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Nim or take? A competition between two high frequency verbs in Middle English.


The paper discusses the fates of the verb nim (OE niman) which began to be displaced in later Old English by its synonym ON take. The native verb was eliminated from the standard speech in the 15th century, although it still survived until the 17th century in non-standard varieties of English. In order to establish the circumstances of the replacement the study concentrates on the chronological and geographical aspects of the process. Also, it confronts the research data with the statistics offered in Rynell's similar study (1948). The evidence comes from corpora such as the MED, the OED and selected Middle English texts.

1. Lexical substitution in English

The turn of the 11th century witnessed drastic changes on all levels of English, which rapidly began to modify its phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon. The Norman Conquest of 1066 and its consequences only contributed to the precipitation of those processes occurring in what is now called the period of transition from Old English to Middle English. The enrichment of the vocabulary was effected either through the semantic modification of less frequent English words or through borrowing from other languages, French and Scandinavian in particular. In both cases the new word, native or foreign, often replaced the one used earlier, as in the case of the native noun hund, now semantically peripheral hound, which became replaced by dog, another native noun, or a substitution of Norman French flour 'flower' for the native noun blom(a) 'flower', now bloom surviving with a restricted sense. What a student of the history of English very often finds surprising is the apparent lack of logic in such substitutions. In other contemporary Germanic languages the original vocabulary which is strongly rooted in their lexicons in a prevailing number of cases survives into our times with only slight modifications of meaning, if any at all, as in the case of German Hund 'dog' and Blume 'flower' which continue in Standard German with their original sense retained.

The employment of a loanword which refers to a new object, idea or activity is easily understood, while a process of replacing one word by another with the same sense is sometimes triggered by factors difficult to comprehend. Likewise illogical seems to be the English replacement of the Anglo-Saxon verb weorfan by Scandinavian cast, in turn replaced by another native verb throw (OE prawan), which can again be confronted with German, a language retaining the verb werfen 'throw' in its original sense whose tradition goes back to the Old High German times. Occasionally the substitution could be caused by phonological factors, like attrition, as in the case of OE ae 'law', a modest residue of the earlier more substantial form OE aewe. The poor phonological structure of the noun only consisting of a single vowel may have determined its replacement by the Scandinavian borrowing lagu 'law' in Middle English.

The present author's earlier paper (Welna 2001) discussed the loss in Middle English of the continuations of eode, the preterite of the infinitive gan 'go', which seems to have reflected an attempt at removing the suppletive past tense form from the Old English sequence inf. gan : pt eode : pp zegan. The attempt failed since the loss of eode coincided with the rise of a new sequence involving suppletion, ME go : wente : gone, with the preterite wente 'went' representing the native verb wendan 'turn'. The logical conclusion is that the functional factor, here an effort to introduce a new word to either fill a semantic gap or simplify a complex system, need not be the only reason for a replacement of an old item by a native item or a loanword. According to Hansen (1984), with reference to Weinreich (1968: 56-61), "also homonymy and the need for synonyms may be decisive in bringing about borrowings from the language which is incidentally made available by the contact". A similar conclusion is implied in the older studies on language contact in Germanic, such as Offe (1908), Teichert (1912), Holthausen (1915/1919), Jaeschke (1931) and Prins (1941-1942).

On the basis of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), as well as the data from the Middle English Dictionary (MED) and texts from Literature Online ( the present study will aim at reconsidering the problem of the competition of the two verbs having the sense 'take', i.e. niman, recorded in the OED under the headword nim, and its synonym tacan, an Early Middle English borrowing from Scandinavian. The textual sources exploited here differ considerably from those used by Rynell (1948), so far the only study dealing extensively with the problem of the rivalry between these two verbs. (The statistics from Rynell 1948 is listed as the Appendix.) Here, an effort is made at establishing the approximate date when the loanword take began to win the competition in the standard type of English, replacing nim in its basic senses, with the focus on the dialectal aspects of the rivalry. It should also be made clear that, like in other analogous cases of replacement, the substitution of the Scandinavian loanword take for native nim was not complete since the latter has survived in the non-standard forms of the language, e.g. in dialects, with its sense modified.

2. Forms of niman in Old and Middle English

Referring to one of the most basic actions, OE niman enjoyed a very high frequency of use, being one of the most widely encountered words in Old English literature. Equally common were its relatives in other Germanic languages, whose Proto-Germanic root *nem- is reflected in, e.g., OFris. nima, nema, OHG neman, OS niman, neman, OHG neman and ON nema. (For the rise of the forms of niman, cf. Gough 1973.) Especially intriguing was the situation in Scandinavian since Old Norse also possessed a synonymous verb taka (pt tok : pp tekinn) which later found its way into English. As compared with the niman-type, tacan had a rather scant representation in Germanic, being only related to MDu./EMod.Fris. taken and, possibly, Go. tekan. On consulting the OED one can find forms of niman much richer than those of tacan. A mere comparison of spellings in the OED reveals four different root vowels in the present tense of niman in Middle English, i.e. nim-, niom-, nym-, nem-), and only one of tacan (i.e. tak-). Analogously, six preterite Middle English roots (nom-, nam-, nem-, neom-, nym-, num-) and two past participle roots (num-, nom-) of niman respectively match only two preterite roots (tok-, tuk-) and one past participle root tak- of tacan. Needless to say, the forms of the Scandinavian loanword, being drastically less numerous than those of the native verb, were easier to handle in speech, a state of things which may have favoured the subsequent loss of nim at the expense of take.

The earliest instances of nim registered in the OED come from the Mercian glossaries:

1) c725 Auserunt, nomun [Erf noumun], hlodun. (Corpus Gloss. (Hessels) A 909)

c825 Adempto, zinumni. (Epinal Gloss. 100), Hauserunt, naamun (113); Eadiz se nimed & zecnysed da litlan his to stane (Vesp. Ps. cxxxvi. 9); pu home hond oa swioran mine (lxxii. 24), He sende engel his & nom mec of scepum feadur mines (Vesp. Hymns I).

and analogous forms are also common in Beowulf (2a), in the pure West Saxon dialect of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (2b) and in King AElfred (2c):

2) a) Beowulf (Z.) Ac he me habban wile d[r]eore fahne zif mec dead nimed (447). Onsend hizelace zif mec hild nime (452). Ford near aetstop, nam pa mid handa..rinc on raeste (745); zif paet zeganged paet de gar nimed (1847); penden reafode rinc oderne, nam on Ongendio irenbyrnan (2986).

b) O.E. Chron. He..hiene him to biscep suna ham (an. 853); Hie him frip namon [Laud MS. hi heom wid frid zenamon]; [Hi] winter setl namon on East Englum (an. 866). Her nora Beorhtric cyning Offan dohtor Eadburze (an. 787); & a-hreddon eall paet hie zenumen haefdon ... (an. 917); pa namen his sune & his frend & brohten his lic to Englalande (an. 1135).

c) 888 K. AElfred. Da hlafordas naman swa hwaet swa hi haefden (Boeth. xxix. [section] 2); bonne nimad hi hiora men mid him (Boeth. xx); & eall paet his fennas & moras zenumen habbad (xviii. [section] 2); c890 He hine his rices benam (Baeda iii. vii); c893 pe mon nime aenne eles dropan, and drype on an mycel fyr (iv. vii).

The variation of forms shown in (2) became enriched in Middle English when niman developed another variant, neme(n), with long [e:] in the present tense reflecting open syllable lengthening in the North. The preterite continued to use the earlier forms with short [a], as in ham, and produced forms with short [o] (nora) in Western dialects, simultaneously retaining the old form nom with long close [o:] in the singular and the plural. Consequently, the verb developed variation between short [a], short [o] and long close [e:] in the present and, in addition, that between long open [c:] from OE [a:] (nomon from OE namon) and long close [o:] in the preterite.

3. The earliest occurrences of tacan

It comes as a surprise that the Scandinavian loanword tacan is first registered not, as could be expected, in the Northern dialects where contacts with Scandinavian culture were most intense, but in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, more precisely in its Early Middle English continuation known as The Peterborough Chronicle, the MS E of which comes from Northhamptonshire, i.e. Central Western East Midland (the quotations below come from the MED):

3) Eall paet he mihte tacen wid innen & wid uten of laered & of laewed swa he sende ouer sae agenes him (an. 1127 Peterb.Chron. LdMisc 636).
 ?a1160 Dauid, king of Scotland, toc to uuerrien him. Da tocan pa
 odrew & helden her castles (an. 1135); Te eorl of Angaeu waerd ded,
 & his sune Henri toc to be rice ...

 Henri ... toc al Peitou. De king toe his feord & beset hire in pe
 tur. Henri ... toc hire to wiue. Te Lundenissce folc hire wolde
 taecen, & scae fleh (an. 114: Peterb. Chron. LdMisc 636).

As shown above, tacan appears in the Chronicle fully equipped with morphological markers representing both the present and the preterite forms. The different versions of the Chronicle contain passages which indicate that take was not yet fully domesticated. Although MS D (an. 1075) which was composed around 1100 contains the preterite toc 'took', a later version of the Chronicle, MS E, coming from c. 1154, employs again the traditional form nam; cf. also Rynell (1948: 47-48):

4) c1100 He..toc [MS. E nam] swilce zerihta swa he him zelazade (O.E. Chron. MS. D an. 1075).

The statistics of the occurrence of nim and toc shows unambiguously that the old form still prevailed in quantitative terms over the loanword. On comparing the OED data relevant to the Chronicle split into two periods, that before 1122 (the Old English type) and the other, 1122-1154 (the Middle English type), we obtain the following data:


Before 1121 14 4
1121-1154 29 8
 niman 3/1 tacan 1/0
 nimonlen 0/3 taecen 0/2
 nam(on/en) 8/22 toc(an/en) 4/6
 nom 1/0
 [ze] numen 2/3

The data in (5), numerically modest as they are, show that the Chronicle maintains a balance between the prevailing nim-forms and the new take-forms, which is evident from the proportion 2 NIM : 1 TAK in both types and in both periods. The prevalence of the preterite over the present tense forms is due to the character of the text which required the concentration of the scribes on the past, not current events. Considering the fact that take appears in other documents much later its use in the Chronicle seems to confirm the hypothesis of the presence of the Scandinavian loanword in the English of the former Danelaw district.

The sections which follow contain a review of the distribution of nim and take in particular dialects, according to a chronological sequence.

4. Kentish

For lack of a larger quantity of texts Kentish data are as a rule scant. Item (6) lists the numbers of the OED citations of the forms of nim(e) and take. Square brackets enclose the total number of quotations from the OED which contain forms of nim and take:

6) a) c1315 William of Shoreham, Kent [614] 4 NIM (nom/eth/en 2, y-home 2) 15 TAK (tak/(e)th/p 12, toke 3)

b) 1340 Ayenbite of Inwyt, Kent [2546] 29 NIM (nim/e/p 20, y-/nom/e 7, nyme 1, hem 1) 5 TAK (tak/i(y)nges/th 4, y-take 1)

Although the time distance between the two texts is small (around 25 years) they show a completely opposite proportions of nim to take, i.e. 1 NIM : 4 TAK in William of Shoreham against roughly 6 NIM : 1 TAK in the Ayenbite of Inwyt. This is yet another proof that William of Shoreham MS did not come from his hand, but represents the dialect of the scribe who copied it. Evidently, the text does not exhibit typical Kentish features, one of them being a numerical prevalence of the forms of the native verb nim, typical of the South, over the non-Southern loanword take. The only reliable fact is that the forms of nim in the Ayenbite, without doubt the most representative Kentish text, are still dominant in the middle of the 14th century, i.e. at the time when, as will be seen soon, other dialects show an opposite proportion. This tendency is also confirmed by Rynell (1948) who examined only the text of the Ayenbite. His figures for the Ayenbite, 195 NIM : 27 YAK, also exhibit the prevalence of the old forms.

5. South Western

One of the earlier South Western manuscripts, South English Legendary, contains a fragment in which both verbs, nim and take, coexist in the same sentence, and even express a similar meaning; cf.:

7) c1290 Seint Fraunceys nam bat tresor., and in ore louerdes warde it tok (St. Francis 66 in S. Eng. Leg. 55).

In general, the evidence from the Southwest is incomparably more valuable and numerous than the data from Kentish. The texts listed as (8) cover a time range from the turn of the 14th to mid-15th century, i.e. around 150 years, a time span which matches almost perfectly the Late Middle English period; cf.:

8) a) c1290 S. Eng. Legendary, Gloucestershire (nSW) [1707] 62 NIM (nam 22, nom/e/n 20, i/y-nome 11, nim/e/st/th 8, y-neme 1) 2] TAK (take/n 9, tok/en 9, i-take 3)

b) 1297 Robert of Gloucester, Gloucestershire (nSW) [3245] 97 NIM (nom/e/on 64, i/y-nome 19, nyme/p 8, nime/p 6) 20 TAK (tok (toc) 13, take 5, i-take 2)

c) c1325 Sir Orfeo, Gloucestershire (nSW) [42] 3 NIM (-home 2, y-nome 1) 1 TAK (toke 1)

d) c1330 Arthur & Merlin, Dorsetshire (sSW) [676] 3 NIM (nam 2, nomen 1) 16 TAK (tok/e/n 14, take/n 2)

e) c1380 Sir Firumbras, Devonshire (wSW) [1006] 5 NIM (nam 2, nem 1, home 1, y-nome 1) 38 TAK (tok 18, take/n 17, i/y-take 2)

f) c1380 Wyclif, Oxfordshire (nSW) [11968] 4 NIM (nym 4) 408 TAK (take/th/en 300*, toc (toc) 108)

g) c1449 Pecock, Oxfordshire (nSW) [1431] 2 NIM (nym 1, nom 1) 40 TAK (tak/e/ith/un 35, to(o)k 5)

The statistical data from the Southwest allow the identification of the time caesura when the occurrences of take began to grow rapidly and finally outnumbered those of its native rival nim. The initial proportions in favour of the native item in the three texts from Gloucestershire (3 : 1 in South Eng. Legendary, Sir Orfeo and 5,5 : 1 in Robert of Gloucester), all belonging to the end of Early Middle English, changed drastically to the opposite around 1330. A reverse tendency can be found in Arthur and Merlin, with the proportion of roughly 5 : 1 favouring the loanword, which increased to 7 : 1 in Sir Firumbras (c1380). As a result what we witness is an almost complete elimination of him in Wyclif in the last quarter of the 14th century (4 NIM : 408 TAK).

Gradually losing its principal sense, the displaced native verb began to appear with prefixes, thus narrowing down its original meaning, as evidenced in Sir Orfeo, a poem from the first quarter of the 14th century (see (9) below). More than one hundred years later, in the middle of the 15th century and in a different dialect, Reginald Pecock of Oxfordshire (later working in London) still used the native word with prefixes as a kind of a special term, whose new sense testified to its having undergone semantic narrowing (9), cf.:

9) c1320 To his owne lady wel ny he come, And hur wel ny had undernome (Orfeo 306), With ryght gode wille they can out gon ... So long they have undernome, That to Crassens they were ycome (441).

c1449 Wherbi he canne schewe and proue it to be a defaute for which he vndir~nymeth and blameth (Pecock Repr. Prol. 2); He comith not to lizt, that hise werkis ben not vndernome (i. xvii. 97).

The above data are hardly comparable with those in Rynell's study of 1948 as his set of texts from the South and Southwest was completely different. Two his early texts from c.1200, The Owl and the Nightingale (16 NIM) and Proverbs of Alfred (1 NIM), contain no take-forms, but the equally early Trinity Homilies have 2 such forms (70 NIM) and Vices and Virtues has 1 form (70 NIM). Although the manuscript of Robert of Gloucester's Chronicle (e14th c.) is later than that of King Horn (mid-13th c.), its nim-forms (510) there prevail over take-forms (99), while the romance of Horn shows the ratio 4 (NIM) : 34 (TAK). Rather unexpectedly Rynell (1948) classifies Chaucer's works as representing the Southern type, where The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400, Ellesmere MS 15th c.) shows the proportion 11 NIM : 379 TAK.

Summing up, the Southwest seems to have been the territory where the loanword became generally accepted in the latter half of the 14th century.

6. West Midland

Linguistic changes in West Midland always had much in common with the South West. Frequently these two dialects are regarded as forming one linguistic area, referred to as Western, which is usually based on phonological criteria. As regards the operation of the replacement in time what was determined in the case of the South West is also true of West Midland. The distribution of the forms of the two verbs in various texts is shown below; cf.:

10) a) c1205 Layamon, Worcestershire/Somersetshire (WM/SW) [5448] 116 NIM (nom 78, nim/ep/en 14, nam 10, nemen 5, inumen 5, i-nomen 2, nyme 1, naem 1) 13 YAK (take/de/n 8, tok/en 4, i-taken 1)

b) a1225 Ancrene Riwle, Cheshire (wWM) [3832] 37 NIM (nim/ep/en 22, nom/ep 10, inumen 3, nemen 2) 3*TAK (tak/ep 2, toc 1; *MED!)

c) a1300 St. Gregory, Staffordshire (sWM) [27] 2 NIM (nora 2) 2 YAK (tak/e 2)

d) c1300 King Alisaunder, Shropshire (wWM) [1422] 7 NIM (nymeth 3, nam 2, nom 1, y-nomen 1) 27 TAK (to(o)k 16, take 9, y-take 2)

e) c1300 Harrowing of Hell, Staffordshire (sWM) [112] 3 NIM (nam 2, nomen 1) 2 YAK (tak 1, toce 1)

f) c1325 Early Eng. All. Poetry, (?nWM) [2688] 6 NIM (nome/n 3, nym 1, nem 1, nummen 1) 15 TAK (take 11, toke/n 4)

g) c1340 Sir Gawain, Lancashire (nWM) [1295] 2 NIM (heine 1, nomen 1) 11 TAK (ta/n/s 6, tok/e/n 4, take 1)

h) c1350 William of Palerne, Herefordshire (sWM) [1313] 1 NIM (nom 1) 20 TAK (take/s 13, tok 7)

i) 1362 Langland Staffordshire (sWM) [5865] 11 NIM (nym/eth/en 7, nom/e 3, nam 1) 101 TAK (take/th/en 70, to(o)k 25, i/y-take 6)

j) a1400 Chester Plays, Cheshire (wWM) [422] 1 NIM (nora 1) 13 TAK (take/th/s 13)

k) a1400-1450 Alexander, Lancashire (nWM) [2037] 3 NIM (nymes 2, name 1) 19 TAK (take 12, tuk 6, tok 1)

l) c1400 Destruction of Troy, South Lancashire (nWM) [3530] 2 NIM (nem 1, name 1) 64 TAK (take/th/en 40, tok 24)

The original prevalence of nim over take is evident in Layamon's Brut (c1205), a poem from the beginning of the 13th century, in which the proportion between the native item and the loanword is 9 : 1. On comparing that text with another major literary work, William Langland's Piers the Plowman, a poem written more than 150 years later, we find a reverse proportion 1 (nim) : 9 (take), with similar absolute numbers. Here, the caesura between the statistically less and more frequent occurrences of take can be put around 1300. The text which separates the less frequent from the more frequent forms of take is King Alisaunder, representing Shropshire, which exhibits the proportion 7 NIM : 27 TAK. The last text, the Destruction of Troy, shows numerous forms of take (64) and only weak evidence of him (2).

Rynell's (1948) selection of West Midland texts agrees with the above in three items only: Lazamon's Brut (525 NIM : 35 TAK), Ancrene Riwle (104 NIM : 3 TAK) and Sir Gawain (6 NIM : 31 TAK). The statistics of the total occurrence of nim and take in these three texts corresponds proportionally to the incidence of these verbs in the same texts as recorded by the OED (see (10) above). As regards other texts absent from (10), Rynell's (1948) study offers the following figures for particular texts, all from around 1200: Lambeth Homilies (1190) 52 NIM : 1 TAK, Sawles Warde 7 NIM : 0 TAK, Seinte Katherine 20 NIM : 7 TAK, Seinte Juliene 13 NIM : 2 TAK, Seinte Marherete 8 NIM : 2 TAK, Hali Meidhad 18 NIM : 4 TAK. A slight prevalence of take-forms is seen hundred years later in William Herebert (c1333) 3 NIM : 6 TAK, while poetical works from around 1400 (except Patience 5 NIM : 3 TAK) already exhibit a distinct tendency to prefer take (Cleanness 7 NIM : 17 TAK, Pearl 3 NIM : 15 TAK). Needless to say that there is a dramatic increase in the employment of take co-occurring with the elimination of nim in the period from around 1450 onwards, cf. A Stanzaic Life of Christ (5 NIM : 158 TAK), Pecock's Instructions for Parish Priests and Festial (1 NIM : 480 TAK) and John Audeley (no NIM : 117 TAK).

7. East Midlands

The East Midlands, the area in the southern part of which Standard English was born, showed no linguistic uniformity as it embraced several regions, such as the North East Midlands, East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk), and London (South), all exhibiting distinct dialectal traits. As regards our problem, an early text which offers evidence drastically different from the rest is the Ormulum (c1200), where take prevails over nim (33 NIM : 340 TAK in Rynell 1948). This is not surprising as Orm, the author of the poem, lived in the northerly areas of England where Danish influences were stronger than elsewhere in the region. A similar distribution is seen in Havelok, another text from Lincolnshire (13 NIM : 43 TAK; Rynell 1948). Quite interesting results are obtained on examining the Peterborough Chronicle, the earliest East Midland document, with the ratio 8 NIM : 1 TAKE for the early part (1122-1131) and 10 NIM : 7 TAK for the so-called Middle English segment (1132-1154; cf. item (5) above). It can be thus concluded that on the whole, the East Midland was receptive to innovations, which resulted in a quick domestication of the Scandinavian loanword (see (11) below). For convenience the long list of texts from East Midland is split into two parts (11a-h) and (11i-o):

11) a) c1200 Ormulum, Lincolnshire (nEM) [2952] 4 NIM (namm 3, nimenn 1) 102 TAK (tok (toc) 63, tak(tac)/epp/enn 39)

b) c1210 Bestiary, Norfolk (eEM) [463] 4 NIM (nimep 4) 2 TAK (takep 2)

c) c1250 Genesis & Exodus, Norfolk (eLM) [2074] 53 NIM (nam 32, num/en 17, nimen 4) 17 TAK (take/p/n 11, tok/e/n 6)

d) a1300 King Horn, Essex/Middlesex (sEM) [431] 1 NIM (neme 1) 11 TAK (tok 7, tak/e 4)

e) c1300 Havelok, Lincolnshire (nEM) [855] 2 NIM (nam 1, numen 1) 16 TAK (tok/e 11, take 5)

f) 13.. Coer de Lyon, London (sEM) [583] 2 NIM (neme 1, ynome 1) 19 TAK (to(o)k/e 14, tak/e 4, i-take 1)

g) c1314 Guy of Warwick, Suffolk (eLM) [649] 6 NIM (nam/e/n 6, nim/ep/en 3) 12 TAK (tok/e 7, take 5)

h) c1320 Seven Sages, Essex/Middlesex (sEM) [614] 3 NIM (nim 1, nome 1, inome 1) 9 TAK (tak/e/th 6, tok/e 3)

Apart from the Bestiary, which contains very few instances of both verbs (5 NIM : 2 TAK in Rydell's count), the only text which shows prevalence of nim over take is mid-13th century Genesis & Exodus, representing the dialect of Norfolk (126 NIM : 54 TAK in Rynell 1948). All other texts contain considerably more take- than nim-forms, even though the numbers are not imposing. As the territory labelled as East Midland was formerly to a large extent part of the Danelaw area such distribution is not surprising. But the dominant position of take-forms in London (cf. early 14th century Coer de Lyon) shows that the loanword gained popularity in more standard varieties of English. This is also reflected in texts coming from around 1340 onwards; see below:

11') i) 1338 Robert Mannyng, Lincolnshire (hEM) [4470] 21 NIM (ham 11, nome/n 7, nyme/th/s 2, ynam 1) 162 YAK (to(o)k 84, tak/e 78)

j) c1385 Chaucer, London (sEM) [11902] 14 NIM (nam/e 5, no(o)me/d/n 5, nyme/th 2, nemne 1, i-nome 1) 212 TAK (take 140, to(o)k 69, i/y-take 3)

k) 1390 Gower, London (sEM) [4680] 8 NIM (nam 4, nom/e 4) 165 TAK (tak/e/th/n 95, tok 70)

l) c1440 Prompt. Parvulorum, Norfolk (eEM) [5634] 1 NIM (nora 1) 26 TAK (take 25, y-take 1)

m) 1447 Bokenham, Suffolk (eEM) [490] 1 NIM (nam 1) 8 TAK (to(o)k/e 5, tak/e/yn 3)

n) 1480 Caxton, London (sEM) [10324] 3 NIM (home 2, nym 1) 415 TAK (take 230, to(o)k 185)

o) 1486 Book of St. Albans, Hertfordshire (sEM) [732] 7 NIM (nvm/ne 5, nora/me 2) 53 YAK (take/n/e 50, tok/yn 3)

Examples in (8 i-o) are evident proof that in the middle of the 14th century nim was relegated into the distant periphery of the lexicon of English. Although still found in the language of 14th century London poets, the verb must have been heavily marked semantically as indicated by its extremely low incidence in the important 15th century texts. Possibly, it could be felt as a foreign word since the author of the Promptorium Parvulorum decided to treat nim together with words of foreign origin which require translation; cf.:

12) c1440 Nomyn, or take wythe the palsye paraliticus(Promp. Parv. 358/1).

Characteristically, the only three occurrences of nim in Caxton are not simplex unprefixed-forms, but items with the prefixes be-/by- and under-, i.e. forms whose original general meaning was modified to 'deprive' or 'receive'; cf.:

13) 1480 To benymme Edwarde of his ryght (Caxton Chron. Eng. vii. 93/1); Euer he that was strengest bynome hym that was feblyst (xcvi. 76); 1483 He supplanted me of my patrymonye and now..he hath undernome from me my blessyng (Gold. Leg. 45).

Summing up, as compared with West Midlands, East Midlands was more consistent in implementing take, which became a standard form in the 14th century.

8. North

The evidence from the North represents not only Northern English but also Scottish dialects. It is to be regretted that documents earlier than the famous Cursor Mundi have not survived so that what is at our disposal is the poem itself in its Northern English and Scottish versions as well as several minor documents from Yorkshire and Scotland, listed under (14):

14) a) al300 Cursor Mundi, Scotland/Northumberland [12751](various MSS) 27 NIM (nam/e 13, nom 6, num 5, nym 1, i-nom/en 1, i-num 1) 371 TAK (take 217, to(o)k 153, i-take 1)

b) c1320 Sir Tristrem, Yorkshire [478] 1 NIM (nem 1) 13 TAK (tok/e 10, take/n 1, ytake 1)

c) c1375 Scottish Leg. Saints, Scotland [1921] 1 NIM (hum 1) 31 TAK (tak/is/en 31)

d) c1450 St. Cuthbert, Yorkshire [785] 5 NIM (nym/e 3, nome 2) 26 TAK (tok 14, take 12)

e) c1470 Henry (Wallace), Scotland [2086] 3 NIM (nome 2, ynom 1) 79 TAK (tuk 40, take 35, ta 4)

For lack of earlier evidence we can only point out that the Northern preference for the Scandinavian form reflects the fact of the North being for a long stretch of time dominated by the Vikings. The relatively high 8% presence of nim-forms in the Cursor Mundi is rather surprising in a dialect under strong Danish influence. However, in the later literary texts in the North they may have been employed as archaisms and such seems to have been their position in both social and regional non-standard types of English.

The data from Rynell (1948) support in full the Northern tendency to eliminate nim-forms, although the latter are still relatively numerous in the manuscript Cott. Vesp. A III of the Cursor Mundi (36 NIM) and in Thomas Castelford's Chronicle (c1327, MS from c1400, with the ratio NIM 20 : TAK 170). Texts from the later period show a total lack of nim-forms, although take-forms are represented abundantly. Here belong Richard Rolle, The Pricke oj Conscience, The York Plays, Catholicon Anglicum, Barbour's Bruce and essentially also Towneley Plays (1 NIM : 209 YAK). A survival of a small number of nim-forms is to be noted in two mid-15th century manuscripts, Morte Arthure (6 NIM : 57 TAK) and The Life of St. Cuthbert (8 NIM : 78 TAK). For a complete data from Rynell (1948) see the Appendix.

9. Concluding remarks

Although the present study has been based on a limited corpus from the OED and the MED confined exclusively to those Middle English texts which contained forms of him or their variants, the following tentative conclusions can be formulated as regards the loss of the native word and the spread of take:

1. The chronology of the earliest forms of take shows that in early 13th century western dialects it was losing competition with him, if we consider the high frequency of the latter verb in Layamon (SW), Robert of Gloucester (SW) and South Eng. Legendary (WM). The turning point was the period around the year 1330 when the loanword take began to dominate.

2. The presence of take-forms in the Peterborough Chronicle (12th century) may be proof that tacan had existed in the Anglo-Saxon language spoken in the Danelaw district.

3. In the East Midland the distribution of the new forms depended on geography. While in the North East Midland the loanword got rid of its native competitor in the early 13th century (cf. the Ormulum), the old verb still prevailed in Norfolk (Genesis & Exodus) in the middle of the same century.

4. A rapid rise in the incidence of take in the East Midland around 1330 precisely matches a similar development in the West. In that respect the East Midland and the West Midland show a far-reaching unanimity. As was expected, scribes from the North and from Scotland favoured take-forms, which appear in large numbers from the earliest times. But it should be recalled once more that texts from that area come from a relatively late period so that the incidence of nim and take in, for instance, 13th century Northern English remains unknown.

Last but not least, it is to be emphasized that the statistical reliability of data from the Oxford English Dictionary has been confirmed. Although smaller in number those data exhibit numerical proportions analogous to the proportions of him and take obtained from the examination of complete texts by Rynell (1948).

Occurrences of nim and take (and their variants) in Middle
English dialects based on Rynell (1948): a cumulative list

Kent Date/MS NIM TAK

The Kentish Sermons <1250/<1300 3 2
Dan Michel's Ayenbite of Inwyt 1340(holograph) 195 27

Robert of Gloucester's Chronicle cl300/cl330 510 99
The Owl and the Nightingale >1200/c1250 16 --
The Proverbs of'Alfred <1200/1250-1300 1 --
Trinity Homilies 1100-1200/c1200 70 2
Vices and Virtues c1200/1200> 70 1
King Horn (Cbg Gg 4.27.2) c1225/cl260 4 34
Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury
Tales (Ellesmere MS) 1387-1400/1400> 11 379

West Midlands
Patience 1350-1400/c1400 5 3
Cleanness 1350-1400/c1400 7 17
Pearl 1350-1400/c1400 3 15
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 1350-1400/c1400 6 31
St. Erkenwald c1386/c1477 -- 5
A Stanzaic Life of Christ 1350-1400/1450-1500 5 158
Pecock's Instructions for Parish
Priests & Festial 1400>/1450 1 480
John Audeley c1426/1425-1450 -- 117
William Herebert c1333 (holograph) 3 6
Lambeth Homilies <1066/c1190 52 1
Sawles Warde >1200/c1210 7 --
Seinte Katherine >1200/c1210 20 7
Seinte Juliene >1200/c1210 13 2
Seinte Marherete >1200/c1210 8 2
Hali Meidhad >1200/c1210 18 4
Ancrene Riwle (Northern WM) <1225/1230-1250 104 3
Lazamon's Brut c1205/1200-1225 525 35

East Midlands
Ormulum c1200 (holograph) 33 340
Havelok c1250/c1310 13 43
Robert Mannyng's
--Handlyng Synne c1310/c1360 (Harley) 23 215
--Chronicle (lines 1-10,000) c1300 67 236
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
--(1122-1131) c1122-31 8 1
--(1132-1154) c1154/cl272 10 7
Dame Sirip c1200 1 1
The Bestiary 1200-1250/<1300 5 2
Genesis & Exodus c1250/c1300 126 54
Dux Moraud 1300-1350/>1350 -- 3
John Grimestone's Commonplace
Book 1372 (holograph) 1 17
Promptorium Parvulorum 1440/>1440 8 55
Ludus Coventriae 0450/>1450 2 319

Cursor Mundi (Cott. Vesp. A III) c1300/4350 36 222
Barbour's Bruce 1375/1487 -- 623
The Life of St. Cuthbert c1450/c1450 8 78
Richard Rolle 1325-1349/c1400 -- 42
The Pricke of Conscience cl350/c1400 -- 72
Catholicon Anglicum c1475/1483 -- 23
The York Plays cl350/cl440 -- 300
Towneley Plays c1400/1450-75 1 209
Thomas Castelford's Chronicle <1327/c1400 20 170
Morte Arthure c1360/c1440 6 57


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Date:Jan 1, 2005
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