Over the last few years there have been quite a few posts lamenting a gradual loss of past tenses in -a-; for example, shrunk is taking over from shrank, stunk from stank etc.
The general view seems to be that this process has occurred in only one direction: over time, the -a- forms are lost and eventually we'll all be using -u- forms for the past tense.
However, a look through Webster's 1828 dictionary proves that the situation is more complex. What really surprised me is that rang, shrank and sank were regarded as obsolete back then! It seems to me that English usage follows a cycle; many of the -a- forms go out of use, then they're revived by grammarians.
One verb which bucked the trend was 'drink', for which 'drank' was used for the past participle as well as the preterite. I remember reading a post which implied that this was a new trend ...

BEGIN, v.i. pret. began; pp. begun

(Note. Drunk was formerly used as the participle of drink; as, he had drunk wine. But in modern usage, drank has taken its place; and drunk is now used chiefly as an adjective.)
(The OED makes reference to drank as p.p. but marks it as having become obsolete in the 19th century)
RING, v.t. pret. and pp. rung.
SHRINK, v.i. pret. and pp. shrunk. the old pret. shrank and pp. shrunken are nearly obsolete.
STINK, v.i. pret. stank or stunk.
SING, v. i. pret. sung, sang; pp. sung.
SINK, v. i. pret. sunk; pp. id. The old pret. sank is nearly obsolete.

SPIN, v.t. pret. and pp. spun. Span is not used.
(N.B. 'span' was very common in 19th century Britain)

SWIM, v.i. (pret. and pp. details missing but definitions of SWUM and SWAM indicate: pret. swam or swum, pp. swum).
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However, a look through Webster's 1828 dictionary proves that the situation is more complex. What really surprised me is that rang, shrank and sank were regarded as obsolete back then!

You have to remember that Webster was not just recording the English language, he was trying to change it - from what he would have regarded as patriotic motives.
Mind you, his hatred of the English language was exceeded by some New Englanders:
"So deeply was it rooted, that in the rebellion of the colonies a member of that State seriously proposed to Congress the putting down of the English language by law, and decreeing the universal adoption of the Hebrew in its stead." (Cunningham (ed), Jonson's Works, vol. 2, p. 33)
John Briggs
However, a look through Webster's 1828 dictionary proves that the situation is more complex. What really surprised me is that ... that English usage follows a cycle; many of the -a- forms go out of use, then they're revived by grammarians.

Sure, but you have to remember that many of the posters, I am one, are older and remember correct grammar quite well. Webster was a New Englander, and is suspect on that basis alone. Have you ever heard a New Englander speak? Not something which inspres confidence in his language skills.

But seriously, generally a native speaker learns the language from his mother. That mother learned from her mother; etc. The evolution of the language is slow. And the more educated a person is, the more his language is on the trailing edge.
I do not believe that "grammarians" revive older forms. I believe they are just holding on to the forms they learned as a young child.

GFH
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Well, it depends what the person's educated in. If they're educated inthe classics that may be true; but if they're educated in surf studies, for example, maybe not.
I live in a rural part of Britain where many of the locals, usually ones who didn't go to university, use language forms that are tregarded as archaic - for example, "where to". However, I take your overall point.

Peasemarch.
Over the last few years there have been quite a few posts lamenting a gradual loss of past tenses in ... that English usage follows a cycle; many of the -a- forms go out of use, then they're revived by grammarians.

I'm intrigued by the similarity in German, and I regret I don't know, and am too lazy to check whether any of these forms have changed: trinken, trank, getrunken (drink, drank, drunk)
ringen, rang, gerungen (wrestle or wring)
stinken, stank, gestunken (stink, stank, stunk)
singen, sang, gesungen (sing, sang, sung)
sinken, sank, gesunken (sink, sank, sunk)
spinnen, spann, gesponnen (spin, span, spun)
schwimmen, schwamm, geschwommen (swim, swam, swum)

A pretty close correspondence with only 'shrink' missing and very similar vowel changes.

Rob Bannister
Over the last few years there have been quite a ... forms go out of use, then they're revived by grammarians.

I'm intrigued by the similarity in German, and I regret I don't know, and am too lazy to check whether ... sang, sung) sinken, sank, gesunken (sink, sank, sunk) spinnen, spann, gesponnen (spin, span, spun) schwimmen, schwamm, geschwommen (swim, swam, swum)

Looks good to me.
A pretty close correspondence with only 'shrink' missing and very similar vowel changes.

Skitt (in Hayward, California)
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Over the last few years there have been quite a ... forms go out of use, then they're revived by grammarians.

I'm intrigued by the similarity in German, and I regret I don't know, and am too lazy to check whether ... geschwommen (swim, swam, swum) A pretty close correspondence with only 'shrink' missing and very similar vowel changes. Rob Bannister

I have to admit when I am among family and getting questionable verb forms mixed up (highlighted? highlit?) that I start making up strange pseudo-German verbs (hat gehighlitten) to emphasize their irregularity or strangeness. My family tends to look at me strangely when I do this, and for good reason.
Kimberly S.
Over the last few years there have been quite a ... forms go out of use, then they're revived by grammarians.

I'm intrigued by the similarity in German, and I regret I don't know, and am too lazy to check whether any of these forms have changed:

Insert:
beginnen, begann, begonnen (begin, began, begun)
However, a look through Webster's 1828 dictionary proves that the ... rang, shrank and sank were regarded as obsolete back then!

You have to remember that Webster was not just recording the English language, he was trying to change it - from what he would have regarded as patriotic motives.

However, I don't think that any of Webster's preferred forms weren't in regular use at the time of publication! A look through the OED confirms that many verb forms weren't settled; the -u- forms often coexisted with the -a- forms. Subsequently the iau pattern usually won out (shrink/ shrank/ shrunk, drink/ drank/ drunk) although there were some exceptions (spin/ spun/ spun, wring/ wrung/ wrung etc.)

Now it seems to me that old Webster is having the last laugh; the pendulum is now swinging back to many of his 1828 preferences including shrunk, stunk, sprung etc. as past tenses and even drank as a past participle.
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