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 Hastings.
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 Wessex.
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 Normans, other, mercenaries from all over Europe) and, with the support of the Pope, landed in Britain.
In the battle of Hastings, fought in October 1066, Harold was killed and the English were defeated. This date is commonly known as the date of the Norman Conquest, though the military occupation of the country was not completed until a few years later. After the victory of Hastings, William by passed London cutting it off from the North and made the William of London and the bishops at Westminster Abbey crown him king. William his barons laid waster many lands in England, burning down villages and estates. They conducted a relentless campaign of subjugation, devastated and almost depopulated Northumbria and Mercia, which tried to rise against the conquerors. Huge stone Norman castles if earthen forts and wooden stockades, built during the campaign, soon replaced scores. Most of the lands of the Anglo-Saxon lords passed into the hands of the Norman barons, William’s own possession comprising about one third of the country. The Normans occupied all the important ports in the church, in thee government and in the army.
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 Scandinavia. About one hundred and fifty years before they scized the valley of the Scine and settled in what was henceworth known as Normandy. They were swiftly assimilated by the French and in the 11th century came to Britain as French speakers and bearers of French culture. They spoke the Northern dialect if French, which differed in some points from Central, Parisian French. Their tongue in Britain is often reffered to as ‘Anglo-French’ or ‘Anglo-Norman’, but may just as well be called French, since we are less concerned here with the distinction of French dialects than with the continuous French influence upon English, both in the Norman period of history and a long while after the Anglo-Norman language had ceased to exist.
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 Normandy. Among other consequences the loss of the lands in France cut off the Normans in Britain from France, which speeded up the Anglo-France, which speeded up the decline of the Anglo-French language.
In England,the Normans did not ban the native inhabitans,but took over the English aristocracy and other important positions.The example of one Saxon being an Earl among 12 others of Norman origin by 1072 serves to underline this thesis.
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 England in the century and a half following the Norman Conquest, but their influence was out of all proportion to their number.
These developments also had consequences for the language. French or more clearly, Norman French "became the new language of power and prestige" as the Normans continued to use their own language. They also held strong connections with France. Often, the ruling class still had property on the continent so that they travelled in between the two countries. Even the king spend a considerable amount of time in France. One can sum it up by saying that the French influence would have been less, if the constant contact between France and England had not been maintained. In addition to that, French was also the language of power all over Europe. It was considered as a superior language to English as plays and poetry were written in this language.In contrast to that, English was only the oral language of the lower classes and was therefore regarded as inferior. Neither the French ruling class, nor the English people were able to speak the other language perfectly. "The more general social structure of the Norman settlement meant that equal competence in both languages was rare."
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, East Midland, Southwesterm and Kentish. It was characterised by the extreme loss of inflections, almost complete standardisation of the plural to 's' and the introduction of a large number of Norman French and Low German words. The French came, of course, from the French speakers who now controlled the government, the law and the church. The Low German from the large number of Flemish the Normans had first hired as mercenaries and then used to settle those parts of the country they had harried and depopulated.
So, how had the changes come about? When the Norse had settled in England they brought with them a language that was from the same linguistic family, and indeed enabled them to be understood by their English neighbours. The culture was also similar, not surprising considering that the original English had come from Scania, Denmark and the North Sea coast bordering Denmark. In addition the new comers supplemented, rather than replaced, both the aristocracy and the commons. As a result assimilation was very quick and easy even before the fighting stopped. The Normans brought with them an alien culture and language. Add to this their social status as the new ruling class, and it is no shock to find that assimilation was slower, and the new society and language that emerged was so radically changed from that which they found when they arrived uninvited in 1066.
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 France. This state of affairs changed slightly in 1204 when King John lost Normandy, but did not really end until after the English were finally expelled from France at the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453.
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 Peterborough in 1154, its West Saxon English was already obsolete.
The ruling classes spoke French, as did the many merchants that flocked to England following the Conquest. Those that dealt with them, or had ambitions to join them, had to learn at least some of the language. However, it cannot be assumed that the ruling classes and the merchants did not quickly come to at least understand English if not speak it. It would have been very difficult to oversee an estate or buy and sell unless you could communicate, though it was noted at the time that there was a flourishing job market for translators. This may have sufficed for many of those who arrived with William the Bastard, but surely not for their children, brought up by an English wet nurse and with English servants. It is hard to imagine that those children did not absorb the language at the same time as they supped the milk. It should also be borne in mind that many of the Normans married English wives, often the widows or daughters of the previous English landholder. In such a household both parties would need to learn at least a smattering of the others native language. At a lower level, the need to learn at least simplified English was essential. Many a Norman or Frenchman was granted a holding (which he would re-name a manor) as reward for services rendered during the Conquest. With a totally English workforce and possibly an English wife and no French speakers for miles learning English would have been the number one priority.
From documentary evidence we know that by 1160 an English knight had to retain a Norman to teach his son French. Around 1175 a noble woman warns her husband of danger in English, not French as might have been expected. In 1191 one of four knights in a legal dispute cannot speak French when appearing at a court where the proceedings were still conducted in that language. By 1200 phrase books teach French as a foreign language are being produced. In the same year the poet Brut's 'The Owl and the Nightingale' appears and signals the rebirth of English (now Middle English) as a literary language.
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 Britain between the upper and lower classes and their greatly varying accents. Think Prince Phillip, and think Oasis: hardly the same language, is it? Well, at one time it wasn’t!
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.