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Normans And Middle English

The year 1066 had a resounding impact on the course of English history. William
the First, Duke of Normandy, conquered England and took it as a stronghold in
his reign. The French rule over England lasted for several centuries and brought
about innumerable changes to the English state, language, culture and lifestyle.

William imported French rulers to take over English government and religious
posts. The French were not only the new aristocracy in England, but the new
society. The English amended their language and their culture in an effort to
more resemble the French and to communicate with their new lords. The English
language was more changed by the Norman Conquest than by any other event in the
course of English history. Middle English is defined as the four hundred year
period between the Norman Conquest and the time the printing press was
introduced to England in 1476. This essay will explore the specific effects that
the French had on Middle English morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics and
lexicon. During the period of French rule in England the standing of English as
a valid language dropped substantially as French took over as the status
language. Because so much of the French influence has been nativized by
present-day speakers, many do not realize the impact that our language took in
the years following 1066. Not one aspect of English life went untouched by the
Norman presence in England, notably, its language. Phonology In addition to
introducing new words into the English language, the Normans also introduced
some new sounds. The English had previously had no phonemic distinction between
/f/ and /v/; /v/ was merely an allophone of /f/ that occurred between vowels.

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However, with the influx of French loans which began in /v/ and contrasted as
minimal pairs in English, this distinction made its way into Middle English:
French loans English vetch fetch view few vile file The French also influenced
the adoption of several new diphthongs into English. Diphthongs are two vowel
sounds which are pronounced as one. Diphthong Old French Old English /eu/ neveu
neveu (nephew) /au/ cause cause /Ui/ bouillir boille (boil) point point / i/
noyse noise choisir chois (choice) The new English diphthongs were not exactly
like they were in French – they were modified by existing English vowels to
create brand new diphthongs. The stress pattern of Old French words differed
from that of Old English words, and often both stress patterns were present.

Germanic languages, such as English, tends to place primary stress on the first
syllable, unless that syllable is an unstressed prefix. French, on the other
hand, prefers to stress the heavy syllable (one containing a coda) closest to
the end of the word. Middle English loans from French often retained their
native stress pattern, however, in Present-Day English, the majority of these
borrowed words have conformed to the Germanic pattern. Lexicon Irrefutably, the
largest influence that the Normans had on the English language was on its
vocabulary. From the time William usurped the English throne until the end of
the Middle English period, our language was inundated with French vocabulary
terms. In fact, of the 2,650 words in the epic English poem “Sir Gawaine and
the Green Knight,” at least 750 are estimated to be of French origin. Even in
Present-Day English, some of our most commonly used words are of French origin;
table, tax, religion, trouble and pray are all derived from French words
borrowed into Middle English. Hardly one syntactic category was left untouched
by French loan-words during Middle English, although the majority of English
words borrowed from Old French tended to be nouns, verbs and adjectives. The
following is a very brief sample of some now-common words which had recently
joined English in the Middle English period: Adjectives: inequales ?inequal,’
principalis ?principal,’ naturales ?natural’ Verbs: strive, please,
waste, join, cover Prepositions: French contributed to the constructions of
according to and during Interjections: gramercy ?thank you’ Nouns: ancestor,
cellar, dinner, garment, kennel, music, noun, plague, statute The French gave
the English language many specialized words, such as those used in culinary or
legal situations. Because the Normans had taken over judicial and aristocratic
roles, their high-prestige vocabulary was passed on to the lower-class English
who acted as their clerks and servants. Thus, many cooking terms such as broil,
goblet, and beverage were passed on by masters to their servants. The French
influence on the lexicon was nearly nonexistent in areas where the French
masters would have had little or no contact with their servants, for example, in
the field.


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