The use of "thou" and its variants in religious discourse in Early Modern English


Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

18 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The use of thou and its variants in religious discourse in Early Modern English
2.1 The use of thou and its variants in Early Modern English
2.2 The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts
2.3 The use of thou and its variants in the Bible
2.4 The use of thou and its variants in sermons
2.5 A comparison of thou and its variants in the Bible and sermon texts

3. Conclusion

List of references

1. Introduction

You is an unusually versatile personal pronoun; it is “used to address two or more persons, animals, or personified things” (Oxford English Dictionary 2012 “http://www.oed.com”) and thus indicates the nominative and accusative in both singular and plural. However, you has not always been the only second person English pronoun. In Old and Middle English, there were various pronouns differentiating among gender, person, case, number including dual number (cf. Baugh/Cable 2002: 59, 161-162, 242-245). By the time period of Early Modern English (that is from 1500 to 1710), the number of pronouns was restricted and - eventually - three different forms came to be used as the nominative second person pronoun: you, ye and thou (alternative spelling: thow). In general, thou was used as the singular form, whereas ye and you were used for the plural. At the beginning of Early Modern English, ye was used as the nominative second person pronoun, while you was primarily used as the correspondent accusative form. However, in the course of the Early Modern English period, you supplanted ye as the nominative but maintained its use as the accusative form as well. On the other hand, by the end of the Early Modern English time period, you expanded its use to both the singular and the plural form and has remained that way ever since (cf. Barber 1997: 148-157; Görlach 1993: 84-85; Nevalainen 2006: 77-86).

In this term paper, I will examine the use of you, ye and thou in Early Modern English using The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts. For this research, I will use biblical and sermon text samples since they are essentially the only ones which utilize all the three (or rather four) variants of the nominative second person singular and plural pronoun; not only single individuals are addressed, but also God, the congregation or some other group. I will first analyze the use of thou and its variants thow, ye, and you in the Bible. More precisely, I will determine in which context the various forms of thou appeared and how each was used in the Old and New Testament in the time period of Early Modern English. Next, I will investigate the same four pronouns in various Early Modern English sermons. Finally, I will study the use of the four nominative second person pronouns in the Bible as well as in the sermon text selections from the first Early Modern English period (1500 to 1570) through the second one (1570 to 1640) up to the third and last one (1640 to 1710). I will explore to what extent a status distinction is made within Early Modern English religious discourse and how each of the four pronouns developed until only you remained.

The corpus I will use is The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts which is a diachronic corpus consisting of 1,572,800 words (cf. Corpus Resource Database 2011 “http://www.helsinki.fi”). For my investigation of thou, thow, ye and you, I will consider all 967 occurrences in the ten Early Modern English religious text samples (the Bible and various sermons).

2.1 The use of thou and its variants in Early Modern English

To begin with, three different nominative second person pronouns were used in the Early Modern English time period: you, ye and thou (alternative spelling: thow).

From 1500 onwards, the usage of the nominative personal pronouns was clearly arranged: thou was used for addressing the singular, whereas ye was used for the plural. The present-day pronoun you was used – at least at the beginning of Early Modern English – as the accusative second person plural pronoun. In the following century, thou still functioned as the singular nominative pronoun, while you started to supplant ye and was therefore increasingly used for both the nominative and accusative plural. As a result, y e remained as a literary archaic variant. By the beginning of the 18th century, the use of the singular form thou decreased and eventually became an archaism as well. On the other hand, you enlarged its use, not only for the nominative and the accusative form, but also for addressing both the singular and the plural (cf. Barber 1997: 148-157; Görlach 1993: 84-85; Nevalainen 2006: 77-80). Thus by the end of the Early Modern English time period, the classification of the personal pronouns was actually the same as it is in present English: you was (and still is) used for the singular and the plural in both the nominative and the accusative. The decline of thou and ye during the 17th and 18th century is attributed to French influence within the Middle English period (1150 to 1500), when the pronoun you was used as a “polite or deferential singular” (Barber 1997: 153), while thou was used for social equals or people of a social lower standing (cf. Barber 1997: 153 and Görlach 1993: 85). Consequently, in the time period of Early Modern English, you was generally used by inferiors for addressing their superiors, while the use of thou was employed by superiors for speaking with their inferiors (cf. Barber 1997: 153 and Nevalainen 2006: 78). In the course of time, it increasingly supplanted thou, since it was, in the end, less risky to constantly use the more polite pronoun you. Moreover, the different personal pronouns were not only used to refer to social relationships but also to indicate the rise of emotions. On the one hand – instead of using youthou was used “to convey intimacy, affection, tenderness” and, on the other hand, “to express anger, contempt, disgust” (Barber 1997: 153)1. However, a further examination of this use would go beyond the scope of this term paper. This usage does not occur in the Bible and in church prayers, where God, for instance, was always addressed as thou due to the translations from the Latin and Hebrew language (cf. Barber 1997: 154; Boggel 2009: 70; Görlach 1993: 85).

2.2 The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts

For my investigation of the use of the various nominative personal pronouns in Early Modern English religious discourse, I will use The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts. This multi-genre diachronic corpus was released in the year 1991, contains 1,572,800 words and includes various text samples covering the time period from about 750 up to 1710 (cf. Corpus Resource Database 2011 “http://www.helsinki.fi”). The Early Modern English texts that I will consider for my study are samples of the Bible (the Old as well as the New Testament) and of several sermons. In particular, I will use six excerpts of the Old Testament (Genesis, I.1 - III.24; Genesis, VI.1 - IX.29; Genesis, XII.1 - XIV.20, Genesis, XXII.1 - XXII.19, Numbers, XIII.1 - XIV.45 and Numbers, XVI.1 - XVII.13) both for the first Early Modern English period (1500 to 1570) and the second one (1570 to 1640), respectively. The text selections of the New Testament consist of eleven chapters of the “Gospell of Saincte Iohn” (John 1.1-11.57) – again for the first as well as for the second Early Modern English period, respectively. The corpus contains no biblical text samples from the third time period of Early Modern English (1640 to 1710), but it does have several sermons, namely three text excerpts by the bishop John Tillotson on “the folly of scoffing at religion” and on “the tryall of the spirits” as well of one sample by the cleric Jeremy Taylor on “the marriage ring”. To cover all three Early Modern English time periods, I will include these four samples in addition to eight further sermon text selections of the first and second time period. From the first time period, I will use two sermons by the bishop John Fisher as well as two selections by Hugh Latimer on “the Ploughers”; regarding the second time period, I will examine two different excerpts of sermons by the priest Richard Hooker “upon part of S. Judes Epistle” as well as two by the preacher Henry Smith “of usurie” (cf. The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts: CENTEST1, CEOTEST1, CENTEST2, CEOTEST2, CESERM1A, CESERM1B, CESERM2A, CESERM2B, CESERM3A, CESERM3B 1996 “icame.uib.no”).

These text samples with 967 examples of second person usage in both spoken and written English provide a solid base for analyzing the similarities and differences, status distinctions and the development toward the dominant position of you in modern English usage.

2.3 The use of thou and its variants in the Bible

There are 759 occurrences of the personal pronouns thou, ye and you in the four text samples of the Bible from the first and the second Early Modern English time period. Within the seventeen text excerpts of the first time period (1500 to 1570), thou is used exclusively as the singular nominative pronoun, while ye and you are used for the plural, the former as the nominative, the latter as the accusative form. The pronoun you – which was erstwhile used (alternatively to thou) when an inferior was addressing a superior – is never used in the first Early Modern English biblical text samples; all the addressees (a total of 150 occurrences) are addressed as thou:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Table 1: the use of thou in the Bible (EModE I)

Consequently, there is no difference whether a superior (in each case God, Jesus or a Pharisee) or an inferior (Adam, Eve, the serpent in the paradise, Noah, Abraham, Moses, an apostle or any other Jew respectively) is addressed. The following two excerpts from the Old Testament illustrate this lack of distinction when God addresses Adam as thou asking him if he has eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil: (1) “hast thou eaten of the tree, of which […] thou shuldest not eate?” (HC, CEOTEST1) and Adam responds him using thou as well: (2) “The woman which thou gavest to bere me company she toke me of the tree, a[n]d I ate” (HC, CEOTEST1). Within the pronoun uses of the plural, there is just one exception among the mentioned conventional use of ye as a nominative pronoun, namely when Martha, a woman living near Jerusalem, asks Jesus to help her ill brother Lazarus (cf. AboutBibleProphecy 2012: 47 “http://www.aboutbibleprophecy.com”) and addresses Jesus as ye: (3) “[…] ye Lorde, I beleve that thou arte Christ […] the sonne of god which shuld come into the worlde […]” (HC, CENTEST1). In this sentence, Martha – as much as everyone else in all the other text samples in the Bible of the first Early Modern English time period – addresses Jesus as thou. However, she inserts “ye lorde” at the beginning of the sentence as well. Since Martha is directly addressing Jesus only in this one sentence, it must be assumed that the implied “ye lorde” was either an error by the translators or Martha’s way of addressing Jesus in a more respectful way, though the correct form would then be you, not y e. The other 231 occurrences of ye and you confirm to the rule at that time. That is to say, the 75 occurrences of you are altogether used as the accusative second person plural pronoun, while the 157 appearances of ye are used as the nominative second person plural pronoun (except for the one exclusion). They are all categorized in the two following two tables:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Table 2: the use of ye and you in the Old Testament (EModE I)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Table 3: the use of ye and you in the New Testament (EModE I)

[...]


1 There is an interesting article on “The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity” by Roger Brown and Albert Gilman in the book Style in Language on the pages 253 to 276.
This issue is discussed in detail by Terry Walker in her book Thou and You in Early Modern English Dialogues (pages 40 to 43) and criticized as well by Kathleen M. Wales (“Thou and you in early modern English: Brown and Gilman re-appraised.”) in her article in Studia Linguistica 37 (pages 107 to 125).

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Details

Title
The use of "thou" and its variants in religious discourse in Early Modern English
College
University of Heidelberg  (Anglistisches Seminar)
Course
Historical Pragmatics
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
2012
Pages
18
Catalog Number
V305608
ISBN (eBook)
9783668034860
ISBN (Book)
9783668034877
File size
1582 KB
Language
English
Tags
early, modern, english
Quote paper
Julie Dillenkofer (Author), 2012, The use of "thou" and its variants in religious discourse in Early Modern English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/305608

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