“I” am what “I” am what “I” am

I have one student in my class who thinks “i” is a pronoun. I’ve told her many times that she must capitalize “I” in her sentences. But she persists to write the pronoun in lower case. Where on earth did this phenomenon start?

I suppose I could blame it on texting. Lots of shortcuts are used in that world, or so I’m told. I don’t text. Okay, call me an out-of-touch baby boomer. I just grew up with the idea that a phone was something you use to TALK to somebody. Now I could go off on a tangent about how the “SMART” phone has changed society, but I will not. I’ll have that idea for another day.

Let’s get back to “I” and “i”.
The official definition of “I” is: The first person singular nominative case personal pronoun. It is used to refer to one’s self. That’s what troubles me with people using “i” to refer to themselves, especially women.

As I researched further, I found this excerpt on a blog called: English Language & Usage.

The excerpt comes from an article in the New York Times.

England is where the capital “I” first reared its dotless head. In Old and Middle English, when “I” was still “ic,” “ich” or some variation thereof — before phonetic changes in the spoken language led to a stripped-down written form — the first-person pronoun was not majuscule in most cases. The generally accepted linguistic explanation for the capital “I” is that it could not stand alone, uncapitalized, as a single letter, which allows for the possibility that early manuscripts and typography played a major role in shaping the national character of English-speaking countries.

“Graphically, single letters are a problem,” says Charles Bigelow, a type historian and a designer of the Lucida and Wingdings font families. “They look like they broke off from a word or got lost or had some other accident.” When “I” shrunk to a single letter, Bigelow explains, “one little letter had to represent an important word, but it was too wimpy, graphically speaking, to carry the semantic burden, so the scribes made it bigger, which means taller, which means equivalent to a capital.”

The growing “I” became prevalent in the 13th and 14th centuries, with a Geoffrey Chaucer manuscript of “The Canterbury Tales” among the first evidence of this grammatical shift. Initially, distinctions were made between graphic marks denoting an “I” at the beginning of a sentence versus a midphrase first-person pronoun. Yet these variations eventually fell by the wayside, leaving us with our all-purpose capital “I,” a potent change apparently made for simplicity’s sake.

It’s not a minor thing to bastardize the English language. Seeing we’ve been capitalizing “I” since Chaucer, let’s keep up the trend.

After all, when we write something we are representing ourselves and to write a paragraph using a lower case “i” says to me that this poor student doesn’t think she is worthy of a capital letter. How sad. “I” told her that she is indeed worthy of a capital “I”. Now all she has to do is believe it.

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