ndoggies, naprons and apkins

October 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

Here’s a story from a student …

I heard something really interesting before: overheard my little sister say to Dad “I was just going out to see what your [n]doggie was burying”. I stopped them and demanded to know why she had said ‘[n]doggie’ (they looked at me weirdly and warned each other that I was being all linguisticky again) – turns out it was just cause Dad calls him “mine doggie” and she had shortened it, but how cool would that have been if it was just random!! I made them listen to my explanation of prenasalised stops.
Great story, and a nice bit of reanalysis, and it is easy to see why little sister made the division. She has probably not heard many instances of mine + Noun, other than with doggie. Rather, she is much more familiar with my + Noun.  So being a systematic hypothesiser of language she has deduced that the noun begins with n.
This process of making new divisions in the sound stream of course interests historical linguists, and English is full of  interesting examples particularly with respect to the indefinite article, an. This allomorph appears when the next word is vowel initial. Like our student’s sister though, some speakers rethink this division so that a+ #Nnoun  a quick ad hoc ish way of saying an followed by a  noun that begins with n, becomes an Vnoun, i.e. the an determiner followed by a vowel-initial noun.
 An example that spring to mind involves the forms apron and napkin. Looking closely at these do seem so share the ap sequence, and some semantic similarities – clothes we use to protect things from food spills … or in my case attempt to. It turns out they are related forms. Apron popped up in Middle English, from Old French naperon,  ‘table cloth + diminutive; the same base plus a Dutch diminutive -kin gives us something to wipe our mouths with. It seems when Middle English speakers began protecting their clothes they began to look about for an apron, shifting the nasal consonant back onto the determiner,  a process which did not follow through with napkin.
For some dialects the same process has worked on idiots. I mean idiots. The form nidget is a reanalysis of an idiot.  Here are some examples from the OED online.
1579 T. NORTH tr. Plutarch Liues 191 This made men iudge..that he would prove a very foole and nigeot [1595 idiote]. 1603 C. HEYDON Def. Iudiciall Astrol. xi. 244 Cleared from the imputation of [being] such a Nigit. a1627 T. MIDDLETON & W. ROWLEY Changeling (1653) III. sig. E, ‘Tis a gentle nigget, you may play with him. 1638 T. HEYWOOD Wise Woman II. i, I think he saith we are a company of fooles and Nigits. 1675 Ballad in Luttrell Coll. III. 107 Ridiculous Niget, to scoff at St. Bridget. 1699 B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew, Nigit, a Fool.


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