5

A hallmark of Early Modern English is that it exhibits a lot of variance between the use of final -y and -ie. In the 16th century -ie is even found in Old English words, eg stonie. And Mulcaster in his Elementarie of 1582 effectively recommends the dominant use of -ie when he relegates final -y only to "sharp and loud" final vowels (eg, deny but prettie). Why did -ie become so widely used in the 16th century? Are there phonological reasons to select -ie over -y? Is it due to contemporary French practices? I assume it's a complex mix of causes - if so, is there a study into the "rise and fall" of -ie?

1

Phonetically they are identical nowadays, but they probably were pronounced differently in the past. I know that, at one time, in French the pronunciation of -ie was different than -i, and still is in poetry (the -ie indicating the feminine form of a word). The ending -y is rarely ever found in French.

  • Do you have any evidence for this statement? (Aside from the French pronunciation, which is a completely different language). – Peter Shor Feb 8 '16 at 1:35
  • Completely different language, @PeterShor ? I guess you're referring to Modern French and Modern English. But Middle English was highly influenced by French in those days, wasn't it? – Tim Ward Feb 8 '16 at 5:31
  • @Tim: Early Middle English may have been heavily influenced by French, but by the 16th century (which the OP is asking about), it was a completely different language. – Peter Shor Feb 8 '16 at 11:27
1

According to The Guardian, the -y and -ie suffixes have different origins in English:

y or ie? As a general rule: -y is an English suffix, whose function is to create an adjective (usually from a noun, eg creamy); -ie was originally a Scottish suffix, whose function is to add the meaning of "diminutive" (usually from a noun, eg beastie).

So in most cases, where there is dispute over whether a noun takes a -y or an -ie ending, the correct answer is -ie: she's a girly girl, but she's no helpless girlie. Think also scrunchie, beanie, nightie, meanie ... There are exceptions (a hippy, an indie band), but where specific examples are not given, use -ie for nouns and -y for adjectives.

Questia has a link to an article excerpt by Kenneth Shields titled "On the Origin of the English Diminutive Suffix -Y, -Ie", but the complete article is only available to subscribers.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.