Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Arthurian Grammar -- A Primer

By I.A. Watson

A particuilar pet peeve of mine is bad Thorspeak. People often tangle their ‘ye’s and ‘thee’s and suchlike. So here’s the guide:

Second Person Singular – ‘Thou’ or ‘Thee’
Second Person Plural - ‘Ye’ or “You’
(all of these become “you” in modern English)

Use ‘thou’ and ‘ye’ as the subject, and ‘thee’ and ‘you’ otherwise, the same way you’d use ‘I’ and ‘me’ or ‘he’ and ‘him’

“Thou art cowardly. I shall defeat thee.”
“Ye asked for it. You must receive it.”

This distinction has been lost in modern English, which means that the King James Bible actually offers some nuances that modern English translations miss, such as:

“If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3.12)

This is actually important sometimes in conveying meaning, as with John 3.7, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” where modern English has no distinguishing word to denote that the original language signified that Jesus was speaking ‘“you’ in the plural sense each time.

With ‘thy’ and ‘thine’ (= ‘your’), use ‘thy’ as the subject and ‘thine’ with the object for the second person singular, e.g. “Thy horse is lame. The fault is thine.” It’s the second person equivalent of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ or ‘him’ and ‘his’. The exception is when the following word begins with a vowel, when ‘thine’ should always be used; e.g. “Watch thy shield guard. Hold up thine arm more.”

The plurals are the same as the modern forms: “Your horses are lame. The fault is yours.”

With ‘-est’ and ‘-eth’ suffixes, any word that ends in ‘-est’ is second person singular, e.g. “Thou hopest for it. Ye all hope for it.” Any word ending in ‘-eth’ is third person singular, e.g. “He hopest for it. You all hope for it.” Simple short words can drop the ‘e’ from either suffix, as in “I do, thou dost (doest), he doth (doeth)” and can sometimes contract the root word also, as in “I have, thou hast (havest), he hath (haveth).” These contractions do not have apostrophes in them.

Note that the plural never has those suffixes. The modern usage was the same for them even in medieval-speak. It was always “We have”, never “We hast”.

There are also exceptions. This is grammar, after all. It’s not allowed to be simple. So the past tense of  “Thou dost,” is “Thou didst”, according to the rules, but the past tense of  “He dost” is also “He didst,” not “He dideth.” And so on.

As for ‘ye’ as in “Ye old castle,” that is a different word entirely from the ‘ye’ meaning ‘you’ mentioned above. It is a remnant from the archaic letter thorn – þ – which was replaced in Middle English with the digraph ‘th’. So the original spelling of ‘the’ was ‘þe’, pronounced as best we can tell somewhere between “ye” and “the”; hence the antique use of ‘ye’ as an alternative spelling for ‘the’ when it is the definite article. So technically you could say “Ye failed to go to ye old castle” and be using two different words both spelled ‘ye’ in the same sentence.

Hope that cleared it all up.

I.A. Watson has just received the Pulp Ark Award for Best Author 2016. His most recent work appears in SHERLOCK HOLMES: CONSULTING DETECTIVE volume 8, currently shortlisted for Best Short Story in the Pulp Factory Awards and in the Pulp Ark Best Anthology winner LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION. His new novels, HOLMES AND HOUDINI and LABOURS OF HERCULES are both due out in the next three months. A full list of his publications is available at http://www.chillwater.org.uk/writing/iawatsonhome.htm