Evidence for morphological restructuring in the second person pronoun in early English correspondence

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2007

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Adam Mickiewicz University

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The focus of this article is morphosyntactic. Its aim is to provide evidence for a particular type of syntactic reanalysis which is likely to have contributed to the establishment of you as a universal form of the second person pronoun in both subject and oblique positions. The issue of the developments in the paradigm of the second person pronoun in Early and Late Modern English has received much coverage in the recent decades. The focus of previous works has been mainly on external, socio-pragmatic factors (Brown and Gilman 1972; Wales 1983; Hope 1993). Among internal factors, phonological ones were emphasised (Graband 1965; Strang 1970; Görlach 1978; Barber 1997). To date, few linguists have paid attention to morphosyntactic causes of the changes. In particular, impersonal constructions, involving such verbs as LIKE and PLEASE, have been recognised as the environment conducive to the reanalysis of the second person forms (van der Gaaf 1904; Lutz 1998). This article will discuss structures of a different type, i.e. those containing verbs such as PRAY and BESEECH. My analysis will show that the confusion between the imperative and subjunctive moods, frequent in those constructions, is a plausible explanation for the weakening of the case distinction and the spread of the you form to the subject position in the sentence. Such grammatical constructions are particularly common in early English personal correspondence. Therefore, the following analysis is based on a database of epistolary documents, including the letters of Paston, Plumpton, Stonor and Cely families.

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Studia Anglica Posnaniensia, vol. 43 (2007), pp. 181-193

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Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Biblioteka Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Ministerstwo Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego