Linguistic and Anthropological Journeys

Here to answer questions on the fields of Anthopology and Linguistics

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Word Origin of the Week 1: I, Me, Mine, My
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr
In these segments, I'm going to talk about the origins of certain words.  I will certainly be willing to take requests if anyone has any questions about the origins of certain words.  For the first one, I will discuss the origin of the pronouns I, me, mine, my.

Well, this is an important word in our language, as it is in every one.  The Indo-European root for <I> is eg.  In Latin we have ego, in Greek we have εγω.  Of course, ego is the root of the word <ego>  and <egotism> which were Freudian additions to the Language, and help to reinforce the idea of the inner self.  Now, the root eg becomes ek in the general Germanic group, through a process known as final devoicing.  In Old English the vowel shifted up and the word became ic, pronounced /ɪtʃ/, or sometimes ih, pronounced /ɪç/.   The Old High German form was ih, which becomes ich, and it's pronounced the in a similar way for centuries, first as /ɪx/ and now /ɪç/.  In Old Norse, they retained the lower vowel in ek, which becomes ég (Icelandic), jeg (Danish/Norwegian), and jag (Swedish).

In The Middle English era, the word ic became ich or iche, or in the Northumbrian dialect, ik.  Now the i and y were interchangeable in Middle English, so you may see ych or yche as well.  Later, however, the end consonant was dropped and the vowel was lengthened.  This leads to or y being used by itself to mean that.  The pronounciation was /i:/ which sounds like "ee" and is even preserved in the expression "willy nilly" which was originally "will I nill I" which meant "Do I want to or not?"   Then the Great Vowel Shifted from /i:/ to /aj/ and thus i began to be pronounced the way it is today. 

The origin of me is the Indo-European me.  In various inflections of the Latin and Greek roots, you see me in the acc..  This was the same root in Germanic languages, save these languages have a devoiced velar consonant at the end, such as mec in Old English, and mih in Old High German (which is preserved today).  In Old English, the Dative and Accusative both became mé, pronounced /me:/.  In Middle English, this didn't change at all and retained the spelling me or mee.  The Great Vowel Shift caused /e:/ to shift to /i:/, leaving use to the Modern me pronounced /mi:/

The origins of my and mine are the same.  Originally, it was the same Indo-European root me, and then it added an adjective ending in the Germanic, leaving mínaz.  In German today it has retained that n in mein.  In Old English the strong adjective and the genitive of ic were the same as mín. This was retained well into the Middle English era through, always pronounced /mi:n/.  In this era, the dropping of the n became common.  In fact it began to be used like a and an today.  The same spelling conventions as with I, so my, mi, myn, and min were all common spellings.   This usage survived into the Early Modern era, where the vowel shift created /maj/ and /majn/.  In some old songs, we still see the n being inserted if the next word starts with a vowel, such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic : Mine eyes have seen....  Then the genitive form separated from the adjective, and the modern forms of mine and my formed.


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