Yither and Yence Yeet Ye?

Yither and Yence Yeet Ye? (trans: do y'all yeet to and from there?)

Table of Contents

Preface: "Correct" Grammar is Racist Garbage

Before we get into today's grammar, just a friendly reminder: linguistic prescriptivism is stupid garbage. Prescriptivism, the notion that there is only one correct way to say something, and all other forms, styles, or grammars, are 'wrong', is dumb. Not only is this mind-set racist and deeply colonial, but it also belies the core purpose of language, communication.
 
To speak well is to maximise transfer of information. This information can be verbal (what I'm saying), nonverbal (how I'm saying it), or semantic, (how what I'm saying shows what I mean). Furthermore, all of these can have interesting implications conveying social information separate to the communicated sentence itself. This idea will be explored later in the GeekNotes.
 
What I'm saying is that whilst "grammar" historically refers to the strict correct terms of grammatical engagement, here I'll be discussing it as analysis of trends. Whilst "hello yous" may not meet prescriptivist notions of what's "grammatical" it perfectly conveys what it means. (greeting a distinctly non-singular plurality of people).
 
With all this said, today we'll be comparing the archaic grammar of yore, to the most prevalent and shared grammar of modern English.

Pronouns

Me vs You

So the specific time periods of the following grammar quirks will vary but what I seek to discuss is how 'old-timey' English wasn't always just being weird for 'old-timey' sake. Some of English's archaic grammar was actually useful, and represents lost utility.
 
With pronouns, we discuss them in terms of "people".
  • The first person is the self. It's the "I/me". The first person in the sentence is the person saying/writing it.
  • The second person is the audience or partner. It's the "you".
  • The third person is everyone/thing else. It's the "he/she/it/they/[object name]/[person name]/etc"
 
When I'm talking to you, dear reader, I am the first person and you are the second. If you (2nd) were to respond to me (1st) with the sentence.

"Hey Alex, I think you're dumb!"

I would be a) sad and b) the second person (the you from you're), us having switched roles as you became the speaker and I became the audience.
 
Remembering from the article on Toki Pona grammar, pronouns are words that stand in place of names for people or things. I am Alex, that's my name.
 
When I say "I", you know I am referring to the person "Alex".
 
When I say "you", I am referring to "O great and mighty reader who has journeyed from far to gaze upon this virtual tome and seek enlightenment". But because that's too long to write out every time I can just use the pronoun "you".
 
Furthermore, when discussing pronouns English divides them by 'how many' they are and what they 'do'. That is to say in terms of singular/plural, and subject/object.
 
Remember also that the subject is the "do-er" of an action and the object is the "do-ee". e.g. "he ate it": he is the subject, and it is the object.
 
 Object SingularObject PluralSubject Singular  Subject Plural
1st PersonIwemeus
2nd Personyouyou*youyou*
3rd Personhe/she/it/they**theyhim/her/it/them**them

*note the frequent use of 'y'all' or 'yous' . **note the increasing use of the singular 'they' as a neutral-gendered human pronoun.

 
 Modern Standard EnglishMiddle English
 ObjectSubjectObject Subject
1st SingularImeIme
2nd Singularyou youthouthee
3rd Singularhe/she/it/theyhim/her/it/them he/she/ithim/her/it
1st Plural weus  weus
2nd Plural  youyouyeyou
3rd Plural  theythemtheythem
However, older English used some different pronouns, and not just because it was the olden days. Whereas modern English doesn't specify a difference between the singular or plural second person (although yous or y'all are often used), older English did.
 
We can also discuss possessive adjectives in this way. These are words that describe ownership and come before nouns (my, your, their). These are NOT the same as possessive pronouns (mine, yours theirs). Similar, related, but different.
 

 

 

 Modern Standard EnglishMiddle English
 ObjectSubjectPos.Adj.Object SubjectPos.Adj.
1st SingularIme myImemy/mine* 
2nd Singularyou youyour thoutheethy/thine* 
3rd Singularhe/she/it/theyhim/her/it/them his/her/its/their he/she/ithim/her/ithis/her/its 
1st Plural weus  our weus our
2nd Plural  youyou youryeyou your
3rd Plural  theythemtheir theythem their

*note that my/mine and thy/thine depending on what followed.

 
If what followed was a consonant, the -y form was used (my cat, thy shoe). If what followed was a vowel, the -ine form was used (mine eye, thine igloo). This is because of the tendency for most romance (Latin/Roman-derived) languages to do their best to avoid glottal stops. These are the throat-y pauses in sound when you have to stop air-flow to differentiate two adjacent vowels (a'apple vs an-apple).

You vs Thy (formal vs informal)

Furthermore, archaic English had a way of showing respect/formality in pronouns. This feature is a thriving component of many other current languages today. (we'll use French as an example).
 
In French, when talking to your friends you would refer to them as "tu" (informal you). However, when politely referring to a stranger, or to someone important and respect-worthy, you would use "vous" (formal you). However, vous is multi-purpose. One also uses vous to refer to the second person plural. That is to say that vous is also French for "y'all" or "yous".
 
Old English (or more correctly "Middle English" spanning 1000s-1600s,) used this same schtick. To respectfully (formally) refer to a singular second person you would simply refer to them with the second person plural pronoun.
 
In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Sir Andrew employs this difference in the line "if thou thou'st him some thrice, it shall not be amiss."
 
Sir Andrew suggests Sir Toby (who he also refers to as thou) use "thou" at Viola (she is in drag as a him), as opposed to the polite "you". In this case Sir Andrew suggests this grammatical device be weaponised for insult. (I love me some sick grammar burns!)
 
Another example:

"HEAR YE! HEAR YE!"

When a town crier (old-timey current event blogger) or anyone similar requested attention they'd shout: HEAR YE!
 
Back then, this structure of [verb][ye!], indicated three things:
  1. [verb][pronoun] indicated the imperative case (instruction or request)
  2. [verb][2nd Person] indicated the audience was part of a "you" not a "we"
  3. [verb][ye] indicated that the "you" was to a plural "you" not a singular. However, it may have equally been to a singular "you" but addressed formally*.

*Note: While Middle English (and modern French) could distinguish between single and plural informal "you" (2PSi thou, 2PPi ye), it didn't distinguish between formal "you" being singular (2PSf) or plural (2PPf) (Middle-EN: you, FR: vous). This is not the case in other languages, such as modern (RAE European) Spanish: tú (2PSi), vosotros (2PPi), usted (SPSf), & ustedes (SPPf).

 
Over time this thou/thy-vs-ye/you distinction faded, and by the 1700s thou/thy was largely forgotten, with the formal ye/you serving in it's place. Eventually the subject/object distinction (ye-vs-you) was also lost.
 
Now everyone is you. Regardless of number, social stature, or place in the sentence, we use you across the board.
 
I'll admit that whilst this is handy, I must say I do yearn for the days of a unique second person plural. I want my vosotros instead of just a y'all.
 
And to be deeply honest, I think I yearn for the days of formal/informal distinction just for the Shakespearean drama of the weaponised thou.

Verbs

Another Shakespeare-y language tid-bit of note is all the -eth's and -est's.

Me think-eth-est-th the woman protest-eth-th-th-th too much-th.

 
Whilst to the modern ear these are fun markers old-timey-ness there were actually set rules to (most) verbs on which old-timey-tails to add to verbs. This process is called "conjugation" and is a linguistic giant still present in modern English. Conjugation is a way of adding bits onto a verb to indicate tense, person, mood, any many other potential things. ("yoking together": con- (Latin: together) -jugum (Latin: yoke))
 
We do this in English in a regular predictable (albeit subtle) way with our regular verbs.
 Modern Standard EnglishMiddle English
1st SingularI thinkI think
2nd Singularyou thinkthou thinkest
3rd Singularhe/she/it thinks OR they think he/she/it thinketh
1st Pluralwe think we think
2nd Plural  you thinkye think
3rd Plural  they thinkthey think
We do it however, much more excitingly with our irregular verbs
 
 Modern Standard EnglishMiddle English
 to beto haveto doto beto haveto do
1st Singularam I haveI doamI have I do 
2nd Singularyou areyou have you dothou artthou hast thou dost
3rd Singularhe/she/it is OR they arehe/she/it/ they havehe/she/it does OR they do he/she/it is he/she/it hath thou doth
1st Pluralwe are we have we do we are we havewe do 
2nd Plural  you areyou have  you doye areye have ye do
3rd Plural  they are they have they dothey arethey have they do

Prepositions

When we talk about location in English we can talk about things that are proximal (close) or distal (far). We do this with prepositional adverbs (here/there) and with demonstrative determiners (this/that). We can also do this with time, with a word describing the immediately proximal time-space (now) and a word describing a distal past or present (then). Nowadays, everything we can discuss via the metaphor of distance is at one of two degrees of distance: proximal or distal.
 
However, older English had three degrees of distance: proximal, medial, and distal.
 
Proximal: here/this/now
Medial: there/that/then
Distal: yonder/yon/yen
 
 Modern Standard EnglishMiddle English
 PrepositionDemonstrativeTemporalPrepositionDemonstrative  Temporal
Proximalherethisnowherethisnow
Medial   therethatthen
Distaltherethatthenyonderyonyen
The medial-vs-distal option gave us a way to suggest that some things, not immediately in front of us, were still further than others. "Here" might refer to the location of something on the table you're sitting at. "There" might refer to the location on the wall of that room you are in. Meanwhile, "yonder" could refer to the location of a tree at your old elementary school.
 
This medial/distal distinction gave speakers, not just a pragmatic differentiation, but also a poetic one. For example, one could highlight the distance by choosing which location they wanted to use.
 
Imagine how damning an attack it would be if you were talking about running a marathon, or fitting into a size _ dress. Imagine then if someone referred to "yon goal", instead of "that goal". Ooooh spicy grammatical burn.

Directions

One last bit of archaic grammar, a bit closer to modern day English, and still sometimes used: whither and whence.
 
When talking spatially, Modern English cares about location (Where? Here! There!). But it also used to care about origin and destination.
 
Whilst we haven't lost the ability to talk about origin (from where) and destination (to where) we lost the ability to do it in a single word (without auxillary bits to and from).
 
Originally, one could say whence (from where), or whither (to where). These had corresponding answers using the three distances discussed above.
 
 Modern Standard EnglishMiddle English
 LocationOriginDestinationLocationOriginDestination
Interrogativewhere    where whencewither 
Proximalhere  herehence hither
Medial   therethencethither
Distalthere  yonderyenceyither
  For this reason when someone is using the stock-standard old-timey sentence:

"return from whence you came!"

 
they ought to be saying:

"return whence you came!"

 
as "from whence" is redundant and would translate as "from from where".

So next time someone hands you a soda can and you come to find "this bitch empty", ask yourself:

"Whither yeet-est thou this bitch?" and then very rapidly lob the sucker down yon hallway.

Comparison of Modern English, Archaic Middle English, and other Modern European Languages

GEEKNOTES: Sociolinguistics and the Like-Particle

 

Banner image edited from public domain captures of the Gutenberg Bible

Comments

CORRECTIONS ARE NOT JUST WELCOMED BUT INVITED: CONTACT


COPYRIGHT INFO : TEXT = CC0, INFOGRAPHICS = Creative Commons License