[lit-ideas] "She" (Was: "Her")

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 7 May 2004 11:32:49 EDT

In a message dated 5/7/2004 8:09:25 AM Eastern Standard Time, 
aamago@xxxxxxxxxxxxx writes:
>I read someplace that the feminine pronoun 
>[in its present form, "she"] didn't 
>exist until I can't remember what century.  
>Is that correct?

Well, the first quote in the OED -- is from 1154, but there was an earlier 
unrelated form, "heo". I append below the etymological note for "she", or "her" 
as Geary would correct me ("It's the objective, stupid") -- Cheers,



From the OED

"she". Etymological Note. Of difficult etymology; but prob. an altered form 
of the OE. fem. dem. pron. sío, séo, síe: see THE dem. pron. 

It would appear that in some dialects of late OE. the diphthong in this word 
underwent a change of stress, the older pronunciations (sio) and (sie) being 
replaced by (sjo) and (sje). The latter of these variants is represented by the 
spelling se of the 13th c.; and the phonetic development so far is exactly 
parallel to that of the OE. fem. pers. pron. hío, héo, híe (see HEO), which 
the 13th c. was pronounced in some dialects (hjo, hje), as is shown by the 
written forms ho, he. As the combination (sj) is acoustically close to (), and 
more difficult (according to English habits of articulation) to produce, it is 
not surprising that (sje, sjo) became (e, o), these being the pronunciations 
expressed by the written forms scæ (midland, c 1150) and sco, scho (northern, 

It has been objected to this view that in ONorthumbrian the fem. sing. of the 
demonstrative was not sio, seo, but eo, iu. Instances of seo, sio are, 
however, found in the Lindisfarne Gospels and the glosses to the Durham Ritual 
Hymnarium; and the extant remains of the dialect represent a very small portion 
of the Northumbrian territory.
With regard to the substitution of the demonstrative pronoun for the original 
pers. pron., it may be remarked that the phonetic development of various 
dialects had in the 12th and 13thc. rendered the pronouns he (masc.) and heo 
(fem.) almost or wholly indistinguishable in pronunciation. There was therefore 
where these dialects were spoken a strong motive for using the unambiguous 
feminine demonstrative instead of the feminine personal pronoun. Further, the 
districts in which she or sho first appears in the place of heo are marked by 
abundance of Scandinavian elements in the dialect and place-names; and in Old 
Norse the dem. pron. (of all genders) is often used as a personal pron. It is 
also noteworthy that in OS. and OHG. the fem. pers. pron. nom. sing. was siu 
(mod.G. sie, Du. zij), corresponding to OE. sío (the oblique cases, and the 
and neut. in the sing., being f. the stems hi-, i-); and in OFris. se â??sheâ?? 
occurs beside hiu.

The conjecture that she represents the ON. sjá this (nom. sing. masc. and 
fem.) is untenable: the initial () is sufficiently accounted for otherwise, and 
the vowels do not agree. It is however possible that the change from the 
falling to the rising diphthong in the development both of hío and sío may be 
due to 
Scandinavian influence, as in ON. the Germanic eu and iu became rising 

Some scholars have maintained that she and its dialectal variants descend 
directly from the pronunciations (hje, hjo) of HEO (referred to above); the 
contention being that (hj) might naturally develop into (). This development 
occurred in some Norwegian dialects, and it is illustrated by the proper names 
Shetland and Shapinshay from ON. Hjaltland and Hjalpandisøy. There is slight 
support for this view in the existence of north. dialect forms such as SHOOP 
representing OE héope HIP n.2 Other views are that () was substituted for the 
un-English sound (ç), developed from (hj), and that it arose from the sequence 
+ j- in such contexts as was hió.

The  type (to which the mod. literary form belongs) is in origin East 
Midland, while the  type is originally northern.]  
As proper feminine pronoun of the third person, nominative case. The female 
being in question, or last mentioned. Used of persons of the female sex. 

First quote 
1154 OE. Chron. (Laud MS.) an. 1140, 
And te Lundenissce folc hire wolde tæcen & scæ fleh.

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