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Third-person singular -s versus -th

This section deals with the process of change of the third-person singular indicative suffix almost for its entire duration, covering 220 years from 1460 to 1681. It not only bridges the gap between the two periods analysed in Table 7.2., but also looks at the medieval increase in the use of -s. As in earlier chapters, the change is presented as competition between two consonants, -th and -s, although, especially in later times, it is most likely that the deletion of the suffix vowel played a crucial role in the process.

Of the six sets of columns in Figure 7.4 the first four show statistically highly significant differences between the social ranks. In 1620-1659 the differences are not significant, but during the last period the significance level is 1 per cent.

During the first rise of -s, in a new and vigorous phase, the middle ranks clearly lead the development. Afterwards the overall employment of -s drops at the same time as its use increases among the non-gentry ranks. As Table 7.2. showed, in the middle of the sixteenth century the lower ranks were the only section of the population that preferred -s to -th. At the turn of the seventeenth century, the general usage approaching mid-range, the upwardly mobile led the way with over 60 per cent of -s, the lower ranks close at their heels. The upper echelons had acquired a level of 34 per cent of -s, while the middle orders still lagged behind. When the change approached its completion after 1620, the social differences more or less levelled out. In

Third-person singular suffix -s vs. -th. Percentage of -s. Have and do excluded. Quota sample. Male informants. CEEC 1998

Figure 7.5. Third-person singular suffix -s vs. -th. Percentage of -s. Have and do excluded. Quota sample. Male informants. CEEC 1998.

sum, we could say that, after an unsuccessful attempt to diffuse among all echelons of Englishmen, -s lived on as a common suffix among the lower orders until it gained new popularity after 1620.

Since the 40-year temporal frame, despite offering a good overview, seems somewhat crude for this rapid process, the most crucial period, 1580-1619, was divided into two 20-year sections. This division is all the more interesting, as other scholars, such as Stein (1987), have argued that the year 1600 formed a dividing line in the choice of the suffix. Indeed, only a glance at Figure 7.5 is enough to confirm this argument: the use of -s grows from 19 to 58 per cent between the two subperiods. The preference for -s is not only conspicuous among non-gentry informants but also among social aspirers. What is even more interesting is that just around 1600, as -s becomes the majority variant in all ranks, the social differences begin to fade away.

 
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