The French influence on the English vocabulary had its greatest expansion in the period of the Middle English (1150 – (1150 – 1500). 1500). During this time over 10,000 French words were adapted into the English language and about 75 per cent of these are still in use. The reasons for that are, firstly, the bilingualism in England 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 disadvantages 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 f rom the French language or if it was more a drawback to its further development. I want to deal with this matter of fact in my research paper. I will wil l show the historical conditions from the Norman Conquest up to the 15th century in a diachronical way, as it is important to know about the situation in England at that time to understand the changes in the English language. As the French influence hardly affected the English grammar, I will only consider the changes in the vocabulary. I also will briefly refer to other language borrowings to show that the French influence was not the only one, but the most effective in the period of great change – the Middle English. Lastly, in my conclusion I will summarize my results.
The Middle English Period (1100-1500)
Since the Norman Conquest in 1066 the French language became more and more important. The Normans (North-man) were descendants of the Danes and spoke French influenced by a Germanic dialect. They inhabited some parts in the north of France and adapted not only to the language, but also to the French culture. They had a talent for building churches, cathedrals, castles and proved the English their rank of military quality. Yet, that does not mean the English culture was inferior to the French one. The AngloSaxons were excellent writers, artists and craftsmen. They did not lack in civilization. ―French became the language of the upper classes in England simply because it was the language of the conquerors, not because of any cultural superiority on their part.‖ By this time, the French and English language existed side by side and French took over to be the language of the court and ―royalty of England throughout the twelfth, thirteenth and (diminishingly) fourteenth centuries.‖4 The kings of England spoke French, took French wives and lived mostly in France.
The Normans became the new upper class. They
dominated all high positions like the church, education, aristocracy, administration etc.. So, many other people, particularly among the gentry whose native language was English had to acquire French, if they ―wanted to get on in the world.‖ Although there were more common people holding on t o their mother tongue than noblemen speaking French, English was on a decline, as the French language had its prestige in the most important ranks. This can also be read up in the Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester who commented on the historical situation in England in the 13th century. The beginning and ending dates of the Middle English period, though somewhat arbitrary ,are two points in time when ongoing language changes became particularly noticeable: grammatical changes about 1100 and pronunciation changes about 1500. The term middle indicates that the period was a transition between Old English and early Modern English . The two dates also coincide approximately with some events in English history that had profound effects on the language . Middle English (ME) was the dominant and traditional spoken language form in many parts of England during the Middle Ages. Though most language historians suggest that prior to about 1000 CE, the primary language in England was Anglo-Saxon, the Norman invasion of England had significant effect on Anglo-Saxon. It gradually morphed the language into Middle English, a form almost recognizable, at least in text, as far more relative to modern spoken and written English. 2
History can have an intense effect on language. For England, the Norman invasion changed English forever. In the courts and in much of the writing of the time, French was definitely preferable, accounting for the numerous French-based words (over 10,000) that are now the common every day words of today‘s English. Most documents dated after 1000 were written in either French or Latin, and Middle English drew from both, while still retaining some of its Anglo-Saxon roots. This in part accounts for the significant ―exceptions‖ in English grammar, spelling, structure and pronunciation that can make English such a challenging language to learn, especially for those acquiring it as a second language .
The most important linguistic developments
Two very important linguistic developments characterize Middle English:
in grammar, English came to rely less on inflectional endings and more on word order to
convey grammatical information. (If we put this in more technical terms, it became less ‗synthetic‘ and more ‗analytic‘.)Change was gradual, and has different outcomes in differe nt regional varieties of Middle English, but the ultimate effects were huge: the grammar of Englishc.1500 was radically different from that of Old English. Grammati cal gender was lost early in Middle English. The range of inflections, particularly in the noun, was reduced drastically (partly as a result of reduction of vowels in unstressed final syllables), as was the number of distinct paradigms: in most early Middle English texts most nouns have distinctive forms only for singular vs. plural, genitive, and occasional traces of the old dative in forms with final – e occurring after a preposition .In some other parts of the system some distinctions were more persistent, but by late Middle English the range of endin gs and their use among London writers shows relatively few differences from the sixteenth-century language of, for example, Shakespeare: probably the most prominent morphological difference from Shakespeare‘s language is that verb plurals and infinitives still generally ended in – en (at least in writing).
in vocabulary, English became much more heterogeneous, showing many borrowings from
French, Latin, and Scandinavian. Large-scale borrowing of new words often had serious consequences for the meanings and the stylistic register of those words which survived from Old English. Eventually, various new stylistic layers emerged in the lexicon, which could be employed for a variety of different purposes.
IV. Means of enriching vocabulary in Middle English 4.1. Internal means of enriching vocabulary
Though the majority of Old English suffixes are still preserved in Middle English, they are becoming less productive, and words formed by means of word-derivation in Old English can be treated as such only etymologically. Words formed by means of word-composition in Old English, in Middle English are often understood as derived words.
4.2. External means of enriching vocabulary:
The principal means of enriching vocabulary in Middle English are not internal, but external — borrowings. Two languages in succession enriched the vocabulary of the English language of the time — the Scandinavian language and the French language, the nature of the borrowings and their amount reflecting the conditions of the contacts between the English and these languages.
The Scandinavian invasion and the subsequent settlement of the Scandinavians on the territory of England, the constant contacts and intermixture of the English and the Scandinavians brought about many changes in different spheres of the English language: wordstock , grammar and phonetics. The relative ease of the mutual penetration of the languages was conditioned by the circumstances of the Anglo-Scandinavian contacts . Due to contacts between the Scandinavians and the English-speaking people many words were borrowed from the Scandinavian language, for example:
law, fellow, sky, skirt, skill, skin, egg, anger, awe, bloom, knife, root, .bull, cake, husband, leg, wing, guest, loan, race
Adjectives : big, week, wrong, ugly, twin Verbs:
call, cast, take, happen, scare, hail, want, bask, gape, kindle
they, them, their ; and many others.
The conditions and the consequences of various borrowings were different: 1.
Sometimes the English language borrowed a word for which it had no synonym. These words were simply added to the vocabulary. Examples: law, fellow
The English synonym was ousted by the borrowing. Scandinavian taken (to take) and
callen (to call) ousted the English synonyms niman and clypian, respectively. 3.
Both the words, the English and the corresponding Scandinavian, are preserved, but
they became different in meaning.
Compare Modern English native words and Scandinavian borrowings: Native
Sometimes a borrowed word and an English word are etymological doublets, as words
originating from the same source in Common Germanic. Native
Sometimes an English word and its Scandinavian doublet were
different phonetically, and the phonetic form of the Scandinavian
borrowing is preserved in the English language, having ousted the English counterpart. For example, Modern English to give, to get come from the Scandinavian gefa, geta, which ousted the English 3iefan and 3ietan, respectively. Similar Modern English words: gift, forget, guild, gate, again.
There may be a shift of meaning. Thus, the word dream originally meant " joy,
pleasure"; under the influence of the related Scandinavian word it developed its modern meaning.
It stands to reason that the Norman conquest and the subsequent history of the country left deep traces in the English language, mainly in the form of borrowings in words connected with such spheres of social and political activity where French-speaking Normans had occupied for a long time all places of importance. For example: — government and legislature : government, noble, baron, prince, duke, court, justice, judge, crime, prison, condemn, sentence, parliament, etc.
— military life: army, battle, peace, banner, victory, general, colonel, lieutenant, major, etc. — religion: religion, sermon, prey, saint, charity
— city crafts : painter, tailor, carpenter (but country occupations remained English: shepherd, smith) — pleasure and entertainment: music, art, feast, pleasure, leisure, supper, dinner, pork, beef, mutton (but the corresponding names of domestic animals remained English: pig, cow, sheep)
— words of everyday life: air, place, river, large, age, boil, branch, brush, catch, chain, chair, table, choice, cry, cost — relationship: aunt, uncle, nephew, cousin. The place of the French borrowings within the English language was different : 6
A word may be borrowed from the French language to denote notions unknown to the
English up to the time: government, parliament, general, colonel, etc.
Sometimes the English language borrowed many words with the same word-building
affix. The meaning of the affix in this case became clear to the English-speaking people. It entered the system of word-building means of the English language, and they began to add it to English words, thus forming word-hybrids. For instance, the suffix
- merit entered the language
within such words as "government", "parliament", "agreement", but later there appeared such English-French hybrids as: fulfilment, amazement. The suffix -ance/-ence, which was an element of such borrowed words as "innocence", "ignorance", "repentance", now also forms word-hybrids, such as hindrance.
A similar thing: French borrowings "admirable", "tolerable", "reasonable", but also: readable, eatable, unbearable. 4.
One of the consequences of the borrowings from French was the appearance of
— from the Common Indoeuropean: native
— from the Common Germanic: Native
5. Due to the great number of French borrowings there appeared in the English language
such families of words, which though similar in their root meaning, are dif ferent in origin: native
Conclusion With this work, I wanted to summarize the English language history. I chose this topic because history is very important for me, when you are learning a language we need t o learn its history in order to understand the reason of grammar rules and the origin of the vocabulary, in this way, through the knowledge of the language roots, learning a new language can be easier. Along my academic life as an English learner, I have never heard about its history. At the beginning of this work I said that more than the 40% of the European citizens manage the English language; I think that, in a future, English will be the language through which everybody will communicate, and for this reason, it is so important. Finally, knowing English‘s history, have helped me t o enjoy more the language and want to know more about it. This work was really enjoyable and productive for me An analysis of the vocabulary in the Middle English period shows great instability and constant and rapid change. Many words became obsolete, and if preserved, then only in some dialects; many more appeared in the rapidly developing language to reflect the ever-chan ging life of the speakers and under the influence of contacts with other nations.
Simon Horobin and Jeremy Smith, An Introduction to Middle English (2002)
Roger Lass, ‗Phonology and morphology‘, in Norman Blake, ed. The Cambridge History of the English Language, vol. ii: 1066 – 1476 (1992), 23 – 155.
Roger Lass and Margaret Laing, A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English,1150 – 1325: Introduction.
Angus McIntosh, M. L. Samuels, and Michael Benskin, A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English (1986)