Dual forms — English had them too!

Anyone who is familiar with Mi’gmaq verb paradigms will recall the dizzingly large number of conjugations. Some forms that learners struggle to grasp are the dual and plural forms. The dual form is used when referring to two things and the plural, for three or more. This surfaces on verb endings. For example, the tongue twister migjigjg mijjijig means two turtles are eating. This is conveyed by the -jig verb ending (bolded). If three or more turtles were eating, it would be migjigjg mijjultijig.

Many English speakers, however, will be surprised to find that English had dual forms too! Old(e) English, that is. They were rare, even for the time, but a millennium ago English speakers distinguished between dual and plural in pronouns. Modern English first person plural form we comes from the Old English plural form, . The dual form of first person, wit, fell out of usage by the time Middle English had evolved. The plural form of ‘you’, gē, and the dual, git, were also used when addressing people directly. Though, today you wouldn’t want to refer any two people with the Old English dual form!

This is just one such instance of the underlying similarities between languages of completely different families. Though English and Mi’gmaq are very different in terms of grammar and lexicon, they do have some things in common. Or, at least, they did.

This entry was posted in Linguistics, Mi'gmaq grammar by Carol Rose. Bookmark the permalink.

About Carol Rose

Carol Rose Little graduated from McGill University in the Joint Honours Programme in Linguistics and Russian Studies in 2012. She began studying Mi'gmaq in the fall of 2011 for a field methods class. Her interests include Algonquian morphosyntax and evidentiality. So far she has spent summers 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 on Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nations Reserve studying Mi'gmaq and doing linguistic fieldwork.

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