Re: thorn vs. y or th, eth and other similar letters/signs

From: 'Mark E. Shoulson' (
Date: Mon Oct 29 2007 - 09:39:26 CST

  • Next message: Mark E. Shoulson: "Re: thorn vs. y or th, eth and other similar letters/signs"

    Philippe Verdy wrote:
    > Mark E. Shoulson wrote:
    >> Besides, the declension is wrong. "Thou" is subjective and "thee" is
    >> objective, whereas for plural the subjective was "ye" and the objective
    >> was "you". So they're reversed with respect to each other.
    > To be more clear, you just confirm that 'th'/thorn/eth and 'y' are not so
    > similar, and seem confused only by coincidence:
    > ----------------+-------+---------------------+------------------+
    > Old/Mid English | Subj. | Obj. | Reflected | Adj. | Possess.|
    > ----------------+-------+---------------------+------------------+
    > 1st sing. | I | Me? | Myself | My | Mine |
    > 1st plur. | We | Us | Ourselves | Our | Ours |
    > ----------------+-------+---------------------+------------------+
    > 2nd sing. | Thou | Thee | Yourself?? | Your?? | Yours?? |
    I presume these were "thyself," "thy," and "thine," as they are in
    archaic "modern" English.
    > 2nd plur. | Ye | You | Yourselves? | Your | Yours |
    > ----------------+-------+---------------------+------------------+
    > 3rd sing. masc. | He | Him | Himself | His | Hims? |
    > 3rd sing. fem. | She | Her? | Herself? | Her | Hers? |
    > 3rd sing. neut. | It | It | Itself | Its | One's?? |
    "She" entered the language fairly early, back when there was getting to
    be confusion between "he" for masculine and "heo" for feminine ("eo"
    diphthongs were starting to get pronounced like "e"). I'm not sure when
    "it" entered English, but I know that "its" is quite a bit later. The
    possessive for "it" even into Medieval times and possibly later was "his".
    > Are there other cases in Middle/Old English? What was then the distinction
    > between "thorn" and "eth" and how did they evolve? Apparently it was never
    > to "y" (except apparently coincidentally but from words with distinct
    > origins).
    Eth and thorn didn't really have a distinction. They were two solutions
    to the same problem, and as such things tend to be, two solutions are
    worse than one, because there wasn't consistency. Thorn was taken from
    the old Runic alphabet, and eth was an invention based on d, and some
    scribes used one, and some used the other, and some probably used both,
    but if a meaningful distinction ever arose (as it apparently has in
    Icelandic), it wasn't until quite a bit later.

    Eth had mostly dropped out by the time printing came around. Thorn
    lasted longer, even into early printed material, but printing was what
    killed it, compared to yet another solution, "th." Using thorn meant one
    more sort that printers had to keep track of, so "th" was more
    economical for them.

    Most of this is based on memories of my history of the English language
    class, so may be inaccurate, but I can try to find sources.


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