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University of Prishtina Shkendije Loshaj

Department of English Language and Literature

Saxon and Norman Genitive

Table of Contents

Page #

1. Introduction 2

2. Genitive Case
3. Norman vs. Saxon
4. History of Transition
5. Definition of Terms
6. Language Contact and Translation
7. Old English Genitive
8. Functions
9. Of X
Of Structure

Uses of Of
10. The Compound


In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another
noun. Genitive is also called the possessive case or second case. It often marks a noun as being
the possessor of another noun; however, it can also indicate various other relationships than
possession: certain verbs may take arguments in the genitive case, and it may
have adverbial uses.

This paper will deal in general with saxon and norman genitive and their usage .It will provide a
detailed description and explanation about the genitive case with selected examples. I will try to
undertake argumentation analysis in the evaluation of the existing work.

Genitive Case

A language, whose nouns show their grammatical function in the sentence by changes in
the noun itself, and not by position, is called an inflected language. The different grammatical
functions a language recognizes are called cases. In Modern English, there are three cases. They
are the subjective, the possessive, and the objective. In Old English there are four cases. They are
the nominative, accusative, genitive and dative cases. Thus Old English is more inflected than
Modern English.

The genitive case demonstrates that one noun belongs to another noun. The noun which is
the owner is put into the genitive case. For example: "The car's door is open". "Door" is the
nominative case because it's the thing which is open -- it's the subject of the verb "is" -- and the
door belongs to the car, so "car's" is put into the genitive case. So for now, each time you see the
genitive case, translate the noun with the English preposition "of" or use the genitive marker "'s".
For example, if the Old English word dure (door) is in the genitive case, translate it either as "the
door's" or "of the door".

Depending on the language, specific varieties of genitive-nounmain-noun relationships may



inalienable possession - "Janets height", "Janets existence", "Janets long


alienable possession - "Janets jacket", "Janets drink"

relationship indicated by the noun being modified "Janets husband"

composition/ partitive

substance - "a wheel of cheese"

elements - "a group of men"

source - "a portion of the food"

participation in an action:

as an agent - "She benefited from her father's love" this is called the subjective
genitive. Comparing "Her father loved her", where Her father is the subject.

as a patient - "the love of music" this is called the objective genitive. Comparing
"She loves music", where music is the object.

Origin - "men of Rome"

Reference - "the capital of the Republic" or "the Republic's capital"

Description - "man of honour", "day of reckoning"

compounds - "doomsday" "doom's day", Scottish Gaelic "ball coise" = "football", where
"coise" = gen. of "cas", "foot"

Depending on the language, some of the relationships mentioned above have their own distinct
cases different from the genitive.

Norman vs. Saxon

Why is the Norman Genitive used instead of the Saxon Genitive in this sentence?

Moore makes you feel for him and, at the same time, she makes you want to push off the weight
of Ira all his exposed, sappy neediness far away.

Certainly of does not always denote possession: 'fear of spiders' does not mean 'spiders'
fear' (for the most part). Also sometimes, the Saxon genitive sounds too informal, mankinds
future versus the Norman version of the future of mankind.

Yet, push the weight off of Ira

Means there is a weight on Ira and you want to push it off ( to save Ira).

Push off the weight of Ira

Means Ira weights heavy on the subject, who wants to discard Ira (to save the subject).

It is a choice in sentence structure that lends emphasis to weight in this case. For an example,
the movie called the Unbearable Lightness of Being. Beings Unbearable Lightness just
doesnt have the same flow.

Variation between the synthetic and the analytical structure is not unrestricted, i.e. the
choice between the construction President Kennedy's courageous actions or the courageous
actions of President Kennedy is not entirely liable. The constraints that represent speakers' and
writers' choices between the two alternatives have been addressed in an assortment of
exploration, and the contexts in which s- and of-genitive are interchangeable have gotten
significantly more consideration than those in which they are most certainly not.

The best-known of these constraints on variation is the animacy limit, according to which
the s-genitive is preferred if the possessor is animate. While grammars of English tend to advise
for the use of the s-genitive with animate, personal possessors, our quantities also provide
numerous examples of inanimate possessors taking the s-genitive, the executive mansion's
library ,the earth's atmosphere , the building's precarious state.

History of Transition

It is late twelfth/early thirteenth century, the transitional phase from Old English
to early Modern English. The evolution of the genitive was not a uniform process, but
one which could vary considerably between and within dialects.

To fully understand the genitive noun phrase, one must consider the changes in inflection
of nouns and modifiers, singular and plural, as well as the rise of the genitive of-phrase;

An important factor to consider at this transitional period is language contact; how did
Old English and Old French affect the development of the Modern English genitive

How the genitive phrase evolved in Middle English to today has a fascinating internal
history, which relates to the larger patterns of the decline of nominal inflectional morphology.
Many of the OE genitive functions have a syntactic replacement or alternative, similar to the
development of other cases. However, only the genitive has left a productive morpheme in
Modern English s. As it is the only case to survive, it is the only one to co-exist with its different
form, the of-phrase.

Another reason to study and examine the development of the genitive noun phrase is that
this particular construction is often overlooked.

Perhaps because the -es is fairly consistent, unlike dative singular - e, and of traceable origin,
unlike she, it has been thought less interesting than these issues. While of is treated more widely,
there seems to be a too ready willingness to ascribe it simply to the influence of French and Latin

The usual histories of English tend to devote more space to French effects upon the
lexicon than grammatical change; A History of the English Language by Baugh and Cable,
devotes twelve sections to French influence on vocabulary, and only one to all the developments
of the noun.

Definition of Terms

case;(in certain inflected languages) noting a case of nouns,pronouns, or adjectives, used
primarily to expresspossession, measure, or origin: as John's hat, week'svacation, duty's c
"very broadly...the genitive modifies or limits a word (usually a noun) by associating it
with something. ...the genitive case is like an adjective, limiting the reference of the word
it is associated with" (Baker 2003: 37). In the king's sword, king modifies sword - it
specifies which particular sword is being referred to.
A scribe is a person who writes books or documents by hand as a profession and helps
keep track of records. The profession was previously found in all literate cultures in some
form, but lost most of its importance and status with the advent of printing. The work
could involve copying books, including sacred texts, or secretarial and administrative
duties, such as taking of dictation and the keeping of business, judicial and, historical
records for kings, nobles, temples, and cities.

a roundabout way of expressing something; circumlocution
the use of separate words instead of inflections to express the same grammatical
relationship (Crystal 2003: 344). In Modern English, 'the house of the dog' is a
periphrastic genitive, while 'the dog's house' is an inflectional genitive.
In its most general sense, it refers to the abstract phonological and/or grammatical
characterization of language, as opposed to its meaning" (Crystal 2003: 185). In
Old English, for example, the -es ending is a genitive form.

Language Contact and Translation

In thirteenth century England there were three languages commonly employed for writing:
Latin, Anglo-Norman, and Middle English. Middle English and Anglo- Norman would have
been native languages; by the thirteenth century it is even possible that a scribe might be
bilingual in both languages. In addition, during the thirteenth century it became more fashionable
to learn the Francien dialect of Paris, rather than the Anglo-Norman form that had developed in
England after the Conquest (Baugh and Cable 1993: 101, Strang 1970: 125).

"After the Norman Conquest the way languages were used in England became
extraordinarily complex, primarily because of the introduction of French as a spoken language
and the decline of Old English as a written one" (Clanchy 1979: 151).

"After the Conquest, following Continental practice, Latin began to replace English as the
standard language of government and of literature...during the first half of the thirteenth century
French had become a literary language of high social status" (Laing 1993: 2).

"The scribal traditions of three schools conflicted - English, French, and Latin...most
disconcerting" (Pope 1952: 1205).

Kent's location, and the importance of Canterbury, made it a natural area of focus for the
Norman invaders. Kent's location in the furthest southeast point of England made it a suitable
crossing point for invaders from France. In addition to its geographical convenience, Kent is also
the location of Canterbury, whose archbishop was the highest ranking in England.

Old English Genitive

To understand where English is going in the Modern English period, it is necessary to

know where it has been. In the chart below there is brief overview of the Old English genitive
forms and functions.

Forms (Mitchell 1968: Ch. 3)

masculine feminine neuter plural
strong nouns Stanes giefe wordes stana
weak nouns Naman sunnan eagan namena
strong adjective Tiles Tilre Tiles tilra
weak adjective Tilan Tilan Tilan tilena, tilra
demonstrative s re s ara

This table covers the majority of possible genitive constructions; there are also minor nouns
classes; while most of these are use the above endings, there are nouns, such as fder 'father'
which have no overt genitive marker. There is also the small class of u-stem nouns which have
genitive singular in -a, which is identical to the plural form. If we include the unmarked option,
there are eleven forms for the constituents of a genitive NP.


The genitive can be used with nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs. The most
frequent uses are:

possessive This is the use for actual possession, but is often used in a more figurative sense. A
modern example is 'St. Patrick's Day', in which St. Patrick does not possess March 17,
but there is a sense that the day belongs to him. There are, however, many relationships
that are merely analogous to possession that can be loosely fit under this category: "my
child", "my god", perhaps even "my man."

partitive This category specifies that the genitive is used for the larger whole of which something
is a part. The simplest examples are 'one of the apples', 'all of the children'. This category
may serve as a useful reminder that the English expression "all of the state"
is not partitive, since "all" is not a "part".

descriptive This use attributes a quality to a thing. Essentially all genitives used with nouns
describe, but the grammarians like to use this term for the more qualitative descriptions.
For example, a man of great wisdom = a very wise man. When used precisely as a
technical term of standard grammar, the Genitive of Description has the further rule that
it must be composed of a noun + adjective such as 'a watch of gold', 'fool's gold'.

material This term identifies the use of the genitive to specify the material out of which
something is made: a statue of marble, rivers of milk and honey, books of examples, and
so on. You can see that it is just a specific use of the genitive to create an adjectival

measure This use combines elements of the partitive and descriptive, and is used to indicate the
number of a unit of measure, such as 'three miles', 'one hundred men'.

In addition, the genitive can occur independently as an adverb.

It must be remembered that the boundaries between these categories can sometimes be
fluid, with different interpretations possible for a given phrase, and some overlap between
different functions. It is this overlap which accounts for the many problems in defining
genitive uses.

Old English functional equivalents

Even in Old English, there were alternative constructions which could perform the same
function as the inflected genitive. The one of greatest interest for this paper is the preposition of.
In Old English, this meant 'from, out of, of', and is generally used with the dative case. "There is
no doubt that the genitive and of + the dative overlapped in some functions, e.g. origin and
material" (Mitchell 1985: 1203). This overlap becomes significant when attempting to decide
whether a particular early Modern English use represents innovation, French influence, or the
likely development of an Old English construction.

Other functional equivalents include: the declined possessive; genitive forms of

personal pronouns and demonstratives; dative of possession; other nominal case forms;
prepositional phrases; adverbs; compound nouns; compound adjectives (Mitchell 1985:

of X
In a study done by Sarah Myers, Evolution of Genitive Noun Phrase in early Middle
English, she examines different England regions where the language transformations
happened. She examines different texts from different regions and their separate textual
traditions, exploring the development of genitive noun phrases in form and function.
One of the texts examined by Myers was The Lambeth scribe, which has eight
illustrations of developments which use "of X" instead of the curved genitive structure found in
the Royal MS.

Lambeth of-phrase Royal inflected genitive translation from Lambeth

lomb of ane 3eres lamb anes geares lamb of one year
huse of am egiptissen folce huse s egyptiscan folces house of the Egyptian folk
sumne dl heora landes
sum of heore ehte wores some of their wealth
ewilcum of an wurhtan lcum ra wyrhtena each of the workers
irecdnesse of misliche knowledge of various
spechen gerecednysse mislicra sprca languages
on eie of on heene for ogan iudeisces folces the fear of the heathens
aferede of nane licamliche forsawon ealla lichamliche afraid of no bodily
pinunge pinunga torment
3efan of m hal3an gaste gifum s halgan gastes gifts of the holy ghost

Text shows uses of for singular and plural, and for several functions, making it appear,
that there was no particular environment which favored the use of this new structure. In Old
English, the preposition of had the meaning from, a meaning which can still be seen in some of
the above examples, particularly 3efan of am hal3an gaste gift of the holy ghost. This
overlap between of and the genitive inflection becomes significant when attempting to decide
whether a particular early Modern English use represents invention, French influence, or the
natural development of an Old English construction. As the preposition of was used to indicate
origin in Old English, it seems plausible that this use may have been the original source of the
variation between the prepositional phrase and the inflectional marker, especially as prepositions
become more frequent during the transition to Middle English. The form of + noun was already
known in Old English.

Layamon's Brut, an epic poem describing the historical backdrop of the British, gets by in
two original copies: British Library MS Cotton Caligula An ix and British Library MS Cotton

In Myers examinations, there are a solidified total of 78 interpretations containing OF in

the two writings, 43 in Cotton Caligula and 35 in Otho. Regardless of the broadly "old" nature of
Layamon, these of-expressions appear to be right on the purpose of move from Old English to
Modern English use, proposing that the structures in the content reflect modern use.

of has a wide range of functions/meanings; the most frequent are:

about, concerning
from (origin)
descriptive genitive

of-phrases in these contexts account for 61 of the total occurrences; the most frequent, of
expressing origin, is the most common meaning in either text, and has a combined total of 22
examples, more than one-fourth of the total of-phrases. This use not only shows an area of
shared overlap with Old English genitive inflection, additionally a similarity to Old French de.
The genitive inflection could be used to indicate origin, an idea which is not far from the
meaning of the Old English preposition of from. Such semantic overlap no doubt opened the
door for the functional expansion of the periphrastic genitive, the of-phrase, into the area
previously occupied by the formal inflection. A similar semantic overlap between the genitive
and de existed in Old French, for the same reasons; in French the periphrastic structure
eventually expelled the inflection.

Certainly, all four of the most common periphrastic genitive functions have parallels with
the use of Old French de. Both the majority uses listed above and the rare uses have Old English
origins, with one exception: the descriptive genitive of-phrases. This is the third most common
usage of the genitive of-phrase, and so cannot be considered an irregularity.
What is the origin of this structure? Is this an extension of the roles of of, an expansion
motivated by the increased use of Old English of-phrases which had already shared some of the
space occupied by the genitive inflection? It is possible that the increased use of of in areas it
had always shared with the inflection blurred the difference between the two structures, and

speakers began to partner of with the genitive.
The periphrastic genitive of description also has parallels in Old French, which had a
similar function for de; while the Brut itself shows limited Old French influence, such
similarities could certainly encourage the later expansion of of.

There is one example which may be considered a possessive of construction:

(C) strenge of Tintaieol (O) strenge of Tyntagel 'strength of Tintagel'

* C being the Cotton Caligula scribe, and O being the Otho scribe.

Though it is not a common use, this is an early sign of a future development. However, at
this early stage there does not seem to be any settled form. A similar phrase occurs in (C)
Lundene tun London town (O) Londenes toun Londons town. For a similar phrase there
seem to be three possible options: inflection, of, and the compound.

The uses of of

of in the Peterborough Chronicle Continuations, another scribe examined by Myers, is
still very much the Old English of, used as a preposition with the sense from, out of, separation.
The most frequent occurrence of of is in those titles/names which include a location, such as
biscop Roger of Seresbyrig 'bishop Roger of Salisbury'; there are 77 such examples in the two
selections. Such uses highlight the overlap between Old English and Old French function. The
Old English sense of 'from' is evident in such uses, as it is in the French de.

Many of the alternate uses of of are still in the Old English sense of 'from' sende ... of
Normandi to Englalande 'sent...from Normandy to England'
lt hire dun ... of e tur 'let her down...from the tower'

Genitive of
In the First Continuation, which is the first of two Peterborough Chronicle Continuations,
there are no definite examples of of taking over a genitive function. The closest is na of his gyfe
'none of his gifts'. Constructions with of in the partitive sense can be found in place of the
genitive inflection in Old English texts, although for these there is the complicating issue of
Latin influence (Mitchell 1985: 1201).

The Final scribe also employs a partitive of construction, as in mani of e castles 'many of
the castles'; he also has one example of of being used to express ownership: landes of abbotrice
'lands of the abbey'. This example is interesting since all the words in the phrase are native
English words, and in the singular; as such, it could potentially have been marked with the
inflectional ending -es.

These genitive of cases are definitely the exception rather than the norm; their importance
lies in being among the earliest Modern English examples of the periphrastic genitive

Verbs and of
Both scribes use certain verbs with of. These often show a sense of the Old English
meaning 'from'.
wan of Waleram 'won from Waleran
sturuen of hungr 'starved fro

There are two examples of of used in a passive construction, a function for which of was
sometimes used in Old English (Mitchell 1985: 1199):
wl luued of e king 'well loved by the king'
of alle gode men 'and by all good men'

What is the significance of such phrases, which show no innovation? These examples
demonstrate not only continuity of the Old English usage, but overlap with Old French de, which
also had the meaning 'from' and could be used to indicate the agent of a passive structure:
furent de Deu ha '(they) were hated by God' (Kibler 1984: 172).
Although these examples are not themselves genitive, they demonstrate that the use of
genitive of in Modern English was not sudden nor entirely due to French influence, but rather
that the very similar Old French de could have encouraged the rise of of. Whether invader or
native, the inhabitants of England who learned a French or English dialect would have
encountered a preposition, of or de, which was already very similar in its uses to their native

The compound

The different versions of Layamons Brut illustrate a rarely mentioned alternative to the
Old English genitive inflection: compounds

C as castles 3te the castles gate O an castel-3eat the castle-gate

the Otho (O) scribe is replacing an inflected genitive with a non-genitive structure, a compound
noun. This is an innovation. Compounding was a feature of Old English, and is still productive
in Modern German. It is also unlikely to be due to Old French influence, as many two-noun
compounds are expressed in the form NOUN de NOUN. Even in the Cotton Caligula (C) text
there are examples of the compound: at castel3at 'that castle gate'.

Perhaps the most important thing about these examples is to remind us that speakers were
not limited to a choice between -es and of , Old English and Old French - there was nothing to
prevent them coming up with a new Modern English form to express the same function. This is
still true of Modern English, in which all three forms are produced:
the castles gate
the gate of the castle
the castle gate

Maybe the favorite example of a preserved feminine genitive singular, chirche dore, is a
similar formation; not a genitive, but a compound: 'church door' rather than 'church's door'.
Mustanoja gives two possible anwers for the question, suggesting that the chirche may be an s-
less genitive or the attributive use of the nominative (Mustanoja 1960: 72). However, since
castle would not have been a candidate for the s-less genitive, this must be a compound.

This is a brief analysis conducted about saxon and norman genitive. It provides a general
description and explanation about the genitive and norman case. Every characteristic is shown
in detail and illustrated with examples,which are taken from some English books. Definitions
are taken from English and Albanian experts and on the internet.