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Thread: What is a Saxon Genitive?

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    What is a Saxon Genitive?

    In another discussion, there is reference to the Saxon genitive - I'm assuming it is the standard possessive 's or s' in English.

    But why "Saxon" genitive? Is this correct? Whenever I see the word Saxon, I think of Saxony in Germany (or the varieties of language spoken there, either today or in the past). Is this a standard term for this form of possessive in English? (as a keen enthusiast of Anglo-Saxon English history and of the Old English language, I cannot abide the use of "Saxon" so willy-nilly!).

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    The Saxons were an invading tribe that came from North Germany (Saxony) to England from about the 5th century. They brought with them their language, also called Saxon, whose genitive was formed by adding 's' to nouns. "The Saxon 's'/genitive" is a commonly used term.
    "There are no rules in English, only guidance. Some guidance looks like a rule; it probably isn't."

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by PaulQ View Post
    The Saxons were an invading tribe that came from North Germany (Saxony) to England from about the 5th century. They brought with them their language, also called Saxon, whose genitive was formed by adding 's' to nouns. "The Saxon 's'/genitive" is a commonly used term.
    I guess you didn't read the bit about me being very interested in Anglo-Saxon English history then...

    The Saxons were not the only people who invaded (what was to become) England, and that period of history is generally called Anglo-Saxon; to refer to that period as simply Saxon is incorrect as there was a contemporary polity on the continent called Saxony and the word Saxon refers to the various incarnations of that area.

    And Saxons may well have called their varieties Saxon, but what did the Angles call their languages? Or the Jutes? Or the Frisians? Or anyone else who came along for the ride? They all spoke Germanic varieties that came together to form what they called englisc.

    I do not know of any university history department that specialises in pre-1066 English history that refers to the period or the people as "Saxon" (it's always "Anglo-Saxon"), and studies of the language from that period are called "Old English" or occasionally "Anglo-Saxon" - it's never Saxon history, never Saxon studies and never Saxon language.
    Last edited by Stoggler; 22nd April 2013 at 1:29 PM. Reason: a bit of tidying up

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    I'm sorry. I am at a bit of a loss. You asked
    why "Saxon" genitive?
    If you are asking about other languages and the origins of Modern English, you may be better off asking in the Etymology and History of Language forum.
    "There are no rules in English, only guidance. Some guidance looks like a rule; it probably isn't."

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by PaulQ View Post
    I'm sorry. I am at a bit of a loss. You askedIf you are asking about other languages and the origins of Modern English, you may be better off asking in the Etymology and History of Language forum.
    I'm not asking about other languages, and I'm not asking about the origins of English, modern or otherwise.

    I'm asking what a Saxon genitive is (which I think you've answered) and why it's so called - if the reason for its name is because of what you've suggested, it would appear to be erroneous. If it is a term that is being used in the teaching of English grammar then it seems a very odd one.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Now, now, children, behave. To bicker about Saxon vs Anglo-Saxon is not germane here (excuse the pun).
    What it might be more interesting to discuss is that if there is a "Saxon genitive", then what other kinds of genitive are there, from which it is useful to distinguish the Saxon one.
    And, Paul, do you really mean just adding "s", as opposed to "'s"?

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stoggler View Post
    The Saxons were not the only people who invaded (what was to become) England, and that period of history is generally called Anglo-Saxon; to refer to that period as simply Saxon is incorrect as there was a contemporary polity on the continent called Saxony and the word Saxon refers to the various incarnations of that area.
    Paul is right. The people who invaded England where indeed the Saxons -- together with the Angles. The modern German state of Saxony belongs to a formerly Slavic area that was conquered and incorporated into the German kingdom in the 10th century as a march officially assigned to the duchy of Saxony and called the Saxon Eastern March. Though this entity existed only for a few decades, the name stayed and the the state covering most of the area of the original Duchy of Saxony is today called Lower Saxony to distinguish it from the area of its former Eastern March.
    Quote Originally Posted by Stoggler View Post
    I'm asking what a Saxon genitive is (which I think you've answered) and why it's so called - if the reason for its name is because of what you've suggested, it would appear to be erroneous.
    When one uses the adjective Saxon in English, one obviously refers to the "real" Saxons; and that is certainly not erroneous.
    Last edited by berndf; 22nd April 2013 at 2:02 PM.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    Paul is right. The people who invaded England where indeed the Saxons. The modern German state of Saxony belongs to a formerly Slavic area that was conquered and incorporated into the German kingdom in the 10th century as a march officially assigned to the duchy of Saxony and called the Saxon Eastern March. Though this entity existed only for a few decades, the name stayed and the the state covering most of the area of the original Duchy of Saxony is today called Lower Saxony to distinguish it from the area of its former Eastern March.
    Then that is counter to everything ever written about Anglo-Saxon England and its history.

    Getting seriously off topic for the forum, but as I mentioned previously, the Saxons were not the only invaders at that time. There is a reason why the English took the name of their language from the Angles, and why Bede and other contemporaries refer to Angles as well as Saxons and why regions like East Anglia and Middle Anglia exist(ed).

    Paul's probably right in that this should probably be best discussed on the Etymology forum.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Edinburgher View Post
    And, Paul, do you really mean just adding "s", as opposed to "'s"?
    Yes. I don't think that the Saxons/Anglo-Saxons used an apostrophe.

    If you know when the apostrophe came into existence, I would be interested.
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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    I agree that Saxon genitive is an odd phrase. The genitive seems to have died out in Dutch and presumably Frisian (although someone more knowledgeable than I am might be able to correct me). But it exists in all the other Germanic languages. Perhaps it ought to be called the Germanic genitive.
    The United Kingdom and the former British colonies of the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are sometimes called the Anglo-Saxon nations. A silly phrase if you ask me, but there it is.
    Last edited by rhitagawr; 22nd April 2013 at 2:19 PM.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stoggler View Post
    Getting seriously off topic for the forum, but as I mentioned previously, the Saxons were not the only invaders at that time.
    I didn't say they were the only invaders. But the reason why it is called Saxon genitive is evident. One may find other names more appropriate but that is a different question.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by PaulQ View Post
    Yes. I don't think that the Saxons/Anglo-Saxons used an apostrophe.

    If you know when the apostrophe came into existence, I would be interested.
    The original West Germanic genitive ending was -es, not -s. The apostrophe indicates the elided <e>. In English, the <e> was lost in early modern English.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    OK, Paul, so the original Saxon genitive would not have used an apostrophe, but it seems that in the various discussions here about the SG all the examples did include the apostrophe, so the question really remains, what other genitives exist in today's English which would not be described as Saxon? Or did the discussions use the term SG in error, and should it be reserved to discussions which compare various historical genitives?

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Edinburgher View Post
    ... so the question really remains, what other genitives exist in today's English which would not be described as Saxon?
    It's often contrasted with the 'of-genitive', Edinburgher, as in the top of the hill.
    In these shoes?

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    The word Saxon is a pure and sheer convention, as it only defines a type of genitive that it is older then the genitive using "of". One could argue that other names would be more precise "Anglo- Saxon- Frisian genitive", "old Germanic genitive", "old English genitive" (maybe the last would be historically most correct), and many others. But why fighting a convention?

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Having never heard the term before, I know what it is now.

    I shall just accept that although I myself would avoid calling it a Saxon Genitive, others will continue to do so and that it's a fairly standard term is use.


    Cross-post:
    Quote Originally Posted by Ben Jamin View Post
    But why fighting a convention?
    Am accepting it now
    Last edited by Stoggler; 22nd April 2013 at 2:44 PM.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    In English teaching I've always understood the term "Saxon genitive" as distinguishing a form such as "Henry's car", from "the car of Henry", which would be the form in Romance languages. I assumed the term had been invented by language-teaching theoreticians for this purpose, rather than to distinguish particularly the English "apostrophe-s" from the German "s" without the apostrophe. In fact I don't know how much the term is used in teaching English to Germans.

    That "Saxon" is a misnomer I heartily agree! There was a heated debate recently in the Italian-English forum about the indiscriminate use of "Anglo-Saxon" by Italian journalists.
    Last edited by Einstein; 22nd April 2013 at 3:00 PM. Reason: typo

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Einstein View Post
    In English teaching I've always understood the term "Saxon genitive" as distinguishing a form such as "Henry's car", from "the car of Henry", which would be the form in Romance languages.
    That is exactly how it is used and what motivates the term.
    Quote Originally Posted by Einstein View Post
    In fact I don't know how much the term is used in teaching English to Germans.
    I've been familiar with the term ever since I learned English in school as a kid.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    The way I look at it is, you have to call it something, and you could do worse than "Saxon genitive." At least the name has some connection to the construction's history.
    Last edited by JustKate; 22nd April 2013 at 4:22 PM. Reason: Typos! Thanks, SDG.
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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    I still know the term (either from my own days at school or from university) but it's no longer in use when it comes to teaching grammar to German learners of English nowadays.

    I've just had a look at one of the "newer" grammar books. They contrast "the possessive form" and the "of-phrase".
    Last edited by Resa Reader; 22nd April 2013 at 6:33 PM.

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