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Author Topic: Why is letter "I" always capitalized?  (Read 1232 times)
Justine Aragones
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« on: March 20, 2015, 07:32:52 PM »

Why is letter I always capitalized?

Sir, please help me find your posting about the reason why letter “I” is always capitalized. I am also looking your insight on the difference between writing and speaking.
Joe Carillo
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« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2015, 09:20:18 PM »

You must be referring to the posting I made way back on June 13, 2009 in reply to a question by your fellow Forum member Spreen ("Why do we need to capitalize the first-person singular personal pronoun 'I'?").

In brief, according to the history of English etymology, the letter "I" had its roots in the Germanic pronoun "ekan," which got shortened to "ic" in Old English, got reduced to lower case "i" by 1137 in northern England, then began to be capitalized circa 1250 to mark it as a distinct word and to avoid misreading in handwritten manuscripts.

Here again is that posting in full for the benefit of Forum members who have also wondered about the question:

Reagan on June 13, 2009, 09:37:55 AM
Sir, Joe!

Why do we need to capitalize the first-person singular personal pronoun "I" whether it is located in the beginning, middle or at the tail end of a sentence?

Thanks indeed, Sir.


My reply:
I didn’t really know why the letter “i” is always capitalized when used as s stand-alone word, so when you posted your question, I hunted for an explanation. The most authoritative I found is the following from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

"I 12c. shortening of O.E. ic, first person sing. nom. pronoun, from P.Gmc. *ekan (cf. O.Fris. ik, O.N. ek, Norw. eg, Dan. jeg, O.H.G. ih,Ger. ich, Goth. ik), from PIE *ego(m) (cf. Skt. aham, Hitt. uk, L. ego, Gk. ego, Rus. ja). Reduced to i by 1137 in northern England, it began to be capitalized c.1250 to mark it as a distinct word and avoid misreading in handwritten manuscripts.

"The reason for writing I is ... the orthographic habit in the middle ages of using a 'long i' (that is, j or I) whenever the letter was isolated or formed the last letter of a group; the numeral 'one' was written j or I (and three iij, etc.), just as much as the pronoun." [Otto Jespersen, "Growth and Structure of the English Language," p.233]

"The form ich or ik, especially before vowels, lingered in northern England until c.1400 and survived in southern dialects until 18c. The dot on the "small" letter -i- began to appear in 11c. L. manuscripts, to distinguish the letter from the stroke of another letter (such as -m- or -n-). Originally a diacritic, it was reduced to a dot with the introduction of Roman type fonts. The basic word for "I" in Japanese is watakushi, but it is not much used. Words that boys usually use are boku (polite) or ore (OH-ray), a rougher word, which can be rude depending on the situation. Girls usually use atashi (a feminine-sounding word) or the neutral watashi, but a tomboy might use boku like boys do."

A more charming explanation was provided by Susan53 in the eslHQ discussion board, as follows:

Re: Why does I always take a capital letter?

"Nobody really knows. Up until the 14th century, the first person pronoun in English was ich (with variations - spelling was not yet standardised and pronunciation subject to regional variation) - written with lower case i without a dot on top and with the vowel pronounced "ee". Gradually the final consonant sound was dropped (a trend which started in the north and worked south) and many Middle English manuscripts contain both ich and i. Around about the late 14th century the use of the capital "I" starts to appear in manuscripts such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, again with variations, like "Y". The variations persisted though. Shakespeare uses "ice" (pronounced "ichay" , "eeker" or "ikay" ??) and in the mid-19th century, a dialect in the west of England was still using "utchy."

"The most obvious theory for why it happened is to give it more importance - especially as a single letter looks insignificant when written down. But it's only a theory. And as before 1300 the use of upper/lower case was much more flexible anyway, it may just have been chance : a few writers happened to use the capital and it stuck.

"The trend now seems to be reversing. Emails and text messages may well herald the end of the capital 'I'.

"English isn't the only language to capitalise pronouns of course - Sie in German or Lei in Italian. But interestingly these are the "polite" second person pronouns. If the psychological theory is correct - ie capitalisation reflects the psychological degree of importance - then English speakers must be somewhat more egotistical than most ... but I'm not sure that utchy would want to agree with that."

I hope you will find these bits of information helpful.

As to my Forum postings giving insights on the difference between writing and speaking, there have been several but I can't immediately recall when and where I made them. I'll let you know once I've located them.
« Last Edit: October 12, 2017, 11:45:53 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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