"ye": "the" vs. "thee"?

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Oct 1 14:16:08 UTC 2008

On Wed, Oct 1, 2008 at 10:09 AM, Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Tue, Sep 30, 2008 at 10:50 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
> >
> > It appears, then, that part of my recent confusion is irrelevant to
> > what I was concerned about:  I had conflated "ye" (you) with "thee",
> > when they were/are separate.  It's only "ye" (the) and "ye" (you), as
> > printed in the 18th century, that I had assumed -- apparently
> > incorrectly -- had once been spelled with thorn, and wanted to distinguish.
> >
> > In writings I am transcribing, I decided to change "ye" to "the" when
> > it was, and to leave "ye" unaltered when it was "you", so that my
> > readers wouldn't be confused about the pronunciation and meaning of
> > the two.  Am I on safe ground?
> Pretty much so.  The form of the thorn changed over time so that the
> ascender shortened and disappeared, leaving a symbol that looked a lot
> like a <y>.  I haven't seen a study suggesting that the pronunciation
> changed.

Except, of course, among pseudo-archaic proprietors of "Ye Olde Booke Shoppe"
and the like.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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