Marcel Frömberg

(University of Hamburg)

Third Person Singular in the History of English, from -(e)th to -(e)s.
A View on the Midlands between 1350 and 1650

A corpus-driven diachronic study, this paper will shed light on the geographical and sociolinguistic development of the English third person singular indicative. The study will focus on the Midland region of England between 1350 and 1650.

Languages are constantly changing which also applies to English and the third person singular suffix. During Middle English times, the third person singular indicative was formed by using the -(e)th ending as example (1) shows:

(1)  After this folewith byinge and sellynge, of the whiche cometh couetise and auarice (written by an unknown author sometime between 1425 and 1450)

Over the course of the centuries, the -(e)th ending underwent change and was replaced by the -(e)s suffix (e.g. follows, comes). This new suffix originated in the north of England in the 10th century, in the region of Northumbria and started to spread to the south in the Middle English period (Nevalainen & Raumolin-Brunberg & Trudgill 2001: 188). Taking a look at the north, East Anglia and London, Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg (2003: 178-179) state that ‘dialect hopping’ resulted in the new feature being present in London, but only later in East Anglia. Due to migration from the north, the new feature is supposed to have found its way to the London merchant community early on. As up to this point, no detailed analysis has been done on this diffusion process in the area between its origin and the capital city, this study will fill this gap.

The underlying question that drives this study is therefore what the distribution of -(e)s and -(e)th looks like in the Midlands between 1350 and 1650. We will try to answer if the change from -(e)th to -(e)s was inspired by the south (i.e. through London influence), indicating dialect hopping as in East Anglia, or if the new feature reached the Midlands from the north, or simultaneously from north and south.

Sociolinguistic variables will be taken into account to observe the driving forces behind the change and to identify if the same patterns can be observed in the Midlands as were depicted by Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg (2003).

The study utilizes two diachronic corpora, the Penn-Parsed Corpus of Historical English and the Parsed Corpus of Early English Correspondence. Geographical and sociolinguistic data will be acquired from the internet as well as from the Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English.



Kroch, Anthony, and Ann Taylor. 2000. The Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Middle English (PPCME2). Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania. CD-ROM, second edition, release 4 (

Kroch, Anthony, Beatrice Santorini, and Lauren Delfs. 2004. The Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Early Modern English (PPCEME). Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania. CD-ROM, first edition, release 3 (

Benskin, M. Laing, V. Karaiskos and K. Williamson. An Electronic Version of A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English []
(Edinburgh: © 2013- The Authors and The University of Edinburgh).

Nevalainen, Tertu, Helena Raumolin-Brunberg.2003. Historical Sociolinguistics: Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England. London: Pearson Education.

Nevalainen, Tertu, Helena Raumolin-Brunberg, Peter Trudgill. 2001. Chapters in the Social History of East Anglian English: The Case of Third Person Singular. In Jacek Fisiak & Peter Trudgill (eds.), East Anglian English, 187-204. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Parsed Corpus of Early English Correspondence PCEEC tagged version. 2006. Annotated by Ann Taylor, Arja Nurmi, Anthony Warner, Susan Pintzuk & Terttu Nevalainen. Compiled by the CEEC Project Team. York: University of York and Helsinki: University of Helsinki. Distributed through the Oxford Text Archive.