Aye–ay: An Anglo-Frisian Parallel

In: Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik
Stephen Howe Fukuoka-Universität Japan

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The most widespread form for neutral “yes” in the Survey of English Dialects is not yea or yes, but aye. It is used not only in the North and Midlands, but also in areas of the South of England. It is a feature of Scottish English, and is familiar from government in many English-speaking countries. We also find the aye-like ayuh in Northeast America. “Aye” appears suddenly about 1575 and is “exceedingly common” around 1600; it is initially written I and its origin, like yes, is uncertain. Ay is also found in Old Frisian, as well as Sater Frisian today (öäi, a'äi etc.). This study reviews a number of proposed etymologies, examining which can account for the occurrence or development of ay(e) in both languages. Based on a wider study of change in forms of “yes” and “no” in English, the author argues that aye–ay is a parallel development of interjection + particle. The study also suggests functional and phonological overlap with the pronominal echo I in English, but not Frisian, with the vocalic form of the pronoun and diphthongisation in the “Great Vowel Shift”, accounting for the popularity and spelling I of “aye” around 1600.

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