I pray yfynde mye soothful anser heer.
February 14, 2008 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm reading Chaucer in Middle English. I frequently find constructions like "Ygeten us thise knedyng tubbes thre". What is the y+verb construction? The translator whose work I'm reading has paid more attention to scansion and feel than accuracy.

I'm not talking about 'y' as a graph for thorn. Or, if it is a thorn, I want to know what that means grammatically.

Another example: "I have yfounde in myn astrologye". I also find places where these verbs aren't prefixed with 'y', so I don't think it's simply how they spelled "found" back in the day.

It seems to relate to place or location. Perhaps it is the 'y' in "il y a", borrowed from French? But, then why does Chaucer need "in" as well as "yfounde"?

Or, am I overthinking this, and it's just there to make the scansion work?
posted by Netzapper to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Past participle?
posted by pullayup at 3:47 PM on February 14, 2008

Best answer: "The initial y was once the standard way of marking the past participle: yclensed, yfastened, ypunched" -- Michael Quinion
posted by Zonker at 3:50 PM on February 14, 2008

Response by poster: Ah, sweet. Thanks folks! I feel like I should've seen past participle-thing.
posted by Netzapper at 3:56 PM on February 14, 2008

Yeah, it's the same as German ge- (the German for yfounde is gefunden). The OED has a whole essay about it, of which I'll reproduce one paragraph:
The general facts of the history and survival of OE. ȝe-, of which some details are given below, are:—In positions where it was still recognizable as a prefix, it had left few traces in northern English by 1200; its disappearance in the north was assisted by the absence of the prefix in ON. Substantival, adjectival, and verbal forms (other than pa. pples.) continued, not later than the end of the 14th century, only in southern and west-midland dialects. The pa. pple. was regularly formed with the prefix in southern ME. till about the middle of the 15th century, and its use in the form a- survives in south-western dialects to the present day. Pa. pples. so formed were a prominent feature of the archaistic language of Spenser and his imitators, and a few of them, the most notable of which is YCLEPT, persist as conventional archaisms of poetry.
posted by languagehat at 4:00 PM on February 14, 2008

past participle
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:34 PM on February 14, 2008

shoulda previewed!
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:34 PM on February 14, 2008

You still hear it in some English dialects., as LanguageHat's post says, not just southwestern but oop north where I come from as well. I haven't checked but I suspect that 'afraid' is derived from 'a-feared' or 'y-feard' or something similar. There are probably other examples in modern English.
posted by unSane at 5:33 PM on February 14, 2008

I suspect that 'afraid' is derived from 'a-feared' or 'y-feard' or something similar.

No, but the truth is even more interesting. OED:
Orig. pa. pple. of afray, AFFRAY v. (cf. lay, laid; say, said, etc.) which, being more used than any other part, acquired an independent standing, and has retained the spelling afraid, while the vb. is affray.
Affray is from Anglo-French afraye-r, effraye-r, from late Latin ex-fridare (from ex 'out of' + late Latin fridus, fridum, from a Germanic word for 'peace').
posted by languagehat at 6:22 PM on February 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

About the only time you encounter it, even in advanced English literature, is the consciously or even jocularly archaic poeticism yclept ("named"), as in the Quinion link above.

These are words that were obsolete by Shakespeare's time. Yclept seems to be in Milton somewhere (ah: L'Allegro. But com thou Goddes fair and free/In Heav'n ycleap'd Euphrosyne....) The Bard uses "clepe" and variants a few times but never this form. A few more that seemed to have some recognition in literary senses through the 19th century include yclad (clothed) and yblent (blinded), and another use of the prefix survived in the regionalism iwis (certain).

But it seems to have basically found redundant by speakers of Modern English.

There is this interesting caution about ge-:
Perhaps the most common morpheme in OE is the "ge-" prefix, which is often found attached to verbs, and sometimes to other parts of speech such as adjectives or nouns. Unfortunately, this morpheme is so common and is used on such a variety of words that it is nearly impossible to determine what sort of meaning it may have carried. Here, a parallel with German should be noted: in German, the "ge-" prefix is still used, but mostly to mark past participles. As such, the German "ge-" morpheme can't really help us determine the meaning of the OE morpheme, since in German, it is now essentially an inflectional morpheme, with no separate semantic meaning. Ultimately, it seems as if in most cases, the semantic value of the "ge-" prefix was close to nil in the OE period, although sometimes, it nevertheless does appear to be used meaningfully. It's a morpheme that can cause students a bit of trouble when first studying OE.
posted by dhartung at 11:54 PM on February 14, 2008

A lovely historical note I had never read about English . . . thanks!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:06 AM on February 15, 2008

Wait, so "Summer is icumen in" means "Summer has come in", not "Summer is coming in"? This changes everything.
posted by chrismear at 4:35 AM on February 15, 2008

Thanks, L-Hat. OED also has an interesting quote from Chaucer which uses both my construction and the one 'afraid' derives from.

c1386 CHAUCER Shipman's T. 400 This wyf was nat afered ne afrayed.

Like I say you do still hear people say things like 'he were a-born a hundred years ago' in bits of rural England, but I mean REALLY rural.
posted by unSane at 7:10 AM on February 15, 2008

@chrismear: At least in German, saying is + past participle means that it has happened. For example "Das Geschäft ist geöffnet" (the shop is opened) means the same as "Das Geschäft ist offen" (the shop is open).
posted by atomly at 12:46 PM on February 15, 2008

Wait, so "Summer is icumen in" means "Summer has come in", not "Summer is coming in"? This changes everything.

Yeah, but MEng 'sumer' basically begins in mid-late spring, with lambing, calving and the cuckoo. [/derail]
posted by holgate at 1:42 PM on February 15, 2008

« Older What's wrong with my Internet connection?   |   Help me find lables for furniture Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.