Emonds (2019) – Where Do English Sibilant Plurals Come From?

Where Do English Sibilant Plurals Come From?
Joseph Emonds
direct link: http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/004427
January 2019
Very early in Middle English, texts especially in the North and East, tend to use an orthographic suffix –(e)s for noun plurals, in Southern and Western texts the plural suffix –(e)n of the Old English weak declension at first spreads, but then by 1300 also yields to –(e)s. This essay first shows that on phonological and phonetic grounds this –(e)s, which remains the productive plural in Modern English, must, as a vocabulary item, be lexically specified as +Voice; it is not voiced by any progressive assimilation process in synchronic derivations. The source of this underlying voiced sibilant –z, completely absent in Old English, is to be found in the genealogical ancestor of Middle English, Proto-Scandinavian, whose plural in all non-neuter declensions is precisely this segment (Haugen 1982). The present essay argues that this form was an integral part of the Norse brought to England by the earliest Scandinavian settlers in the 9th c. In all likelihood, the later change in Mainland Scandinavian of this –z to –r, completed in the 12th c., failed to establish itself in the Anglicized Norse of England, due to sociolinguistic factors akin to those set out in the classic paper of Labov (1963).

Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004427
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Joseph Emonds, Markéta Janebová, and Ludmila Veselovská, eds. Language Use and Linguistic Structure. Proceedings of the Olomouc Linguistics Colloquium 2018. Olomouc: Palacký University, 2019
keywords: common scandinavian; english plurals; middle english inflection; old english plurals; proto-scandinavian; voicing assimilation; vowel syncope, morphology, phonology
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Posted in Research (e.g. papers, books)