The English language has undergone immense changes over the years of its development from Old English to Modern English as it is known today.It has been shaped by a number of other languages over centuries.During the Old English period the English language,which was based on the dialectical of three Germanic tribes(Angles,Jutes,and Saxons),was already influenced by different invading armies like the Celts(Celtic),the Roman missionaries(Latin)and the Viking raiders(Old Norse).
But especially during the Middle English period(1150-1500)another language, namely French,exerted a significant influence on the English language and were therefore responsible for great changes brought to English over the years.During this time over 10,000 French words were adopted into English and about 75 percent of these are still in use.But changes did not just happen in the English vocabulary.This grammar(mainly word order),the spelling and pronunciation had to undergo changes,as well.It was a period of great change where English turned from an inflected language with reduced inflection and a more rigid word order.The linguistic justification for considering the end of the 15th century as the end of the Middle English period is the complete restructing of the English vowel system that affected all long stressed vowels known as the Great Vowel Shift.
Although,these enormous changes were important for the improvement of the English language,there were also disadvantages to it.The loss of native words,the different Middle English dialects and the need of a standart English are only some examples of this.
The French influence on the English vocabulary had its greatest expansion in the period of the Middle English(1150-1500).The reason for that are ,firstly,the bilingualism in English which had been prevailing since the Norman Conquest in 1066.Secondly,the English culture was regarded as inferior,i.e.,it had more to gain from the language spoken by the upper classes.Although,these extensive changes were important for the improvement of the English language,there were also disadvantage to it.The loss of native words, the different Middle English dialects,
the need of a Standard English are only some examples for this.Does that mean the English we speak today would not have been the same,if there had been no French influence?
Undoubtedly,every influence on something does change the circumstances of it,otherwise it would not be an influence.The question now would be,if English really profited from the French language or if it was more a drawback to its further development.We shall show the historical conditions from the Norman Conquest up to the 15th century in a diachronical way,as it is important to know about situation in England at that time to understand the changes in the English language.As the French influence hardly affected the English grammar,it affected the changes in the vocabulary mostly.The French influence was the most effective in the period of great change-the Middle English.
This work will focus on the French influence on Middle English from the Norman Conquest in 1066 up to the 15th century.First I shall start with an explanation of historical events,as it is important to know the historical backgrounds and the situation in England during that time to understand the changes in the English language.Afterwards the focus of this work will rest on the effect of the French language onMiddle English vocabulary,spelling and phonolo-gy.This work will show that French was one of the languages which had an immense influence on the English language and affected it over the years.Lastly,in my conclusion I shall summarize my results.
1.1.The Norman Conquest.The battle of
The Middle English period is usually set between 1150 and 1500,because the texts that appear after 1150 are significantly different in morphology and syntax compared to earlierntexts.However,the historical event that is often named as the beginning of the Middle English period occurred almost one hundred years earlier at the end of the Old English period and is widely known as the Norman Conquest by William,Duke of Normandy,in1066.
Soon after Canute’s death (1042) and the collapse of his empire the old Anglo-Saxon line was restored but their reign was short-lived. The new English king, Edward the Confessor (1942-1066), who had been reared in France, brought over many Norman advisors and favorites; he distributed among them English lands and wealth to the considerable resentment of the Anglo-Saxon nobility and church hierarchy. He not only spoke French himself but insisted on it being spoken by the nobles at his court. William, Duke of Normandy, visited his court and it was rumored that Edward appointed him his successor. In many respites Edward paved the for Norman infiltration long before the Norman Conquest. However, the government of the country was still in the hands of Anglo-Saxon feudal lords, headed by the powerful Earl Godwin of
In 1066, upon Edward’s death, the Elders of England proclaimed Harold Godwin king of the English. As soon as the news reached William of Normandy, he mustered a big army by promise of land and plunder (one third of his soldiers were
In the battle of
Following the conquest hundreds of people from France crossed the Channel to make their home in Britain were also dukes of Normandy and, about a hundred years later, took possession of the whole western half of France, thus bringing England into still closer contact with the continent. French monks, tradesmen and craftsmen flooded the southwestern towns, so that not only the higher nobility but also much of the middle class was French.
The Norman Conquest was not only a great event in British political history but also the greatest single event in the history of the English language. Its earliest effect was a drastre change in the linguistic situation.
The Norman Conquerors of England had originally come from
In the early 13th c., as a result of lengthy and inefficient wars with France John Lackland lost the French provinces, including the dukedom of
The same happened to English bishops and abbots who were gradually replaced.Most of the native English people belonged to the lower class and besides,had to complete with Norman merchants and craftsma.In conclusion,one can quote the words of Baugh and Cable,stating:
It is quite impossible to say how many Normans and French people settled in
These developments also had consequences for the language. French or more clearly, Norman French "became the new language of power and prestige" as the
By 1100 English had changed sufficiently to be classed as a 'new' version of English, descended from, but quite different to,Old English.
Middle English had five major dialects, Northern, West Midland,
So, how had the changes come about? When the Norse had settled in
English, which had been a written language since the conversion to Christianity, was rapidly dropped as the language for royal and legal charters and proclamations, not reappearing until Simon De Montfort's Parliament issued the Provisions of Oxford in 1258. The replacement language was usually Latin, though often duplicated in French. French was the language of the royal court, the legal system and the church. The use of French was reinforced by the fact that many of the new aristocracy and religious houses had extensive holdings in
The result of English disappearing as a written language was the removal of any restraints on language development. This assisted the simplification of the grammar as the folk strove to find the simplest way to communicate with people who did not speak English as their first language. The process that had started with the compromises needed to allow English and Norse to understand each other better gathered speed as the Anglo-Scandinavians sought to communicate with both their linguistic cousins, the Flems, and the alien Normans and French. This development was not dissimilar to that of Vulgar Latin as it changed into the various Romance languages as mentioned earlier. By the time the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle stopped being written at its last stronghold in
The ruling classes spoke French, as did the many merchants that flocked to
From documentary evidence we know that by 1160 an English knight had to retain a
This Middle English was the basis for the modern English we speak and write today.The number of words used had expanded greatly,with French normally supplementing rather than replacing the English,allowing shade of meaning not available to other languages.Thus,we can either deem or judge a matter to be right or wrong,with to deem being a personal opinion whilst to judge is a formal declaration.”Cattle”become “beef”and “swine” “pork”when killed and dressed for the table,yet conversely”a flower”is a bloom”when put on display.Hopefully it will have a pleasant French “odour”,”aroma or scent ” rather than a Middle English “smell”or “worse”,an Old English stench!Also adding to the store of words were French words that had been given and the English beginning or ending.For example,the French “gentle”joins the English man/woman to give “gentleman/woman”,or gets an English ending to become ”gently”,or even more bedecked with English as “ungentlemany”.
Despite this the language is still basically Germanic and basic words are still derived from Old English.Taking the body as an example,whilst we may have French “spirit”,our body still has English arms,legs,hands,feet,head,eyes,ears,nose and mouth,plus brain,liver,lungs,arse and men bollocks.
The invasion of 1066 caused a startling linguistic division to take place, between ‘low’ Anglo-Saxon and ‘high’ Norman French. French became the language of Courts and Kings; the language of honour, justice and chivalry. Poor old Anglo-Saxon English was relegated to ‘commoner’ status, the language of ‘the people’. In fact, legend tells us that William the Conqueror tried to learn English but failed, and for 300 years afterwards the Kings of England spoke French as their first language.
Moreover, quite soon after the invasion, English landowners became so ‘Frenchified’ that a sub-class called ‘latimiers’ arose. They were interpreters whose sole task was to mediate between the Norman-speaking landowners and their Anglo-Saxon-speaking labourers. In this social division we can partly explain the differences that exist today in modern
So just how and why did this linguistic divide along social lines take place? To answer this we need to look at how King William went about his conquering. After reducing the country to submission, he set about building a strong Norman state on the existing Saxon institutions. Therefore the Crown retained great powers over military, legal, economic and church matters: but it was now a Norman Crown, speaking Norman French. Moreover, the Normans’enthusiasm for keeping records, preferably in Latin, meant that the Saxons’oral traditions were soon replaced at the cultural and administrative levels too. In short, Saxon English got turfed out into the fields and the gutters. However, here it slowly began to pick up bits of the language that had thrown it there, and in this way English began its progress back towards dominance.
In fact, many words of French origin soon came to be assimilated into English usage. The earliest adoptions were, unsurprisingly, words such as ‘duc’, ‘cuntess’, and ‘curt’ (now duke, countess. and court). Other words like ‘messe’ (mass) and ‘clerc’ (scholar) also reflected the
Interestingly, as the Dukedom of Normandy fell under the control of the French King in
We can see evidence of the ‘class-division’ of the language in relatively modern times. When Winston Churchill wanted to appeal to the hearts and mind of the common Englander during the last war, he used words of almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon stock. The bare statement “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender” contains only one word of French origin - ‘surrender’. Had he chosen to use ‘give up’ instead, he would have been 100% pure Anglo-Saxon!
Just how English would have developed if there had been no Norman Conquest is a matter of conjecture.No doubt it would have continued the simplification that had started with the arrival of the Norse,but it is doubtful if it would have become the wonderful tool it is today.