Issue 151, page 1
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It must be very frustrating to learn English as a foreign language. Not only does it have a huge and eclectic vocabulary but even the simplest words are irregular. Just look at the assortment of pronouns associated with the first person: I, me, my, mine, we, our and ours. Ours is obviously derived from our. My and mine seem derived from me but how do they relate to I and we?
"I" in Old English was ic, a relative of Latin ego, Greek ego[n], German ich, and Sanskrit aham. The presumed ancestor of all these is the Indo-European *eg. In Middle English, ic (pronounced "itch") became ich and this, in some dialects, became attached to the verb to give cham (for "I am"), chwas "I was", chave "I have", chad "I had", chill "I will", chould "I would" and chard "I heard". Even more bizarre is the form utchy ("I") which apparently survived into the 19th century. We don't expect ever to hear these in conversation but they could come in very handy in Scrabble.
The words me, my and mine, along with German mich, Irish mi and Greek 'eme come from the Indo-European *me-. Old English for "me" was mec while the word me meant "to me", an inflection known as the dative case. This me survives in the word methinks ("I think"", the rarer meseems ("it seems to me") and the obscure me list... ("I like..."). Oh, remember we said my and mine seem to be derived from me. Well, they aren't; my is a shortened form of mine.
The first person plural, we, has no living relatives but is thought to be related to the Sanskrit vayam. Our and ours come from the same stock as Latin nos "we", noster "our", German uns "we" and unser "our". Thus, the various forms of the first person pronoun in English have four distinctly different origins. It amazes us that babies ever learn the language at all.
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