Demonstrative Pronouns. Development of Articles
§ 448. Demonstrative pronouns were adjective-pronouns; like other adjectives, in OE they agreed with the noun in case, number and gender and had a well-developed morphological paradigm.
In Early ME the OE demonstrative pronouns sē, sēo, pæt and pes, pēos, pis — lost most of their inflected forms: out of seventeen forms each retained only two. The ME descendants of these pronouns are that and this, the former Nom. and Acc. cases, Neut. sg, which served now as the sg of all cases and genders. Each pronoun had a respective pl form, which made up a balanced paradigm of forms opposed through number.
(Number distinctions in demonstrative pronouns have survived as an archaic trait in the modern grammatical system, for no other noun modifier agrees now with the noun in number. )
§ 449. The other direction of the development of the demonstrative pronouns sē, sēo, pæt led to the formation of the definite article. This development is associated with a change in form and meaning.
In OE texts the pronouns sē, sēo, pæt were frequently used as noun- determiners with a weakened meaning, approaching that of the modern definite article, e. g.: Her Offa Miercna cyninʒ hēt Æoelbryhte pæt hēafod of stēan ‘this year Offa, King of Mercia, ordered the head of Athetbriht to be cut off’.
In the manuscripts of the 11th and 12th c. this use of the demonstrative pronoun becomes more and more common.
In the course of ME there arose an important formal difference between the demonstrative pronoun and the definite article: as a demonstrative pronoun that preserved number distinctions whereas as a definite article — usually in the weakened form the [θə] — it was uninflected. The following examples show some transitional stages from the demonstrative pronoun to the definite article:
Demetrius the ferste brother was hate, and Perseus that other.
(‘The first brother was called Demetrius, the other Perseus.’) With nouns in the pl, pl forms of the demonstrative pronoun were not infrequently used in the meaning of the definite article:
among tha trees ‘among the trees’, bitwene tho two Noes children ‘between the two children of Noah’.
In the 14th c. the article had lost all traces of inflection and became a short unaccented form-word. In the following passage from the CANTERBURY TALES the is used with nouns in the pl:
A cook they hadde with hem for the nones
To boille the chiknes with the marybones
(‘At the time they had a cook with them to boil the chickens with the marrowbones’. )
The meaning and functions of the definite article became more specific when it came to be opposed to the indefinite article, which had developed from the OE numeral and indefinite pronoun ān.
§ 450. In OE there existed two words, ān, a numeral, and sum, an indefinite pronoun, which were often used in functions approaching those of the modern indefinite article.
An seems to have been a more colloquial word, while sum tended to assume a literary character, particularly towards the end of the period, and soon fell into disuse in this function.
In Early ME the indefinite pronoun ān which had a five-case declension in OE lost its inflection. In the 12th c. the inflectional forms of ān reveal a state of confusion; in the 13th c. the uninflected oon/one and their reduced forms an/a are firmly established in all regions.
§ 451. The use of articles in the age of Chaucer is often similar to what we find in English today; e. g.:
A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man
(‘There was a knight, and (he was) a worthy man’)
Whan the sonne was to reste
(‘When the sun set (lit. “was at rest”)’)
The hooly, blisful martyr for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke
(‘To seek the holy blissful martyr who had helped them when they
... Of which vertu engendred is the flour.
(‘By whose force is engendered the flower’ (the flower has a generic meaning; ‘flowering, blossoming’).
But alongside such examples, ME texts contain instances where the use of articles and other noun determiners does not correspond to modern rules, e. g. For hym was levere have at his beddes heed twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed... / Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sau t r i e. ‘For he would rather have at the head of his bed twenty books bound in black or red than rich robes, or a fiddle, or a gay psaltery’(a musical instrument); Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre ‘yet he had but little gold in the coffer (or; in his coffer)’.
§ 452. It is believed that the growth of articles in Early ME was caused, or favoured, by several internal linguistic factors. The development of the definite article is usually connected with the changes in the declension of adjectives, namely with the loss of distinctions between the strong and weak forms. Originally the weak forms of adjectives had a certain demonstrative meaning resembling that of the modern definite article. These forms were commonly used together with the demonstrative pronouns sē, sēo, pæt. In contrast to weak forms, the strong forms of adjectives conveyed the meaning of “indefiniteness” which was later transferred to ān, a numeral and indefinite pronoun. In case the nouns were used without adjectives or the weak and strong forms coincided, the form-words ān and pæt turned out to be the only means of expressing these meanings. The decay of adjective declensions speeded up their transition into articles.
Another factor which may account for the more regular use of articles was the changing function of the word order. Relative freedom in the position of words in the OE sentence made it possible to use word order for communicative purposes, e. g. to present a new thing or to refer to a familiar thing already known to the listener. After the loss of inflections, the word order assumed a grammatical function — it showed the grammatical relations between words in the sentence; now the parts of the sentence, e. g. the subject or the objects, had their own fixed places. Accordingly, the communicative functions passed to the articles and their use became more regular.
The growth of the articles is thus connected both with the changes in syntax and in morphology.