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Thread: What is a Saxon Genitive?

  1. #21
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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    The way I see it, what others call the Saxon genitive I would just call the genitive. It is one of the inflected forms (declensions) of the noun, like what we come across in Germanic and Romance languages.
    I would not view the of-form as a genuine genitive, it's just an ordinary prepositional phrase which happens to take on a role which is similar to the genitive.
    The problem, I guess, is that English does not have (or no longer has) that strict kind of inflection, which has been largely displaced by the use of prepositions, typically "of" for the genitive and "to" for the dative and accusative, which two are at times difficult to tell apart.
    The "genuine" genitive survives in some pronouns, e.g. whose, my, our.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Edinburgher View Post
    The way I see it, what others call the Saxon genitive I would just call the genitive.
    Which is precisely what I do, when speaking English. On the other hand, when speaking Italian I say the equivalent of Saxon Genitive, which is what all Italians are taught to call it at school.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Now I'm confused again. Help me unravel the concern about calling it the Saxon genitive.

    The Saxons came to Britain. (As did others)
    They brought their language with them. (As did others)
    The Saxons formed genitives by adding -es.
    In modern day English, we use -'s to form a certain kind of genitive, and it is derived from the elision of the e that was present in the genitive that was present in the Saxon language it came from.

    Which of those statements is incorrect?
    Your meaning is not what you think it is, it is what your listener thinks it is

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by JulianStuart View Post
    Now I'm confused again. Help me unravel the concern about calling it the Saxon genitive.

    The Saxons came to Britain. (As did others)
    They brought their language with them. (As did others)
    The Saxons formed genitives by adding -es.
    In modern day English, we use -'s to form a certain kind of genitive, and it is derived from the elision of the e that was present in the genitive that was present in the Saxon language it came from.

    Which of those statements is incorrect?
    None of them, as far as I can tell.

    But my original contention stems from the fact that we have no way of distinguishing what elements of Old English were of Saxon in origin or Angle or Frisian or of any other grouping. The invaders probably spoke very similar varieties so it seemed (to me at least) a little odd that we would call a feature of Modern English after one out of a number of groups of invaders who possibly/probably all shared that feature.

    Before today I hadn't even come across the term, but having now learnt that it's such a commonly used term in teaching English grammar to native and non-native speakers, I'm happy enough!


    Edit
    I guess part of my original contention is that having been a student of the Anglo-Saxon period of history, I dislike the lazy shorthand use of "Saxon" as a catch-all term for the period and anything related to it which seems to have caught on in recent times. Seeing "Saxon Genitive" stuck out like a sore thumb to me.
    Last edited by Stoggler; 22nd April 2013 at 5:14 PM.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    So your answer seems to suggest that I should reformulate one of the statements to

    The Saxons formed genitives by adding -es.(As did other languages in use in Britain at the time)
    Then your question becomes. "Why do we call it Saxon, if it wasn't uniquely a Saxon construction?" Is that what you meant at the beginning in your question?
    Your meaning is not what you think it is, it is what your listener thinks it is

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    I would just talk about the use of the possessive form (and not even mention genitive) to students.

    I assumed Saxon was used in the term because the Old English that was becoming standardised was based the variety used in King Alfred's kingdom of Wessex - or West Saxon. The Angles settled in areas further north. The standard or the standardising variety is often taken to represent the language itself.
    Last edited by natkretep; 22nd April 2013 at 5:21 PM.
    Connection is all.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by JulianStuart View Post
    Then your question becomes. "Why do we call it Saxon, if it wasn't uniquely a Saxon construction?" Is that what you meant at the beginning in your question?
    Yep, that sums it up. In a much more efficient way then I've put it in all of my blustering posts!

    Thank you

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by natkretep View Post
    I assumed Saxons was used because the Old English that was becoming standardised was based the variety used in King Alfred's kingdom of Wessex - or West Saxon. The Angles settled in areas further north. The standard or the standardising variety is often taken to represent the language itself.
    True, although Alfred and his West Saxons didn't call the language that they wrote in Saxon - the language had been called englisc (or names similar to that) for some time before Alfred.

    I can't recall an example of the languages being called Saxon (or something similar) in Old English writing but it is possible. It certainly wasn't the most-used term though (not by the English anyway: Celtic speakers called their Germanic neighbours Saxons)
    Last edited by Stoggler; 22nd April 2013 at 5:27 PM.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    So far, I think JustKate is the only contributor who claims Am.Eng. as a first language.
    So my question for you, JustKate, is this: Is "Saxon genitive" a familiar term to you?
    I came into contact with it only very recently.
    When I was taught about English grammar in primary school, there were "possessive" adjectives and pronouns, and the "apostrophe-s" on a noun made it "possessive".
    I only heard terms like "genitive" when friends of mine started studying Latin.
    JustKate, I deeply respect your contributions to the Forum, but when you say
    you could do worse than "Saxon genitive"
    I have to voice a contrary opinion: You could not do worse than "Saxon genitive".
    "Saxon" is a misnomer, for reasons cited by others.
    "Saxon" has very little meaning for most English-speakers;
    for most of those few who have heard the term, it means an "ancient" tribe that has nothing to do with today's experience.
    "Genitive" has very little meaning for most English-speakers;
    for those who have studied a foreign language with case inflections it means something foreign, un-English.
    So "Saxon genitive" is a doubly opaque term.
    The term "apostrophe-s" is practical: it tells you what to do when writing.
    The term "possessive" is meaningful to English-speakers because most of us know what "possess" means.
    The term "Saxon genitive", according to the Google Books Ngram Viewer (GBNV), in today's American English, has a frequency of 0.6 parts per billion (ppb).
    It fares a little better in British English, with a frequency of about 2 ppb.


    My suspicion is that the term "Saxon genitive" is not indigenous to the English-speaking world, but is a calque from one or more Romance languages
    (in which the fine distinctions between Angles, Saxons, and Anglo-Saxons are often blurred). Hence...
    the indiscriminate use of "Anglo-Saxon" by Italian journalists
    mentioned by Einstein.
    The GBNV puts the frequency of "genitivo sajón" in Spanish around 4 ppb, and of "genitivo sassone" in Italian at 30 ppb!

  10. #30
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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    I was taught Latin from age 6 to "O"level (age 14 - ~grade 11 ish) (and even actually learnt some Latin too, scraped through the O level) and know a little about genitives and ablatives etc. I had not heard this term until a while after joining the forum, a few, ahem, decades later. It now seems I need to "learn" about the term (even if I don't have a strong opinion on the prohibition of its use for inanimate objects )

    I'm still unclear on two things.
    Did the Saxons have their "own language" or not? (Or bring one even if others call it something else)
    Did they make genitives by adding -es?
    If both are "Yes", then it would seem to be that it is a misnomer only because Saxon can mean other things to other people (or the language they brought can't be called Saxon, only they can be called Saxon and they are the ones who brought it, or something).
    If either answer is no, case closed
    Your meaning is not what you think it is, it is what your listener thinks it is

  11. #31
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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cenzontle View Post
    So far, I think JustKate is the only contributor who claims Am.Eng. as a first language.
    So my question for you, JustKate, is this: Is "Saxon genitive" a familiar term to you?
    Yes. Well, it actually depends on how you define "familiar." I certainly knew the term before coming here to the WR forum. I am sure I heard about it in school, but it didn't really stick. I think I actually learned about it on another grammar forum made up of mostly AmE speakers, including a couple of AmE English teachers, and I'm sure that's who I learned it from.

    JustKate, I deeply respect your contributions to the Forum, but when you say
    I have to voice a contrary opinion: You could not do worse than "Saxon genitive".
    "Saxon" is a misnomer, for reasons cited by others.
    "Saxon" has very little meaning for most English-speakers;
    for most of those few who have heard the term, it means an "ancient" tribe that has nothing to do with today's experience.
    "Genitive" has very little meaning for most English-speakers;
    for those who have studied a foreign language with case inflections it means something foreign, un-English.
    So "Saxon genitive" is a doubly opaque term.
    The term "apostrophe-s" is practical: it tells you what to do when writing.
    The term "possessive" is meaningful to English-speakers because most of us know what "possess" means.
    The term "Saxon genitive", according to the Google Books Ngram Viewer (GBNV), in today's American English, has a frequency of 0.6 parts per billion (ppb).
    It fares a little better in British English, with a frequency of about 2 ppb.


    My suspicion is that the term "Saxon genitive" is not indigenous to the English-speaking world, but is a calque from one or more Romance languages
    (in which the fine distinctions between Angles, Saxons, and Anglo-Saxons are often blurred). Hence...

    mentioned by Einstein.
    The GBNV puts the frequency of "genitivo sajón" in Spanish around 4 ppb, and of "genitivo sassone" in Italian at 30 ppb!
    The way I look at it, almost everything involving the history of English is convoluted, so why not "Saxon genitives"? I mean, it's called English after England...but it's called England after the Angles, and where does that leave the Jutes and Saxons? You can't be inclusive in your nomenclature when you're talking about anything as chaotic as the history of English.

    I agree that genitive is not the most descriptive term, but I don't know of a better. Possessive works in many examples, but not all - e.g., "last year's drought" or "one month's pay," which look like possessives but really aren't. I tend to use genitive only when possessive doesn't work, but I don't know if any experts back me up on that. Garner's Modern American Usage refers to examples such as "last year's drought" as "idiomatic possessives," but I can't say that I find that particularly descriptive.
    "If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad" - Oxford University Press style manual

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by JulianStuart View Post
    I'm still unclear on two things.
    Did the Saxons have their "own language" or not? (Or bring one even if others call it something else)
    Did they make genitives by adding -es?
    If both are "Yes", then it would seem to be that it is a misnomer only because Saxon can mean other things to other people (or the language they brought can't be called Saxon, only they can be called Saxon and they are the ones who brought it, or something).
    If either answer is no, case closed
    The simple answer to those questions is that we don't know for certain!

    I've just been re-reading the relevant chapter on David Crystal's The Stories of English and to summarise, the linguistic situation would have been complicated and rather fluid initially. It's now accepted that the terms Saxon, Angles, Jute etc are too simplistic and probably didn't represent the situation on the ground. "It is not possible to say how intelligible the [invaders] found each other. There was a great deal to unify them culturally, of course. They had a common oral heritage and a common set of religious beliefs. Probably their dialects would have been mutually comprehensible, for the most part, though with some islands of difficulty ..." Taken from the above quoted book

    So it is unlikely that the Saxons all spoke one dialect, but it is also probable that they would understand each other sufficiently.

    as for how the genitive was formed back then, again it's not known for certain but with some variation, an -es ending would likely to have been used.


    The above was all written on my mobile so typographical errors are to be expected!!

  13. #33
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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    “Saxon genitive” is an established phrase, more, I think, in school books than in serious linguistic writing. The genitive in “s” is the only real genitive in English and there is really no reason to call it “Saxon”. The “of” construction is not a genitive, but a prepositional phrase.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stoggler View Post
    True, although Alfred and his West Saxons didn't call the language that they wrote in Saxon - the language had been called englisc (or names similar to that) for some time before Alfred.
    It is obviously a pars pro toto denomination like English is too. You might object to the word English as a name of the language as well.

    What I find more problematic is that the opposition Saxon genitive vs. of+objective case suggests that the of-construct is (A) of non-Germanic origin (B) is a genitive. Neither of these implications are quite right.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    In the Czech Republic we use both terms:

    - saský genitiv (the Saxon genitive)
    - přivlastňovací pád podstatných jmen (the possessive case of nouns)
    Last edited by bibax; 22nd April 2013 at 9:27 PM.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    It is obviously a pars pro toto denomination like English is too. You might object to the word English as a name of the language as well.

    What I find more problematic is that the opposition Saxon genitive vs. of+objective case suggests that the of-construct is (A) of non-Germanic origin (B) is a genitive. Neither of these implications are quite right.
    You can also argue that the "Saxon genitive" isn't really a genitive, since the apostrophe-s can attach itself to phrases as well as single words: the King of Spain's daughter.

    That said, I do find it a helpful shorthand sometimes, especially as - as Kate says above - the apostrophe-s often indicates something other than possession....
    In these shoes?

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stoggler View Post
    as for how the genitive was formed back then, again it's not known for certain but with some variation, an -es ending would likely to have been used.
    In Old-Saxon, as in other West Germanic languages of the time, the genitive singular ends in -es/-as for strong masculine & neuter nouns (p55sqq).
    Last edited by berndf; 23rd April 2013 at 5:24 AM. Reason: missing "masculine &" added

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    In Old English, the genitive ending is -es both for masculine and for neuter strong nouns.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    In Old English, the genitive ending is -es both for masculine and for neuter strong nouns.
    Of course. Same is true for Old Saxon.

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    Re: What is a Saxon Genitive?

    It is the same in Old Norse for M and N singular.

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