Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Old English used GE- Prefix for past tense

I was watching a history show about England when the presenter held up a beautiful object which he said belonged to King Alfred. The proof was in the inscription which read,

"Alfred mec heht gewyrcan"

This means Alfred had me (ordered me to be) made.

Instantly my curiosity was piqued by the word "gewyrcan' or made. After some research my suspicions that this verb was similar to other Germanic words for to work or to make were confirmed.

English: worked or made
Old English: gewyrcan
Dutch: gewerkt
German: gewerk is used in the term of a craft or a guild.

The next question I asked myself was how far this ge- prefix survived into English, as obviously we don't use it to form the past tense today.

There's a good article about it here : http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/22700/why-doesnt-english-use-the-prefix-ge

…which show that Old English did use a ge- prefix which turned into y-, i- or ╚Łe- in Middle English and then was lost altogether.

Or was it?

The same article claims that the vestiges of this prefiix exist in the following words: alikeawarehandiwork.

Double check on the online etymology dictionary

handiwork  late 12c., from O.E. handgeweorc, from hand (n.) + geweorc, collective form of weorc "work" (see work). O.E. ge- regularly reduces to i- in Middle English, and the word probably came to be felt as handy + work.

Photograph courtesy of Kotomicreations.

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