The Use of Second Person Pronouns in Private and Official Letters in Early Modern English


Bachelor Thesis, 2014
209 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The use of second person pronouns in private and official letters in Early Modern English
2.1 The use of second person pronouns in Early Modern English
2.2 Corpus and method
2.3 The use of second person pronouns in private letters
2.3.1 First Early Modern English period
2.3.2 Second Early Modern English period
2.3.3 Third Early Modern English period
2.4 The use of second person pronouns in official letters
2.4.1 First Early Modern English period
2.4.2 Second Early Modern English period
2.4.3 Third Early Modern English period
2.5 A comparison of second person pronouns in private and official letters
2.5.1 First Early Modern English period
2.5.2 Second Early Modern English period
2.5.3 Third Early Modern English period

3. Conclusion

List of references

Appendix 1: list of filenames, addressers and addressees

Appendix 2: list of occurrences and their usage

Appendix 3: list of excluded occurrences

List of abbreviations

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1. Introduction

You is an unusually versatile personal pronoun. It is “used to address a single [and/or] [...] two or more persons, animals, or personified things” (you, pron., adj., and n., www.oed.com) and indicates the subjective and objective case in both singular and plural. However, you has not always been the only second person pronoun in English. In Old and Middle English, there were various pronouns differentiating among gender, person, case and number – including, in Old English, dual number (cf. Baugh and Cable 1978: 58, 161). By the period of Early Modern English (that is, from 1500 to 1710), the number of pronouns was restricted, and eventually four different forms came to be used as pronouns of address: thou, thee, ye and you (each with various spellings). In general, thou and thee were used as the singular forms, whereas ye and you were used for the plural. At the beginning of Early Modern English, thou and ye were used for the subjective cases, while thee and you were used for the objective cases. However, in the course of the Early Modern English period, you supplanted ye as the subjective but maintained its use as the objective form as well. In the meantime, the singular pronouns thou and thee became archaic. By the end of Early Modern English, you had expanded its use to both the singular and the plural forms and has remained that way ever since. (cf. Barber 1976: 204, 208, 212; Baugh and Cable 1978: 242-243; Fischer 2003: 84; Görlach 1991: 85; Nevalainen 2006a: 77-80).

Initially, the usage of certain second person pronouns related to social status as well. In Middle English, ye and you were generally used by inferiors for addressing their superiors, while thou and thee were employed by superiors for speaking with their inferiors (cf. Adamson et al 2001: 206, 227-228; Barber 1976: 208; Baugh and Cable 1978: 242; Brown and Gilman 1960: 255-2571 ; Byrne 1936: xix-xx, xxiii-xxiv, xxvii; Görlach 1991: 85). In Early Modern English, the use of the more polite pronouns ye and you was favored, and, as a result, the status distinction became less common until it was eventually dropped in Modern English.

Some linguists suggest that the decline of the status distinction reflects a phenomenon commonly referred to as the rise of emotions in Early Modern English: a shift in pronoun usage can be detected when people’s emotions are running high. On the one hand, the upper class could show “intimacy, affection, tenderness” by using thou and thee in place of the socially more appropriate ye and you (Barber 1976: 209; cf. Adamson 2001: 206; Brown and Gilman 1989: 177). On the other hand, inferiors could indicate “anger, contempt, disgust” towards their superiors by not following the status rule and addressing superiors with the inappropriate pronouns thou and thee reserved for the lower class (Barber 1976: 209; cf. Adamson 2001: 206; Brown and Gilman 1989: 177). Unfortunately, not enough research has been done to justify this claim (cf. Blake 1992: 536-537; Busse 2002: 30; Hope 1993: 85, 96; Walker 2007: 46).

In this paper, I will examine the use of thou, thee, ye and you in Early Modern English. For this research, I will use private and official letters, since they are essentially the only surviving text samples in which an individual is consistently addressed. I will first analyze the use of the subjective and objective second person pronouns in private correspondence. More precisely, I will determine how thou, thee, ye and you (and their alternative spellings) were used in the period of Early Modern English and in which context they appeared. Next, I will investigate the same four pronouns in non-private Early Modern English letters. Finally, I will compare the use of the subjective and objective second person pronouns in private and non-private correspondence 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 or an emotional marking is made within these private and official letters and how each of the four pronouns developed until only you remained.

The corpus I will use is the diachronic multi-genre Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, which consists of 1.572.800 words (cf. Kytö 1996; Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2011; Rissanen 2011). For my investigation of the subjective and objective second person pronouns, I will consider all 2.977 occurrences of thou, thee, ye and you (including their alternative spellings) in the 126 Early Modern English text samples of private and official correspon-dence.

2. The use of second person pronouns in private and official letters in Early Modern English

2.1 The use of second person pronouns in Early Modern English

Four different pronouns of address were used in the Early Modern English period: thou, thee, ye and you. 2

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Table 1: subjective and objective second person pronouns in the 16th century

From 1500 onwards, the usage of the second person pronouns was quite stable: in the subjective case, thou was used for the singular, ye for the plural. In the objective case, thee functioned as the singular, while you served as the plural (cf. Barber 1976: 204; Nevalainen 2006a: 77; Görlach 1991: 85).

Probably due to French influence in court discourse in the Middle English period (1150 to 1500), different second person pronouns were used to distinguish social status. Ye and you were used as the polite forms to address people of the higher classes, while thou and thee were used for people of lower social standing (cf. Adamson et al 2001: 206, 227-228; Barber 1976: 208; Baugh and Cable 1978: 242; Brown and Gilman 1960: 255-257; Byrne 1936: xix-xx, xxiii-xxiv, xxvii; Görlach 1991: 85).

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Table 2: social status distinction in unequal relationships in ME/EModE

Consequently, in the beginning of the Early Modern English period, the so-called V-pronouns (ye and you) were usually employed by inferiors for addressing their superiors, for example, when servants addressed their master, children a parent, citizens a nobleman, or noblemen a king. The T-pronouns (thou and thee), by contrast, were chosen by superiors for speaking with their inferiors, such as a master addressing a servant, a parent addressing a child, a nobleman addressing an ordinary citizen, or a king addressing a nobleman (cf. Barber 1976: 208-209). Occasionally, there was even a distinction made between husband and wife to such a degree that “a husband addresses his wife as thou, while she replies with you” (Barber 1976: 209; cf. Finkenstaedt 1963: 120).3 This so-called “Ehepronomen” (Finkenstaedt 1963: 120)4 derives from the “traditional doctrine that he was her lord and master” (Barber 1976: 209; cf. Finkenstaedt 1963: 120, 124). Among equals, ye and you were the pronouns used by people of higher social standing, whereas the lower classes used thou and thee when addressing each other (cf. Adamson et al 2001: 227; Barber 1976: 208-209).

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Table 3: social status distinction in equal relationships in ME/EModE

Moreover, the pronouns thou and thee could not only be used to refer to social relationships, but also to indicate the rise of emotions. Using the ‘opposite’ pronoun – in other words, thou and/or thee when ye and/or you would be expected – could be a means of showing the speaker’s emotions. A case in point could be a servant using thou and thee when addressing his master, his social superior, to demonstrate anger and/or disrespect. On the other hand, members of the elite could demonstrate affection and/or intimacy when switching from the V-pronouns to the T-pronouns. In effect, people could express a change in attitude in a metaphorical way. This so-called “Emotionalisierung des [Singular]” (Finkenstaedt 1963: 124)5 is believed by a number of linguists to have converted the ‘lower class pronouns’ thou and thee into the marked pronouns that carry emotional connotations, while the polite pronouns ye and you of the upper class became the unmarked pronouns for all classes (cf. Adamson 2001: 206; Barber 1976: 209-210; Brown and Gilman 1989: 177).

Other linguists, however, interpret the concept of pronoun usage as a tool for expressing emotions as a common “oversimplification” (Walker 2007: 46, cf. Blake 1992: 536-537). For them, the use of thou and thee as an emotional marker “is based almost exclusively on studies of literary sources, and can thus not be taken to represent the language as a whole” (Walker 2007: 46, cf. Busse 2002: 30, Hope 1993: 85). In fact, various studies showed that not every individual employed the T-pronouns in this manner (cf. Blake 1992: 537; Hope 1993: 96). Further corpus-based research is clearly needed to determine the actual case.

[...]


1 For critical views on their article, see e.g. Busse 2002: 17-22, Freedman 2007: 2-4 or Jucker 2000: 154-155.

2 A study of the possessive determiners thy, thine, your and yours would go beyond the scope of this paper.

3 Barber “give[s] a single spelling in each case”, meaning that in this example thou implies thee, just as ye is implied in you (Barber 1976: 204).

4 My English translation: ‘marriage pronoun’.

5 My English translation: ‘emotionalization of the singular’.

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Details

Title
The Use of Second Person Pronouns in Private and Official Letters in Early Modern English
College
University of Heidelberg  (Anglistisches Seminar)
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
2014
Pages
209
Catalog Number
V313782
ISBN (eBook)
9783668129023
ISBN (Book)
9783668129030
File size
1554 KB
Language
English
Tags
second, person, pronouns, private, official, letters, early, modern, english
Quote paper
Julie Dillenkofer (Author), 2014, The Use of Second Person Pronouns in Private and Official Letters in Early Modern English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/313782

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