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Mann and Gender in Old English Prose: A Pilot Study

Mann and Gender in Old English Prose: A Pilot Study

By Christine Rauer

Neophilologus, No.101 (2017)

Old English Martyrology – British Library MS Add MS 40165 A

Abstract: It has long been known that OE mann was used in gender-neutral as well as gender-specific contexts. Because of the enormous volume of its attestations in Old English prose, the more precise usage patterns of mann remain, however, largely uncharted, and existing lexicographical tools provide only a basic picture.

This article aims to present a preliminary study of the various uses of mann as attested in Old English prose, particularly in its surprisingly consistent use by an individual author, namely that of the ninth-century Old English Martyrology. Patterns emerging from this text are then tested against other prose material. Particular attention is paid to gender-specific usage, examples of which are shown to be exceptional for a word which largely occurs in gender-neutral contexts.

Introduction: The modern English noun man can be said to have three principal meanings: (1) human being, person (irrespective of sex or age); (2) human race, mankind; (3) an adult male human being. The first two of these can be regarded as gender-neutral, whereas the last has a gender-specific aspect. The second, furthermore, appears to be generic in meaning, whereas the first and last refer to individuals.

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