Friday, October 12, 2007

Calling all Anglo-Saxonists - help!

So I just taught my Old English students about syncopation, assimilation, and i-mutation in strong verbs this week, and I came across something that confused me.

I thought that i-mutation only happened in short/light syllable environments -- where the root word has a short vowel + consonant, followed by an i or j in the prehistoric form. (Am I wrong?) But then why does the Class 6 strong verb 'standan' show i-mutation in its 2nd and 3rd person singular present forms (at least in the book I'm using): stendest or stenst, and stendeþ or stent(t)? I guess the real question is, where did that -n- come from, since it's not in the past tense (then or now). It's not gemination, which I know happens in this class, but what is it?

If you can help this Middle English person out, she'd be grateful. And my students will be interested to know the answer, too, since they were also curious about all the way that "standan" is weird.


Mark said...

I don't know if this exactly answers your question, but standan is unusual as a class VI strong verb, since usually they have only one consonant. Campbell's Grammar just says "In Class VI two verbs have infixed -n- in the present, OE sta-n-dan, waec-n-an, past stod, woc (cf. Lat. vinco, vici, sterno, strevi). This -n- is extended in OE to the past part. standen." I guess it's just irregular.

Anonymous said...

Dr. V,

I think that i-mutation occurs regardless of syllable quantity. The only conditioning factors are an [i] or [j] in the following syllable and a root vowel that is not [i].

Here's an example of i-mutation occurring in a long/heavy syllable:
*do:m-jan > OE de:man

In the regular strong verb paradigms, all eligible second and third person singular present forms undergo i-mutation, even those with heavy syllables. (The PGmc. forms of the second and third singular present suffixes are *-isi and *-ithi; the other suffixes do not start with [i].)

For example, the relevant forms of the Class 3 strong verb "helpan" are "hilp(e)st" and "hilp(e)th."

(All present forms of Gmc. weak verbs underwent i-mutation into OE, since there was an [i] before all endings. See Campbell #750.)

As for "standan": normally, *a > æ as a result of i-mutation, but when the vowel is followed by a nasal, we get *a > e.

So *stand-isi > stend-isi> stend-is > stend-es > stend-est (I'm not sure when OE acquired the "-t".)

About the weird "n" in "standan"? Not really sure. Gothic also has "standan," but the PIE ancestor is *sta:-d, without the n-infix. As the previous commenter said, there are two Class VI strong verbs with this infix: standan and wacan.

Dr. Virago said...

Thanks Mark and G!

And duh, why didn't I remember "helpan" as a verb with a heavy first syllable that undergoes -mutation as well?

And G - thanks for explaining why *a sometimes gets raised to æ and sometimes to e.

I'll let students know that the Class 6 verbs with -n- infixes are a very select group!