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Author Topic: 'Ago' in Old English  (Read 13570 times)

Horsa

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'Ago' in Old English
« on: March 25, 2011, 06:21:49 PM »
This (along with numerous other things) has been playing on my mind for a while.

How did they say 'ago' as in 'I broke my arm three years ago.' 'I ate about 20 minutes ago'.

Looking at the Old English thesaurus, it says 'ymbe' or 'ymbe þæs'. B&T says: "where the point from which the time is measured is given by ðæs, (a) preceding :-- Ðæs ymb án geár"

I don't really understand this English sentence. Does it mean that we're measuring the time from the present to the time when the action occurred? In which case it would translate 'ago'.

However, later in the entry it gives " of past time :-- Ymb þreó niht com þegen Hǽlendes the Saviour's servant came three days ago" This is one of the few OE sentences that gets a translation, and the 'ymb' is translated as 'ago'.


Can anyone help me out?

Deorca

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2011, 10:09:46 AM »
I understand it as the 'ymb' bit is the important bit, with the gen. dem. pron. indicating the point in time being referred to where it isn't the present. That is, if 'ymb' means about, or before, the present time, 'ymb þæs' means about or before that time. Does that make sense?

By the way, there is also 'geo' (or 'giu' if you prefer Alfredisc  :) ), as in 'þreo dágas geo'

Jim

Horsa

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2011, 01:46:02 PM »
So 'ymb', when referring to time, means 'at' rather than 'roughly'.

Looking at B&T again, 'ymb' also means 'after' and 'about'/'roughly'/'circa'. That's how I've always translated it. It's a bit confusing.

I thought 'geo' meant very far back in the past almost to the point of 'once upon a time'.


Deorca

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2011, 03:18:58 PM »
I'd take it to mean 'after' in this context rather than 'about/circa'. but looking again at the online refs, it seems less clear. Let's not forget that BT isn't complete.

I haven't got it to hand, but I'll have a butcher's in my Mitchell's Syntax tonight to see if I can find anything more definite there.


Jayson

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2011, 04:23:06 PM »
----I don't know if this helps, but in German it's 'vor' i.e. vor vieren Jahre   =   four years ago
Wessex Woman

Horsa

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2011, 05:26:20 PM »
Jayson, in Swedish it's 'för _ sedan', as in 'för fyra år sedan' - four years ago.

German has the word before the time phrase, English has it afterwards, and Swedish needs the time phrase bracketed between two words. It would be interesting to see what Dutch and Frisian have, but I suspect that they would be different again. I just tried Dutch in Google Translate and it had the word 'geleden'. This is starting to make me think that there was no way in proto-germanic to talk about just this relationship with time, that since became important in all Germanic languages. Perhaps 'ymb' kind of roughly fits this purpose, but it's telling that since the OE period the past participle 'gegon' or 'agon' took over this function.

Deorca, I am aware that Bosworth Toller though comprehensive, is not definitive. Thanks for checking Mitchell's syntax, it's appreciated. This has been playing on my mind for months.

leofwin

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2011, 09:52:42 PM »
Sweet offers 'for feawum dagum' , meaning 'a few days ago.'

'for' therefore seems to be the word, and takes the dative, just like German

Deorca

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #7 on: March 29, 2011, 10:04:48 AM »
Quote
Sweet offers 'for feawum dagum' , meaning 'a few days ago.'
The full quote from Sweet is ' for feam dágum' which could be construed as 'a few days before now', where 'few days' is adverbial dative. This doesn't make the interpretation of 'ago' wrong - it's actually the same meaning, but could be just one attested way of expressing our modern concept of 'ago'?

I just remembered where I got 'geo' from - it's in Steve's Wordcræft, it's the only entry under 'ago'. I still haven't had time to check in Syntax, but it struck me that there are all these ways of saying 'before', it could well be that there are several valid ways of saying the same thing?

By the way, Horsa, in looking at Sweet I found his interpretation of 'ymb þæs..', it seems that 'after that time' is the correct way to interpret this. I find the OE Thesaurus invaluable at times, but it can also be misleading or even incorrect.

Jim

peter horn

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2011, 10:39:02 AM »
isnt there a use of OE 'agan' (ago) itself.

I must admit I cant find one
peter

Iohannes

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2011, 11:03:08 AM »
I mostly agree with Jim's post. I think that ymb þæs, or the use of ymb, is generally the most appropriate way to translate ago. However, I'll look up my 'tomes'  ;D as soon as I can and check the whole matter.

It's interesting that the expression '(nu) for feam dagum' perfectly corresponds with ModG vor ein Paar Tagen= a few days ago.

Deorca

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2011, 10:11:11 AM »
Finally found something relevant in the Syntax. Confirms some of what's already been mentioned but here it is anyway -

§1120. Nu and þæs are sometimes used with a prepositional phrase to express the time from which a reckoning is to be made. Examples include ÆHom 6.22 nu for feawum dagum 'a few days ago', ÆLS 2.422 nu on sunnandæg 'next Sunday', ÆLS 10.620 nu æfter ðrym dagum 'three days from now' ÆCHom i.214.27 of ðisum dæge oð nu on ðunresdæg 'from today until next Thursday', ÆLS 2.72 þæs on mergen 'the next morning', and ÆHom 11.54 ðæs ymbe tyn niht 'ten nights after that'. Schrader (pp. 75-6) gives some of these examples and also quotes ÆLS 9.64 Ne dreah ic ny þrym gearum nane oþre dæda. But this does not seem to belong exactly, either in form (there is no preposition) or in meaning (the sense is 'for these three years').

This is interesting, I think. It shows the importance of emphasis on the use of the word nu, and if you think about it, 'ago' means 'before now'. Compare and contrast the two examples in bold - three days before now (i.e. ago) and three days from now - there's a nice consistency here.

It also seems to contradict the OE Thesaurus, that þæs ymb xx means 'xx after that'.

I'd like to find some examples of the use of 'geo' - maybe Steve P could post something if he reads these?

Jim

Deorca

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2011, 10:28:52 AM »
isnt there a use of OE 'agan' (ago) itself.

I must admit I cant find one
peter
I think you're right, Peter, inasmuch as that 'agan' was used in a temporal sense, but from what I can see in BT, it hadn't yet developed into the modern 'ago'.

Jim

Horsa

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2011, 05:58:25 PM »
Oh, 'for' like 'before'. That makes sense. And, is 'nu' an essential part of the phrase?

As a modern English speaker, it's difficult not to think of 'for a few days'.


I just remembered where I got 'geo' from - it's in Steve's Wordcræft, it's the only entry under 'ago'. I still haven't had time to check in Syntax, but it struck me that there are all these ways of saying 'before', it could well be that there are several valid ways of saying the same thing?


I'm wondering if they hadn't nailed down the way to express this rather than your standard 'language changing over time and region'.


Deorca

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2011, 08:16:35 PM »
Yep, is the reference point. "Before now three days", "after now three days", "now on thursday" (as someone with knowledge of Swedish this ought to ring bells - nu på torsdag..).

Yeah, I've found for and it's variants a bugger to get used to, but finding examples like these help, I think.

Nailed? The most basic of concepts can still vary from village to village here in Sweden while others are common nationwide..

Horsa

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Re: 'Ago' in Old English
« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2011, 06:10:39 AM »
I left Sweden in '99, and I can't quite remember what 'nu på torsdag' means. Something within me wants to say it means 'this coming thursday'.

I remember in those first few months in Sweden wrestling with the language and getting a lot of L1 interference wanting to say 'for a few days' and saying 'för några dagar' instead of 'i några dagar'. I asked a Swede what the mistake sounded like. I wondered if it sounded like English translated into Swedish, but he said that it sounded like 'för några dagar sedan' (a few days ago) but with the last bit omitted.

Anyway, 'nailed'. Yes, what I mean can be illustrated by a phenomenon in Modern English. Up until about 30 years ago, in modern English it was okay to say something like, "if a passenger leaves his luggage in the carriage, it will be taken to the depot' (terrible example) where 'he' means he or she. Since the feminist movement we have had to include both sexes with our general language and we've been a few years at nailing it down. 'They' finally has been accepted as not only a third person plural pronoun but as a third person common gender pronoun. Before this, though, we were sliding around trying to put things in the plural or clumsily saying 'he or she', 'him or her', his or hers'.

I was just wondering if the pre-conquest English actually had the concept 'ago' programmed in the language as 'nu for...' or they were struggling to say 'a few days counted back from now' - like it was a fairly fresh coinage using space pronouns metaphorically.

I find it interesting that 'ymb' seems to be used for 'ago' too. But, more interesting is that it seems that there is not a set of germanic cognates. Each language seems to have developed, independently, different ways of talking about actions that happened in a time counted back from the present, which would suggest that they hadn't bothered with that type of thing previously. However, I only know about German from Jayson, and Dutch and Plattdeutsch from the internet (and we know how reliable that can be).

But instances of 'ago' are seldom going to happen in Old English writing. They didn't go in for much dialogue or plays or anything, really, that was written in the present tense  unless it was a homily saying that the antichrist was daily reaping more souls.