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In English, Dutch and German

the dual form is still alive


Joannes Richter

Abstract

We may claim that the prepositions (in Dutch:) “met”, (in English:) “mid”, (in German:) ”mit”
respectively (in Dutch:) “weder”, (in English:) “wiþ”, (in German:) “wider”) behave like dual
forms, which have been derived from the accusative personal pronoun “me” (singular), respectively
nominative “we” (plural) by adding a “þ” or “t”.
In modern Icelandic language the preposition við (“with”) and the ancient dual form við (“we two”)
are identical, which proved to be a general rule for several Germanic languages (checked for Dutch,
English and German).
The prepositions “met”, “mid”, ”mit” symbolize cooperative phases, whereas the corresponding
antipodes “weder”, “wiþ”, “wider” symbolize “withstanding” phases.
The Icelandic prepositions við may be translated as beside, near, next to, respectively (between
people) with, to. In Old Norse however við is interpreted as against, towards, along with, with,
among, for.
The archaic system used two dual forms for personal pronouns: one cooperative dual form “mid”
(“me two”) and one adverse dual form “wiþ” (“we two”). In order to understand the philosophical
logic behind the concept I designed a Biblical model for the involved couples.
The cooperative couple “Adam and Eve” would formulate themselves as “mid” (“me two”) and the
adverse couple “Cain and Abel” would formulate themselves as “wiþ” (“we two”). Obviously the
dual forms for these personal pronouns were also to be used as prepositions “mid” (“cooperative”)
respectively “wiþ” (“adverse”).
This essentially illustrates how the archaic system may have been designed. Unfortunately the
English language did not really stick to the original pattern and misunderstood the principle by
mixing up both definitions “mid” and “wiþ”.
Other designs of prepositions in Germanic languages may follow similar rules. Therefore the dual
forms may still be found in modern languages such as English, Dutch and German....
The Icelandic preposition við (“with”)
In English, Dutch and German the dual form may still be found alive.
This idea came to my mind at the analysis of Icelandic language. I searched the NorthEuraLex-
database for words correlating to vit, respectively við:1

orthographic
Nr. Concept IPA-code
spelling
221 MIND vit vɪtʰ
1000 KNOW (SOMETHING) vita vɪtɑ
643 WE (originally “we two”) við vɪθ
21 BELLY kviður kvɪðʏrr
299 WOOD viður vɪðʏrr
423 BUSINESS viðskipti vɪðscɪftɪ
687 SET (HEAVENLY BODIES) ganga til viðar kɑuŋkɑ tɪl vɪðɑrr
Table 1 Icelandic words in the NorthEuraLex database which correlate with vit, respectively við

Additionally I found a number of vɪθ (“with”)-constructs:

orthographic
## Concept IPA-code
spelling
631 BEHIND bak við pɑk vɪθ
634 NEXT TO (to take a seat next to someone) við hliðina á vɪð lr ɪðɪnɑ ɑu
784 AWAIT (wait for someone) búast við puɑst vɪθ
825 TOUCH (make physical contact with ) koma við kʰɔmɑ vɪθ
837 REPAIR (to take care of something) gera við cɛrɑ vɪθ
845 TURN AROUND (SOMETHING) snúa við snuɑ vɪθ
884 ADD (to add something to) bæta við paɪtɑ vɪθ
954 TIE UP (to connect something with) binda við pɪntɑ vɪθ
984 CHAT (ACTIVITY) (conversation with) ræðast við raɪðɑst vɪθ
Table 2 Icelandic words in the NorthEuraLex database which may use the word við
The meaning of the preposition við depends on the context and may refer to a cooperative or
adverse activity. Anyway this preposition is spelled just like the old Icelandic dual form við (“we
two”), which in today's language has been installed as the normal plural form “we”.
I considered this identity of a preposition við and the dual form við as an uncommon situation. The
same identity seemed to exist in English, in which the preposition “with” (more or less) equals the
old-English dual form “við” (“we two”).
According to Jacob Grimm the trailing letter ð (“th”) is an indicator for the duality. Without the ð
(“th”) the remaining root “wi” is a plural for the personal pronoun of the first person, which is
restricted to a dual by adding the ð (“th”). This mechanism, which basically exists in all Germanic
languages now needed an extra analysis.

1 The Descendants of the Dual Form “Wit”


Wiktionary's overview of the word “with”
According to the Wiktionary entry the word “with” originally described an adverse attribute wiþer
(“against”), which shifted to the current attracting attribute “with”. In the following overview of the
Wiktionary entry with I marked the with-words yellow and the opposite mit-words blue:
From Middle English with, from Old English wiþ (“against, opposite, toward”), a
shortened form of wiþer, from Proto-Germanic *wiþr- (“against”), from Proto-Indo-
European *wi-tero- (“more apart”); from Proto-Indo-European *wi (“separation”).
Cognate with Old Frisian with (“against, again”), Old Saxon with (“against, again”),
Dutch weder (“again”) and weer (“again, opposite”), Low German wedder (“again,
against, opposite”), German wider (“against”) and wieder (“again”), Danish ved (“by,
near, with”), Swedish vid (“by, next to, with”). In Middle English, the word shifted to
denote association rather than opposition, displacing Middle English mid (“with”), from
Old English mid (“with”), from Proto-Germanic *midi, cognate with Old-Frisian mith
(“with”), Modern Frisian mei (“with”), Old Norse með (“with”), Icelandic með (“with”),
Dutch met (“with”) and German mit (“with”). 2

Wiktionary's with-overview clearly illustrated how the etymological evolution and Germanic
philosophy developed. Basically Germanic life discerned two fundamental processes, which control
the phases of our lifetimes:
1. the melting-phase for joining a couple of two persons (which usually resulted in a married
couple). This phase is ruled by the Old English preposition mid (→ in modern English to be
understood as “with”). This situation is valid for the couple Adam and Eve in paradise.
2. the decoupling phase for a deregulation of a partnership (by death of the partner or losing
the children in marriages to other families). This phase is ruled by the Old English
preposition wiþ (→ in modern English to be understood as: “against, opposite, toward”).
This situation is valid for the couple Cain and Abel, who were non-cooperative.
In Middle English (and some other Germanic languages) the word wiþ shifted to denote association
rather than opposition. The words remained unchanged, but their symbolism switched to the
opposite position mid ↔ wiþ.
In a few other Germanic languages (such as Dutch weder ↔ met and German wider ↔ mit) the
words kept their correct course and did not shift their symbolism.
In a society the joining (mid) and decoupling (wiþ) phases are alternating permanently. The stability
of the families is a basic condition for peace, sanity and wealth.
In families one of the children may join an individual person (“me”) to form a couple, which leads
to matrimony. Therefore the prepositions wiþ (“opposite“) and mid (“with”) symbolize an archaic
but also important principle.

2 Source: Wiktionary with


The personal pronouns as key-elements
The described examples illustrate the important role of the personal pronouns (“me”, “wit”, “we”)
in linguistic definitions.
In the following overview I will use colors to mark
• the accusative dual form for the pronoun of the first person “me” in green,
• the nominative dual form for the pronoun of the first person “we” in purple,
• the singulars in blue
• and the plurals in yellow.
In a table the overview illustrates the personal pronouns as key-elements, in which the English
words are located at their correct position and represent their original meaning (according to the Old
English definitions):

Category Dutch English German Icelandic


Nom. Acc. Nom. Acc. Nom. Acc. Nom. Acc
.
Personal pronoun ik me I me ich mich ég mig
singular → → → →
met mid mit með
Personal pronoun wit, wut, wat wit wit við okk
dual form ur
Personal pronoun we → wed ons we→wiþ us wir → wid uns vér3 oss
plural → við

Cooperation met → mid → mit → við


(dual form) metgezel midwife4 mitwirken

Decoupling phases weder, weerstand wiþstand widerstand við


(Death, loosing
children, split up) (dual
form)
Repetition (dual form) weer, wederom wieder

Table 3 the personal pronouns as key-elements

3 Modern Icelandic plural form of those pronouns ('við' and 'þið') are what were the dual number form, while the old
plurals ('vér' and 'þér') are now only used in formal speech. Bronvermelding: Icelandic grammar (Pronouns)
4 c. 1300, "woman assisting," literally "woman who is 'with' " (the mother at birth), from Middle English mid "with"
(see mid) + wif "woman" (see wife). Cognate with German Beifrau. Source: midwife (in etymonline)
Conclusion
We may claim that the prepositions (in Dutch:) “met”, (in English:) “mid”, (in German:) ”mit”
respectively (in Dutch:) “weder”, (in English:) “wiþ”, (in German:) “wider”) behave like dual
forms, which have been derived from the accusative personal pronoun “me” (singular), respectively
the nominative “we” (plural) by adding a “þ” or “t”.
In modern Icelandic language the preposition við (“with” and the ancient dual form við (“we two”)
are identical, which proved to be a general rule for several Germanic languages (checked for Dutch,
English and German).
The prepositions “met”, “mid”, ”mit” symbolize cooperative phases, whereas the corresponding
antipodes “weder”, “wiþ”, “wider” symbolize “withstanding” phases.
In modern English and compared to German and Dutch “wiþ” symbolizes a controversial status,
which probably has been caused by a loss of philosophical principles in the alternating phases of
cooperation and decoupling.
The Icelandic prepositions við may have evolved in a similar way, in which the við-prepositions are
translated as beside, near, next to, respectively (between people) with, to. In Old Norse however við
is interpreted as against, towards, along with, with, among, for.
The archaic system used two dual forms for personal pronouns: one cooperative dual form “mid”
(“me two”) and one adverse dual form “wiþ” (“we two”). In order to understand the philosophical
logic behind the concept I designed a Biblical model for the involved couples.
The cooperative couple “Adam and Eve” would formulate themselves as “mid” (“me two”) and the
adverse couple “Cain and Abel” would formulate themselves as “wiþ” (“we two”). Obviously the
dual forms for these personal pronouns were also to be used as prepositions “mid” (“cooperative”)
respectively “wiþ” (“adverse”).
This essentially illustrates how the archaic system may have been designed. Unfortunately the
English language did not really stick to the original pattern and misunderstood the principle by
mixing up both definitions “mid” and “wiþ”.
Other designs of prepositions in Germanic languages may follow similar rules. Therefore the dual
forms may still be found in modern languages such as English, Dutch and German....

Contents
Abstract............................................................................................................................................1
The Icelandic preposition við (“with”)............................................................................................2
Wiktionary's overview of the word “with”......................................................................................3
The personal pronouns as key-elements..........................................................................................4
Conclusion.......................................................................................................................................5