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Sorry if this has been discussed already but it's a difficult one to search for!

I've heard this before, but a couple of people have said it again recently so I thought I'd ask here: some people think it's a mark of arrogant egocentricity that we capitalise our first person singular pronoun. Does anyone know if that's the case, or if there's a more linguistic reason for it? I'm also interested to know which other languages do this.

When talking to my friends about this, off the top of my head I pondered that maybe it's because our 1st PSP only has one letter, whereas the other languages I know of have two or more: je, (d)wi, ego, yo, jag, ich etc. Someone else thought it might be related to the language's Germanic origins because German capitalises many words we don't (but not ich? I'm not at all familiar with the language).

So, is there an ordinary reason for our capitalisation, or is it an unpleasant remnant of cultural arrogance? I would doubt the latter knowing how arbitrary things like capitalisation can be, but knowing how many of our seemingly innocuous words have nasty misogynistic or racist origins, I know how much culture can impact on language so I'm not about to dismiss it without trying to find out.
 
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Picture of BobHale
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I don't know the answer to the question (and I don't think it's been discussed before) but I can tell you that while German doesn't use a capital for "ich" it does use one for the polite form of "you" - "Sie".
 
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Picture of zmježd
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Some writings systems don't even have the concept of majuscule vs minuscule. Dr Grammar (link, near the bottom of this long page in answer to "Why is "I" capitalized?") quotes William and Mary Morris in their Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins p.303:
quote:
Ego has nothing to do with the capitalization of the pronoun I. Printing and handwriting have everything to do with it. In Middle English the first person was ich—with a lower-case i. When this was shortened to i, manuscript writers and printers found it often got lost or attached to a neighboring word. So the reason for the capital I is simply to avoid confusion and error. Of course, some writers refuse to be bound by this convention. Two of our favorites, the poet e.e. cummings and Don Marquis, author of archy and mehitabel, both favored the lower-case i.

I'd heard something similar to that a long time ago, but it was just state and no authority was cited.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Picture of arnie
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I had heard it was for the same reason as zmj gives: clarity. A minuscule i was liable to get lost on the page, especially in hand-written documents. Similarly, I know of no authority in this case.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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That's great - thanks guys Smile.

I'm especially pleased because my guess appears to be based in fact so I can now call it an 'educated guess' and feel smug Wink
 
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<Asa Lovejoy>
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Why is it that many nouns were once capitalised in English, but no longer are? I'm sure the reason differs from the above, but I don't know it. I suppose Marquis and cummings would have gone nuts in the Thirteenth Century!
 
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Picture of jerry thomas
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In the beginning, The Architect of the Language said, "We need a First-Person Nominative Singular pronoun; all in favor say "Aye," and the crowd shouted " ... i ... "
 
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This is probably not the ideal place for posting foreign-language puns .... but ..... In the Spanish alfabet two letters are pronounced "ee" -- the "i latina" and the "y griega." (The Latin i and the Greek y). "La tina" translates as "the bathtub."
The buyer of a house noticed there was no bathtub where there should have been one. Being very frugal, he sent the shortest possible telegram to the seller "¿i?" ... which is pronounced "ee lateena" and can also mean, "What about the bathtub?" (¿y la tina?)
 
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Picture of BobHale
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quote:
Originally posted by Asa Lovejoy:
Why is it that many nouns were once capitalised in English, but no longer are? I'm sure the reason differs from the above, but I don't know it. I suppose Marquis and cummings would have gone nuts in the Thirteenth Century!


Once were? Perhaps in common with other Germanic languages. In German ALL nouns are still capitalised.

No longer? I don't really know. Nor do I know when the change occured, though I suspect others here will. Smile
 
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There was a movement during the 19th century to not capitalize nouns in German. (I own some books that are printed in this fashion.) I've always wondered about it, but none of the Germans I've asked were aware of it. It is strange how strange it looks even to my, non-native eye. I'll see if I can find out anything about this convention.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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It's amazing how quickly one can adapt to something outside of one's native tongue. Despite English not having a formal and informal second person pronoun (one of the best things about English IMO, along with non-gendered nouns, although a plural 'you' would be handy!), I very quickly became accustomed to it in French, and can get quite miffed if someone 'tutoies' me in cases where it can feel over-familiar. The only similarity I can think of in English is if someone decides to give me a nickname when we barely know each other.
 
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