Are You Coming or Going? (In Gothic or Old English)


Are You Coming or Going?

(In Gothic or Old English)

The pairs Gothic qiman / gaggan and Old English cuman / gan, when used as simple verbs of motion, are commonly equated with Modern English ‘to come / to go’ respectively, but this is somewhat of a misrepresentation. Consider the following OE examples:

ga hider (Gen. 27.21) ‘come (lit. ‘go’) here’
Nero cwæð, “gang me near hider” (Blick. Hom. 179.30) ‘Nero said, “come (lit. ‘go’) closer to me here”’

In Modern English, ‘to come,’ not ‘to go,’ must be used when the local reference is to a first-person speaker, but this clearly did not apply in Old English, as these examples show. The restriction was likewise not observed in Gothic:

jah insandida skalk seinana hweilai nahtamatis qiþan þaim haitanam, “gaggiþ, unte ju manwu ist allata” (L 14.17) ‘when it is was time for dinner, he sent his slave to say to the guests, “come (lit. ‘go’), as everything is ready now”’
letiþ þo barna gaggan du mis, jah ni warjiþ þo (Mk 10.14) ‘let the children come (lit. ‘go’) to me, and do not stop them’
jabai hwas gaggiþ du mis (L 14.26) ‘if anyone comes (lit. ‘goes’) to me’

The examples given above suggest that gaggan / gan were – or leastwise could be – used to mean ‘to come’ when the focus was on the leaving of a spot, i.e., on the beginning of the action of coming, seemingly with the connotation that the potential mover was blocked in some way, held back by necessity, reticence, authority, etc. Thus, “let the children ‘go’ to me” = ‘do not hold them back (ni warjiþ þo ‘do not stop them’) but let them leave that spot and proceed to me,’ and “‘go,’ as everything is ready” = ‘there is no need now to wait here any longer; you are free to proceed to table.’

In the following example, qiman, and not gaggan, is used because the focus is not on the leaving but on the arriving: “have you come here to torment us?” = ‘are you here now to torment us?’:

qamt her faur mel balwjan unsis? (Mt 8.29) ‘have you come here to torment us before it is time?’

The same applies in the following OE example:

hi ferdon þa and comon and cwædon to Iosue (Josh 7.3) ‘then they returned [lit. ‘went and came’] and said to Joshua’

One thought on “Are You Coming or Going? (In Gothic or Old English)

Comments are closed.