Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Norwich Dutch - apocope - or the loss of a word-final vowel

The cloth hall (Lakenhal) in Ieper (Ypres), West Flanders

This and the following post will bring us to 50 posts and some 5000 page views for this blog, which I began to write in April 2018. To mark this, I return to the story of Dutch in my home town, Norwich. In previous blogs, I have discussed results from the analysis of the Norwich Ieper corpus, a set of letters written from Norwich by Flemish immigrants in the late 1560s. This post analyses apocope, the process whereby a suffix gradually weakens and eventually disappears from the end of a word. In Middle Dutch this process predominantly took place in two categories of word: the first person singular present indicative of the verb, for example ik neme (‘I take’) became ik neem after apocope; and feminine substantives, e.g., tonge (‘tongue’) became tong.

This post looks specifically at apocope, or more specifically schwa-apocope, for the first person singular present indicative. It divides this into two categories, those cases where there was inversion and those where there was no inversion. In cases of inversion where ic (‘I’) can be used as a clitic pronoun, the verb was already typically apocopated in Middle Dutch.  By contrast, where there was no inversion, the process of apocope occurred in varieties of Dutch at different times. For example, it was already underway in Hollands in the fourteenth century. However, in the Flemish dialect there is rather less evidence of apocope and in some cases the weak suffix remains in use to the present day. Marynissen draws similar conclusions about the diachronic regional variation for schwa-apocope, although her focus is more on apocope in nouns than verbs. She argues that apocope arose as a result of a tendency to avoid two unstressed syllables in favour of a trochaic pattern of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one. For example, Middle Dutch camere (‘room’) shifted to camer.

In the Norwich Ieper corpus there are 127 tokens of the first person singular present indicative; 112 without inversion and fifteen with it. Of the 112 tokens without inversion, 65 (58%) do not demonstrate apocope. Of the remaining 47 tokens, 19 are modal verbs (wil, zal, moet, mach and vermach), and 28 other tokens do not exhibit a suffix, including 9 of the first person singular present indicative of the verb zijn (‘to be’) (although ic zal is a future marker, formally and syntactically it acts as a modal). If we remove modals and forms of zijn, 75% of first person singular present indicative verbs without inversion exhibit no apocope. So, we can conclude that there was a clear preference for no apocope among the authors of the Norwich Ieper corpus. This provides further evidence of the persistence of the lack of apocope in the first person singular present indicative in sixteenth-century varieties of Flemish.

As for the fifteen cases where there is inversion, four exhibit apocope: hebbick (letter 5); latic and hopic (28); and dinckick (44). The other eleven cases exhibit no apocope, e.g., gheve ick (letter 1), laete ick (45) and bidde ick (62). More evidence is required before any conclusions can be drawn about these cases.


A. Marynissen: ‘Taalverandering tussen evolutie en normering: De e-apocope als breuklijn tussen het Nederlands en het Duits’, Nederlandse Taalkunde 14(1) (2009). p. 233-254.

C.M. van Kerckvoorde: An Introduction to Middle Dutch. Berlin, 1993.

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