The historical background


The topicality of the research is supposed by need of general analysis of the subject using diachronic and synchronic approaches.

Thus the aim of the research is to analyze pronouns and numerals from point of view of their origin, morphological and syntactic characteristics.

To achieve the aim it is necessary to cover the following tasks:

  1. Analyze changes that occurred in pronouns and numerals during the history.
  2. Analyze the morphological structure of pronouns and numeral, and the classification.
  3. Analyze the syntactic functions of pronouns and numerals.

To fulfill the task we referred to the works of modern linguists and internet resources.

Development of the pronoun during the history of English language

The pronoun is a functional part of speech, which may replace a noun and perform its syntactic role. It has been several periods in development of the pronoun: primary changes that occurred in Old English during the period of its formation, further changes in the Middle and Modern English.

Old English pronouns fell roughly under the same main classes and groups as modern pronouns. The classes included personal, demonstrative, interrogative and indefinite pronouns. Relative, possessive and reflexive pronouns had not been fully developed and had no distinctive features in some cases. The grammatical categories of the pronoun were either similar to those of nouns (“the noun-pronoun”) or to adjectives (“the adjective pronoun”). The pronoun also had some specific features that distinguished it from other parts of speech.

Short characteristic of the Old English pronoun

Personal pronouns

There had been three numbers (singular, dual, plural) in the 1st and 2nd person and two (singular and plural) in the 3rd person. Unlike noun that had four cases distinction, the pronoun started its way to simplification. Some cases got new functions within the class and in some way became more universal. Dative case obtained more functions such as those of Accusative in 1st and 2nd person. It is important to mention that the Genitive case performed two roles, that of the object and of the attribute. The latter prevailed in the Old English period.

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Demonstrative pronouns

There were two demonstrative pronouns in Old English: the prototype of modern pronouns that and this. They were declined like adjectives according to a five-case system: Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative and Instructive. The latter having a special form only in the Masculine and Neutral singular.

Interrogative pronouns

They had four-case paradigm and were represented by the prototypes of Modern English pronouns what and who. Some interrogative pronouns were used as adjective pronouns.

Indefinite pronouns

This group comprised several simple pronouns and a large number of compounds.

Personal and demonstrative pronouns were sometimes used in a relative function, as connectives.

Sort characteristics of changes during the Middle English period

Personal pronouns

There appeared new forms of personal pronouns: 3rd person feminine singular and third person plural. Their appearance was caused by changes in the phonetic system of the language.

Demonstrative pronouns

All demonstrative pronouns had been divided into those of long and short distance. Unlike the gender and case distinction existing in the Old English pronouns, the Middle English period brought some considerable changes, having cut off the category of gender. Before that it had been a kind of indicator in the Old English manuscripts. Thus the Middle English period brought about huge movements towards simplification when speaking about demonstrative pronouns.

Absolute possessive pronouns

This, completely new, group of pronouns appeared in 14th century. First it was mostly used when the word began with a vowel, but then, again thanks to the quickly developing process of total simplification, the forms became widely used. The pronouns belonging to this group are my and thy (modern my and your). Later, in 15th and 16th centuries there appeared a division of these pronouns into two groups. The pronouns of the first group were: my, thy, his, her, our, your, hire. The second group comprised such pronouns as: mine, yours, his, hers, ours, yours, and theirs. These pronouns were used at the absolute end of a sentence, that is why they were given such name – absolute possessive pronouns.

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Indefinite pronouns

In the Middle English period there appeared some new pronouns among the indefinite group. These pronouns were: both (it came from Scandinavian dialect), evrich (later, every), man, one, something, nothing, and anything.

English pronouns faced many changes during the history. Some form disappeared, some were replaced by more simple ones, some appeared as a completely new notion and in some time became essential for English grammar. Every change and every move toward enrichment of English language put it of the way of simplification. Apart of being morphologically complicated, modern pronouns that we use nowadays have more groups and forms but, at the same time, are simpler than Old and Middle English ones.

Development of the numeral during the history

In Proto-Indo-European all numerals, both cardinal and ordinal, were declined, as they derived on a very ancient stage from nouns or adjectives, originally being a declined part of speech. There are still language groups within the family with decline their numerals: among them, Slavic and Baltic are the most typical samples. They practically did not suffer any influence of the analytic processes. But all other groups seem to have been influenced somehow. Ancient Italic and Hellenic languages left the declension only for the first four cardinal numerals (from 1 to 4), the same with ancient Celtic.

The Old English language preserves this system of declension only for three numerals.

Here is the list of the cardinal numerals:

1 án – 20 twentig

2 twá – 21 twentig ond án

3 þríe – 30 þrítig

4 féower – 40 féowertig

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5 fíf – 50 fíftig

6 six, syx, siex – 60 siextig

7 seofon, syofn – 70 siofontig

8 eahta – 80 eahtatig

9 nigon – 90 nigontig

10 tien, týn – 100 hundtéontig, hund, hundred

11 endlefan – 110 hundælleftig

12 twelf – 120 hundtwelftig

13 þríotíene – 200 tú hund

14 féowertíene – 1000 þúsend

15 fíftíene… – 2000 tú þúsendu

Ordinal numerals use the suffix -ta or -þa, etymologically a common Indo-European one (*-to-).

1 forma, fyresta – 15 fíftéoþa

2 óþer, æfterra – 16 sixtéoþa

3 þridda, þirda – 17 siofontéoþa

4 féorþa – 18 eahtatéoþa

5 fífta – 19 nigontéoþa

6 siexta, syxta – 20 twentigoþa

7 siofoþa – 30 þrittigoþa

8 eahtoþa – 40 féowertigoþa

9 nigoþa – 50 fíftigoþa

10 téoþa – 100 hundtéontiogoþa

11 endlefta –

12 twelfta –

13 þreotéoþa –

14 féowertéoþa –

The two variants for the word “first” actually mean different attributes: forma is translated as “forward”, and fyresta is “the farthest”, “the first”. Again double variants for the second nominal mean respectively “the other” and “the following”.

Mainly according to Old English texts ordinal numerals were used with the demonstrative pronoun þá before them. This is where the definite article in ‘the first’, ‘the third’ comes from. To say “the 22nd”, for example, you should combine the following: either twá and twenigoþa (two and twentieth), or óþer éac twentigum (second with twenty). So the order is different from the modern English, but instead closer to Modern German where “the 22nd” sounds like zwei und zwanzig (two and twenty).

During the Old English period both cardinal and ordinal numbers became shorter.

Later, in the Middle English period this process continued. In Modern English both cardinal and ordinal numerals have from one to two syllables.