OE weak masculine noun curiosity

November 22, 2011 at 2:48 am (Uncategorized)

For reasons that hardly bear recounting, I found myself trying to fit eaxlgestealla into a sentence last week in a context that demanded it be a genitive plural.  Dutifully mimicking my paradigm of nama, I arrived at eaxlgesteallena.  That looked odd, never mind a bear to pronounce, so I went combing through the corpus and found Elene‘s gn pl eaxlgestealna at line 64.  I then spent a chunk of time going through grammars trying to arrive at a reason for this that was better than “you know those crazy Anglo Saxons and their free-wheeling orthography!”

I imagine there is actually some rule I’ve assimilated poorly. I mean, if one is supposed to know how to decline eaxlgestealla, then someone must have articulated a rule or tendency at some point. But I don’t know where to look for it. None of my grammars treat multi-syllable weak nouns in giving paradigms, and the concept of elision is nowhere to be found.  My thinking process:

Now, sometimes nouns are caught in the process of moving from one category into another over time, and you get a mix of forms, like winter which was originally a u-stem but which you’ll also see with a strong gen sg ending as wintres instead of, presumably, wintra. Perhaps that is what’s going on with eaxlgestealna, a switch between classes/categories and thus endings in some places, so where we would expect the -ena gen pl ending for a masc weak noun, we find instead the ending of a strong noun … no, that won’t work, there is no strong -na ending, just the -a ending (I was thinking of scina, but the root is scin-). So such a borrowing would render gen pl eaxlgestealla which is not attested. And in any case I’m not sure that borrowing from other classes occurs with categories other than u-stem nouns.

Now, where elision is not discussed as such, syncopation is, and I don’t imagine there is much in the way of technical difference between the two (though syncopation in the older OE grammars refers to the loss of a vowel between two consonants and I don’t know that elision is that precise, generally, so maybe syncopation is a subset of elision?). But again, the only discussion of syncopation as such that I can find right now is in reference to 1. verbs, and there are fairly precise “rules,” and 2. loss of a vowel when adding endings to two-syllable *strong* nouns (nom sg heafod but acc sg heafdes, though you’ll also see heafodes, so either way is acceptable). It’s not clear that this applies also to weak nouns, though. And it’s tough to tell what might be going on because eaxlgestealla is a rare word in the surviving OE corpus (I only found four instances – one gen pl, two nom sg, and one nom pl), so we can’t even see the noun fully declined “in the wild”).

There is the possibility that eaxlgestealna, which is attested only once in the surviving corpus, is a scribal error. But then one might expect that editors would have simply emended it so that we wouldn’t even know it existed unless we were paleographers or devout readers of editorial notes. That it is not emended to eaxlgesteallena makes me keep looking for the rule or guideline that would account for it.

Assuming there’s some un-doubling rule I don’t know about to account for the loss of the L, I was thinking I couldn’t rule out an alternative -a ending for the genitive plural of weak masc nouns, and it just isn’t Baker, which is the OE grammar I know best; Moore and Knott do mention either -a or -ena as alternatives for gen pl endings of fem o-stems. Perhaps something similar exists for masc weak nouns and, uh, no grammar mentions it because eaxlgestealna is our only surviving example of the variation, and it’s so rare as to not have made an impression? If that were so, then eaxlgesteal(l)ena ought to be an acceptable spelling – it just isn’t attested because we lost so much of the corpus. Sounds unlikely, though… plus that variation gives us eaxlgesteal(l)a and not the -alna ending. So that can’t be it.

Elision – or syncopation – it must be, then, if it is so that elision or syncopation can account for both the consonant *and* the vowel loss in the next syllable, *and* we accept that this is an orthographic variation that is not mentioned in any of the grammars I have around my feet at the moment. Unsatisfying, but in trying to think through other alternatives, that (offered by a friend in another online forum) is the only one that makes sense to me. It’s just these older grammars are so exhaustive you’d think it would have been mentioned.

The most vexing thing is not knowing where to look or who to ask to find a definitive explanation for this.

Anybody got any input?

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