Decay of Declensions and Grammatical Categories

§ 456. In the course of the ME period the adjective underwent great­er simplifying changes than any other part of speech. It lost all its grammatical categories with the exception of the degrees of comparison.

In OE the adjective was declined to show the gender, case and num­ber of the noun it modified; it had a five-case paradigm and two types of declension, weak and strong.

By the end of the OE period the agreement of the adjective with the noun had become looser and in the course of Early ME it was practically lost. Though the grammatical categories of the adjective reflected those of the noun, most of them disappeared even before the noun lost the re­spective distinctions.

The geographical direction of the changes was generally the same as in the noun declensions. The process began in the North and North- East Midlands and spread south. The poem ORMULUM, written in c. 1200 in the North-East Midland dialect reveals roughly the same state of adjective morphology as the poems of G. Chaucer and J. Gower writ­ten in the London dialect almost two hundred years later.

§ 457. The decay of the grammatical categories of the adjective pro­ceeded in the following order. The first category to disappear was Gen­der, which ceased to be distinguished by the adjective in the 11th c.

The number of cases shown in the adjective paradigm was reduced: the Instr. case had fused with the Dat. by the end of OE; distinction of other cases in Early ME was unsteady, as many variant forms of differ­ent cases, which arose in Early ME, coincided. Cf. some variant endings of the Dat. case sg in the late 11th c.:

mid miclum here, mid miclan here, ‘with a big army’ mid eallon his here ‘with all his army’

In the 13th c. case could be shown only by some variable adjective endings in the strong declension (but not by the weak forms); towards the end of the century all case distinctions were lost.

The strong and weak forms of adjectives were often confused in Early ME texts. The use of a strong form after a demonstrative pronoun was not uncommon, though according to the existing rules, this position belonged to the weak form, e. g.:

in pere wildere sǣ ‘in that wild sea’ instead of wilden sǣ.

In the 14th c. the difference between the strong and weak form is sometimes shown in the sg wilh the help of the ending -e (see the paradigm and the examples below).

The general tendency towards an uninflected form affected also the distinction of Number, though Number was certainly the most stable nominal category in all the periods. In the 14th c. pl forms were some­times contrasted to the sg forms with the help of the ending -e in the strong declension. Probably this marker was regarded as insufficient; for in the 13th and particularly 14th c. there appeared a new pl ending -s. The use of -s is attributed either to the influence of French adjectives, which take -s in the pl or to the influence of the ending -s of nouns, e. g.:

In other places delitables. (Chaucer)

('In other delightful places.')

§ 458. In the age of Chaucer the paradigm of the adjective con­sisted of four forms distinguished by a single vocalic ending -e.






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