimilation. (Pre-written reconstructed forms of the verbs of Class II are * lōkōjan, lufōjan, OE lōcian, lufian, NE look, love).

Class III was made up of a few survivals of the PG third and fourth classes of weak verbs, mostly –æ j-stems. The doubling of the consonants in the Infinitive and the mutated vowels are accounted for by the presence of the element –i/ -j- in some forms in Early OE.

1.Weak verbs were not as complex as strong ones and had a greater regularity and simplicity. That’s why they were productive, i.e. all borrowed verbs used weak model of form-building (suffix -t/-d) (e.g. Scand. to skate, Fr. to charm, Lat. to decorate, etc.) and, as it has already been mentioned above, many originally strong verbs turned into weak (e.g. to bake, to laugh, to help, to lie, etc.). The opposite process of turning of weak verbs into strong was very rare and was mainly based on phonetic similarity between some strong and weak verbs, i.e. was a result of mere confusion that later was accepted as a norm due to its persistent and regular character (e.g. to wear was originally weak and became strong because of the mistaken analogy with to swear, to ring (mistaken analogy with to sing), to hide (mistaken analogy with to ride)).

Strong verbs

The terms strong and weak verbs were introduced by Jacob Grimm but since they are not self exclamatory modern linguists use the terms verbs with suffixation (weak) and vocalic (strong). The strong type was from IE origin. The verbs of this type are based on the use of IE phenomenon ablaut or vowel gradation. It can be found in Russian: иёз – везу, гром-гремит/ The most typical variety of IE ablaut was e-o (qualitative). e-zero (quantitative).

The strong type (about 300 verbs) was based on IE ablaut e-o, i-a, e-zero. the past tense was formed by changing the root vowel. Participle 2 with the help of suffix –en. Non productive type. 4 principal parts (inf, past sing, past pl, participle 2) Subdivided in all GMC lang into 7 classes: cl 1 wrītan(inf) wrāt(past sg) writon (past pl) written (participle

Classes 6,7 differ from the first 5 classes bec they show identical vowels in the past sg and pl forms – a step towards the modern verb system.

The number of strong verbs was decreasing bec it was a non-producive type. Only about 70 survived in ME. Some died out as lexical units, others became weak verbs (laugh, help)

Strong Verbs and their Development

As far as the strong verbs were a non-productive class, some strong verbs turned into weak with time, i.e. started to employ -t/-d suffix in their form-building (e.g. to climb, to help, to swallow, to wash, etc.). Thus in NE only 70 strong verbs out of 300 in OE remained.

The strong verbs were subdivided into 7 classes according to the type of vowel gradation/ablaut. The classes that survived best through different periods of the history were classes 1, 3, 6: cl 3:NE find found found

We can see that the following changes occurred:In ME the inflections -an, -on, -en were all reduced to just one inflection à -en.In NE the ending -n was lost in the Infinitive and preserved in the Participle 2 in order to distinguish these two forms.In NE Past Singular and Past Plural forms were unified, usually with the Singular form preferred as a unified form because Past Plural and Participle 2 often had similar forms and it was hard to distinguish them (e.g. ME writen (Past Pl) – writen (Part. 2))à the category of Number disappeared in the Verb.

In ModE the subdivision into classes was lost though we still can trace some peculiarities of this or that class in the forms of the irregular verbs.

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