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Subject:History of possessives (was Re: Query) From:Penny Staples <pstaples -at- AIRWIRE -dot- COM> Date:Mon, 22 Dec 1997 08:57:57 -0600
Michael Lewis suggested:
> BTW, there is a case to be made out for regarding the so-called
> possessive apostrophe as merely a decayed form of the apostrophe
> signalling deletion.
I agree completely, but at the risk of straying wildly off
into academia, I have an alternate theory for why this is.
In Anglo-Saxon, the genitive case (i.e., possessive) was
formed by adding 'es'. For example, the possesive form
of "John" would have "Johnes". Plurals were often formed
with an 'es' too, but that's a different discussion :-)
It appears like this in Middle English too: Mandeville's
Travels (a fun book that I happen to have within reach)
describes the island of the dog-headed people:
"And alle the men and wommen of that yle han houndes
hedes...." (14th century English)
The "e" in the possessive 'es' disappeared sometime
later, to be replaced by the apostrophe. Spelling wasn't
regularized until the 18th century.
Regards to all,
pstaples -at- airwire -dot- com
Just as "there's" is a condensed form of "there
> is", so "John's" represents a form something like "John his". In Middle
> English (as used by Chaucer), pronouns were changing; Chaucer used "hir"
> rather than "his". Somewhere along the line we moved from "John hir" and
> "Mary hir" to "John his" and "Mary his" (though the latter form may well
> not have existed other than as a hypothetical transitional form), and
> thence to "John's" and "Mary's". So trying to put a "possessive
> apostrophe" in "its" makes it mean "it its" -- crazy, no?