The disintegration of the nominal declension in Anglian: The case of i-stems

El¿bieta Adamczyk (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznañ)

The i- stem nominal paradigm, though abundantly attested, represents one of the minor declensions, deemed entirely unproductive in the Old English times. The prevalent tendency which can be observed in the behaviour of nouns belonging originally to this declensional type is that they reveal a marked fluctuation between the inherited paradigm and the innovative, productive type, shown in their adopting the inflectional endings of both. The apparent hesitation between the two types of inflection can be seen, for instance, in forms of the nominative and accusative plural of masculine paradigm, where alongside the expected OE -e ending, forms in -as , extended from the productive a- paradigm, are attested (e.g. OE wine ~ winas 'friends'). Similarly, the -a ending in nominative/accusative plural of feminine o -stems is commonly found instead of the expected -e (< -i ) (e.g. d 1da ~ d 1de 'deed'); and the genitive plural ending - a regularly alternates with the productive -ia / -iga markers ( wina ~ winiga ). An example of a more radical restructuring within the i -stem paradigm are the light syllable feminine nouns in which the endings of o -stems must have been generalized very early, thus the nouns of this type cannot be distinguished from those representing the regular strong feminine paradigm other than by the mutation of the root vowel (e.g. denu 'valley', fremu 'benefit'). In fact, the confusion of the inflectional paradigms may go as far as to obliterate the origin of a given inflectional ending. Such is, for instance, the case with the -e ending on dative singular of masculine nouns, the origin of which can be traced back to two sources: it may constitute a regular continuation the Indo-European i- stem ending (*- ei ), or may well be an ending extended from the productive a -stem paradigm.

It is believed that through various phonological processes actively operating within the paradigm and leading to the generalization of the - e ending, this declensional type very early lost its communicative function and was ready to appropriate endings from the stronger, more influential paradigms, i.e. a -stems and o- stems. The frequent and notable fluctuation within the inflectional paradigm certainly attests to the ongoing syncretism, resulting in the eventual disintegration of the original (genetic) stem type distinctions.

The present analysis, conducted on Toronto Corpus ( Dictionary of Old English Electronic Corpus ), is intended to be both a qualitative and quantitative study of the i- stem type in Anglian dialects, known for displaying considerable confusion in the declensional system. Aimed at presenting a systematic account of the steady disintegration of the nominal paradigm in this dialect, the investigation will seek to determine the exact pattern of dissemination of the productive inflectional endings in nouns belonging to the genetic i- type. The study will also attempt to trace the tendencies and peculiarities characteristic of the process of the gradual morphological restructuring within the i- stem paradigm, resulting eventually in a wholesale shift from the minor unproductive to the major productive declensional type.