The nominal area

MAXIMISING DISTINCTIONS The demise in English morphology which one observes in the history of the language should not be interpreted as an abandonment of grammatical distinctions. Quite the opposite is the case. The introduction of northern, originally Scandinavian forms they, their, them (to replace OE hi, hir, hem) and the development and acceptance of she (from OE hēo) as a distinct form from he documents the maximisation of distinctions, although many redundant inflections, such as verbal suffixes, were dropped. In this connection one should mention the rise of its as the possessive form of it in the early 17th century. Previously the form was his but this was homophonous with the form for the third person singular masculine so the change was semantically motivated.

DEICTIC TERMS There is just a two-way system in Modern English, but formerly a three-way system with a term for distant reference, yon(der) — of uncertain etymology — existed and is still found, in Scottish English for instance.

this (close at hand) that (over there) yon(der) (in the distance)

RELATIVE PRONOUNS In modern English there is an exclusive use of which and who, whereby the latter refers to inanimate things and the latter to animate beings. Up to early modern English, however which could be used for persons as well and dialectally this is still found in English today: The nurse which gave him the injection. Similarly that is generally employed with defining relative clauses today as in The car that was stolen turned up again. However, earlier that was common in non-defining relative clauses as well, e.g. The girl that (who) having failed her exam left college for good.

REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS English, like German, frequently used an oblique case form of the personal pronoun with reflexive verbs; the ending -self was found only in cases of emphasis. But later the emphatic element became obligatory in all reflexive uses, so that a sentence like I washed me quickly came to be expressed as I washed myself quickly.

ZERO SUBJECTS A characteristic of Modern English is that it does not require a relative pronoun when the reference is an object in the main clause, e.g. This is the man she saw yesterday. Now in early modern English it was common for this to apply in cases with a subject as main clause referent and this is still typical of popular London English (Cockney): This is the man —— went to town yesterday. It may well have been that the latter type was tabooed because it was present in popular London and not because of perceptual strategies; there is no greater difficulties in processing the second rather than the first of the following sentences.

The woman —— he knows has come.
The woman —— lives here has come.