It’s All About “I”

letter-1057951_1280Have you ever wondered why some words in English are capitalized (in big letters; type of letters at the beginning of sentences) and some words are not?

Lucy has written about this topic before (see a couple of interesting posts here and here), but we recently received a question from Philipp in Switzerland asking why the pronoun “I” is capitalized, while other pronouns such as you, we, he, she, and it are lower case (written in small letters). Here’s a brief explanation.

From around 700 to 1200 A.D., people in England used different forms of English from the English we use today, what we now call “Old English” and “Middle English.” Old English was heavily (greatly) influenced by the Anglo-Saxons of German heritage who conquered (defeated and took control of) Britain. In Old English, and later in Middle English, the first person singular pronoun — “I” — was spelled “ic” or “ich.” In Old/Middle English, this pronoun was not capitalized.

Over time, the pronunciation of “ic” or “ich” changed and the “c” or “ch” were dropped (removed; deleted). The written form changed to match (be the same) and became just “i.”

But people who produced manuscripts (texts; written language) didn’t like the stand-alone (by itself; not with anything else) letter. It looked strange. It looked like a mistake. It looked like it should be part of another word, or like a misspelled (spelled incorrectly) word.

So the scribes (people who copied written texts before the invention of printing) made the letter taller, and it eventually lost its dot (the small circle mark above). By the 1200s and 1300s, the capitalized “I” was widely used.

At first, there was a distinction (difference made) between the “I” at the beginning of a sentence, which was bigger, and the “I” that appeared in the middle of a sentence. But over time, that distinction disappeared and people simply used the same “I” for everything. That’s the “I” we use today.

But language is constantly changing. Who knows? When we are finally conquered by the Canadians, perhaps we’ll all speak like Justin Bieber, eh? I hope not to live that long, though.

~ Jeff

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5 Responses to It’s All About “I”

  1. emiliano says:

    So interest post Jeff, thanks a lot, I have always asked myself about this question too, but never try to look up through any reason about the subject, I only accepted it and did not do any action to have an explanation as you have given us now.
    Great explanation Jeff, thank you so much.

    I knew that England was conquered by the Norman who conquest the country on the 11th-century by an army of Norman, Breton, and French soldiers led by Duke William II of Normandy, later styled as William the Conqueror.
    Anglos and Saxons were defeated in the Hasting Battle by William the Conqueror.
    There is a tower in London Tower from the time of William the First that I could see when I was in London.
    History is so interested, I like it very much, may be Cuca has a great influence on
    me to understand and read the History of the different countries.

    Jeff I know nothing about the use of I even also I know that these people the Norman did not used English as they were in Europe, Normandy, they used something similar to French that was the land they lived on that years.

    I have to read once again your post or even more that once.
    It is really an interesting history subject.


  2. Jose says:

    Great and interesting explanation to us. For me, that I’m beginner English apprentice, is too important to read and to know this language subjects and history. I never wondered for that reason this pronoun is written with capital letter. But now, I know the reason for this and I’ll give to people this explanation. (Sorry about my written mistakes).



  3. emiliano says:

    Year 4715 by the Chinese people, here in Spain there are 200.000 Chinese persons being Madrid the city where there are more.
    In Madrid it is Usera´s district the place where 1 of each 4 persons living there is
    from Chinese origin.
    So congratulations to all Chinese people and a Happy Año del Gayo de Fuego to all Chinese friends.
    It´s difficult to write it in English, sorry.


  4. emiliano says:

    Jeff, again, so nice and interesting explanation about the I but what is even great
    is that the majority of us, not English speakers, take the I like natural but somehow odd being YO in Spanish.

    May be one of the great surprises of months or years to read this your post here where I have read all the post, from Jeff, Lucy and Warren.
    Don´t smile my friends out there, yes emiliano, me, have read all the posts here since the beginning.
    Doing that now I have my own blog or even more place where I could write in
    Spanish but even in English.

    Thank you so much dear friend Jeff for everything you have done
    for me.. emiliano

  5. emiliano says:

    Doing that, reading and writing days are short and I could not be so sad
    for being alone.
    Today I have being talking with Cuca an hour.
    Every day I could speak with her twice so despite she is not here I feel her
    like being at home, at my side.

    Frequently, once and again, I told her about my life here and ask for her
    She is the most wise person ever met and always look for my own health
    and spirit.
    Thank you Cuca my dear spouse.

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