Unhistorical gender assignment in La3amon's Brut: The development of a tripartite system of defining words, the, that, and this

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Abstract

There was no formal distinction of the definite article and the demonstrative in Old English, but the gender- and number-insensitive independent use of the neuter {Thorn}Vt as a pure demonstrative was already widespread. As the simple demonstrative generally weakened in its demonstrative force with the reduction of its forms to undeclined and unmarked {Thorn}V, this reduced form took on the article function, and the neuter {Thorn}Vt, with the demonstrative function reintroduced or reinforced by its independent use, came to serve as a pure demonstrative. The compound demonstrative also underwent levelling of inflection and developed indeclinable {Thorn}Vs forms, of which {Thorn}is eventually won out. These forms constitute the present-day tripartite system of defining words, the, that, and this. Theoretically they alone could have preserved the distinction of the neuter and the nonneuter, but in fact they did not. They ceased to be gender sensitive when the differentiation of the simple demonstrative into the as a definite article and that as a companion demonstrative to this was complete. It is the development of this new system of defining words that dealt a final and fatal blow to the traditional system of gender.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-225
Number of pages16
JournalEnglish Studies
Volume92
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Apr 1
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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