Nessie School of Languages

Learning languages in Amposta

30 de juliol de 2007
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In 1066 the Normans conquered England and it affected strongly the language. Without William the Conqueror?s invasion, English would have retained most of its inflections and preserving a predominantly Germanic vocabulary, the characteristic methods of word formation and incorporating words from other languages much less freely.  It would have lacked the greatest part of French words that today make English seem on the side of vocabulary more a Romance than a Germanic language.  The Norman conquest changed the whole course of English. William?s coronation involved more than a mere substitution of a monarch for another. His possession of the throne had been a matter of conquest and was attended by all the consequences of the conquest of one people by another.  A new nobility was introduced. Many of the English higher class had been killed at Hastings, and others were considered as traitors.  In 1072 only one of the 12 earls in England was an Englishman.  For several generations after the conquest the important positions and the great estates were almost held by Normans or men of foreign blood.  Norman prelates occupied important positions in the church.


The use of French by the upper class


The number of Normans who settled in England was sufficiently predominant to continue to use their own language.  It was natural at first, because they knew no English.  For 200 years after the Norman conquest, French remained the language of ordinary intercourse among the upper classes in England.  Intermarriage and association with the ruling class numerous people of English extraction thought it was and advantage to learn the new language. Before long the distinction between those who spoke French and those who spoke English was not ethnic but social.  The language of  the masses remained English. The most important factor in the continued use of French but the English upper class until the beginning of the 13th century was the close connection that existed through all these years between England and the continent. English kings spend often a great part of the time in Normandy. The Conqueror and his sons were in France for about half of their respective reigns.  The English nobility was also as much a nobility of England as an Anglo French aristocracy.  Nearly all the English landowners had possessions on the continent. There is no reason to think that the preference that the governing class in England showed for French was anything more than a natural result of circumstances. The idea that the newcomers were actively hostile to the English language is without foundation.  It is true that English was now an uncultivated tongue, the language of a socially inferior class, and that a bishop like Wulfstan might be subjected to Norman disdain in part, at least, because of his ignorance of that social matter. According to the chronicler Ordelic Vitalis, William the Conqueror made an effort at the age of 43 to learn English, His sons may have known some English, although their approach to the language may be characterised by mere indifference. A lot of French literature was produced for royal and noble patronage. In the years following the Norman conquest the sting of defeat and the hardships were forgotten. People accepted the new order as something accomplished; they accepted it as a fact and adjusted themselves to it. The fusion of Normans and English was rapid.


The Difusion of French and English


To which extent were English and French used in England after the Norman Conquest? The appearance of manuals from about 1250 for the teaching of French is significant. In the 14th century poets and writers often preface their works with an explanation of the language employed and incidentally indulge from time to time in valuable observations of a more general linguistic nature.  In the 15th century, letters public and private, the acts and records of towns, guilds, and the central government, were in French.  English survived for a considerable time in some monasteries. . A knowledge of English was not uncommon at the end of the 12th century among those who habitually used French, among churchmen and men of education it was even to be expected, and among those whose activities brought them into contact with both upper and lower classes the ability to speak both languages was quite general.  Among the knightly class French seems to have been cultivated even when the mother tongue was English. Recent insights from sociolinguistics into the structures of pidgin and creole language have led some linguists to ask whether Middle English was a creole.  A pidgin is a simplified language used for communication between speakers of different languages, typically during the past five centuries for trading purposes between speakers of a European language such as Portuguese, French or English and speakers of an African or Asian language. If the simplified language is then learned as a first language by a new generation of speakers and its structures and vocabulary are expanded to serve the needs of its community of speakers, it is known as a creole. The linguistic situation in England during the 12 and 13 centuries had certain external parallels with that in the present-day Caribbean or the South Pacific, where languages are regularly in contact, and pidgins and creoles develop.  However, to call Middle English a creole stretches the word beyond its usefulness, Manfred Görlach finds a lack of any texts that could justify the assumption that there was a stable pidgin or creole English in use in 13 century households. He thought that the English-speaking majority didn?t unlearn their English after the advent of French, nor did they intentionally modify its structures on the French pattern, as Renaissance writers modelled their English on Latin.  Influence of French on inflections and on syntactical structures cannot be proved. But appears unlikely from what we know about bilingualism in Middle English times. In the period preceding the loss of Normandy in 1204 there were some who spoke only French and many more who spoke only English.


At the end of the 13th century there was a reaction against foreigners and the growth of national feeling. Bishop Grosseteste said: These aliens are not merely foreigners, they are the worst enemies of England. The do not understand the English tongue, neglect the cure of souls and impoverish the kingdom. The 13th century must be viewed as a period of shifting emphasis upon the two languages spoken in England. The upper classes continued for the most part to speak French, but the reasons for doing so were not the same. French became a cultivated tongue supported by social custom and by business and administrative convention. Meanwhile, English made steady advances. When the separation of the English nobles from their interests in France had been completed, English was becoming a matter of general use among the upper classes.  It is at this time, that the adoption of French words into the English language assumes large proportions. The transference of words occurs when those who know French and have been accustomed to use it try to express themselves in English. French was read by the educated, including those who could not read Latin. The knowledge of French in this period was sometimes imperfect. One author of a French poem says he hardly knows how to write the language because he was never in Paris, and the spread of English among the upper classes was making steady progress. French started to be treated as a foreign language. There were some attempts to arrest the decline of French, from the church and the universities. Although one factor against the continued use of French in England was the circumstance that Anglo-French was not ?good? French. The Hundred Years? war provoke a growing feeling of antagonism that culminated in a long period of open hostility with France. French being an enemy language, there was a general adoption of English in the 14th century. We can say that the court that Chaucer knew spoke English even if its members commonly wrote and often read French. French seems to have been generally known to government officials and the more substantial burgesses in the town. In 1363 English was restored to its dominant place as the language of the country and started being used in the Law Courts. It was introduced in the schools and in the 15th century there was an increasing ignorance of French, although it remained as a language of culture and fashion.




The changes of this period affected English in both its grammar and its vocabulary. Those in the grammar reduced English from a highly inflected language to an extremely analytic one. Those in the vocabulary involved the loss of a large part of the Old English word-stock and the addition of thousands of words from French and Latin. At the beginning of the period English is a language that must be learned like a foreign tongue; at the end it is Modern English. The changes in English grammar may be describes as a general reduction of inflections. Endings of the noun and adjective marking distinctions of number and case and often of gender were so altered in pronunciation as to lose their distinctive form and hence their usefulness. To some extent the same thing is true of the verb. This levelling of inflectional endings was due partly to phonetic changes, which were simple but far-reaching. The earliest seems to have been the change of final ?m to ?n wherever it occurred.


French influence on the vocabulary


While the loss of inflections and the consequent simplification of English grammar were thus only indirectly due to the use of French in England, French influence is much more direct and observable upon the vocabulary. A good many English words found their way into the French spoken in England, but their number was not so large as that of the French words introduced into English. English, representing a culture that was regarded as inferior, had more to gain from French, and there were other factors involved. The number of French words that poured into English was unbelievably great. There is nothing comparable to it in the previous or subsequent history of the language. Although this influx of French words was brought about by the victory of the Conqueror and by the political and social consequences of that victory, it was neither sudden nor immediately apparent. Two stages can be observed and 1250 acts as a dividing line. The borrowings of the first stage differ from those of the second in being much less numerous, in being more likely to show peculiarities of Anglo-norman phonology, and specially, in the circumstances that brought about their introduction. When we study French words appearing in English before 1250, roughly 900 in number, we find that many of them were such as the lower classes would become familiar with through contact with a French-speaking nobility (Baron, noble, dame, servant, messenger, feast, minstrel, juggler). Others such as story, rime, lay, obviously owed their introduction into English to literary channels. The largest single group among the words that came in early was associated with the church, where the necessity of transference from the clergy to the people. In the period after 1250 the conditions under which French words had been making their way into English were supplemented by a new and powerful factor: those who had been accustomed to speak French were turning increasingly to the use of English. Whether to supply deficiencies in the English vocabulary or in their own imperfect command of that vocabulary, or perhaps merely yielding to a natural simple impulse to use a word long familiar to them and to those they addressed, the upper classes carried over into English an astonishing number of common French words. In changing from French to English they transferred much of their governmental and administrative vocabulary, their ecclesiastical, legal and military terms, their familiar words of fashion, food and social life, the vocabulary of art, learning and medicine. In general we may say that in the earlier Middle English period the French words introduced into English were such as people speaking one language often learn form those speaking another, in the century and a half following 1250, when all classes were speaking or learning to speak English, they were also such words as people who had been accustomed to speak French would carry over with them into the language of their adoption. Only in this way can we understand the nature and extent of the French importation in this period.


English owes many of its words dealing with government and administration to the language of those who for more than 200 years made public affairs their chief concern. The words government, govern, administer, crown, state, empire, realm, reign, royal, authority, sovereign, majesty, tyrant, usurp, oppress, court, council, parliament, assembly, statute, treaty, alliance, record, repeal, adjourn, tax, subsidy, revenue, traitor, treason, exile, public, liberty. The word office and the titles of many offices are likewise French: chancellor, treasurer, chamberlain, marshal, governor, councillor, minister, viscount, mayor, constable, coroner. Except for the words king and queen, lord, lady, and earl, most designations of rank are French: baron, nobility, prince, princess, duke, duchess, count, countess, marquis, baron, squire, page, and titles of respect like sir, madam, mistress. The list might well be extended to include words relating to the economic organisation of society: manor, homage, vassal, peasant, slave, servant.


In monasteries and religious houses French was for a long time the usual language. We find in English such French words as religion, theology, sermon, homily, sacrament, baptism, communion, confession, prayer, lesson, passion, psalmody; such indications of rank or class as clergy, clerk, prelate, cardinal, hermit, dean, pastor, vicar, abbess, novice, friar, hermit; the names of objects associated with the service such as crucifix, incense, image, chapter, abbey, convent, priory, hermitage, cloister, sanctuary; words expressing such fundamental religious or theological concepts as creator, saviour, trinity, virgin, saint, miracle, mystery, faith, heresy, reverence, remission, devotion, sacrilege, temptation, penitence, redemption, salvation, immortality, piety, sanctity, charity, mercy, pity, obedience. And we shall include a number of adjectives such as solemn, divine, reverend, devout and verbs such as preach, pray, chant, confess, adore, convert, and sacrifice.


French was so long the language of the law courts in England that the greater part of the English legal vocabulary comes from the language of the conquerors: justice, equity, suit, plaintiff, judgement, judge, advocate, attorney, bill, petition, complaint, summons, jury, juror, verdict, prison, punishment, gaol. Names of crimes such as perjury, adultery, assault, trespass, fraud, and such words involving property such as estate, tenement, patrimony, heritage, heir, and bounds.


War played a large part in English affairs in the Middle Ages, there are many borrowings of French words in this matter too: nay, enemy, arms, battle, combat, sergeant, captain, lieutenant, lance, banner. The number of French words related to fashion , meals and social life is also great: robe, garment, cloak, coat, collar, chemise, habit, gown. Verbs like embellish, adorn, and words like luxury. The clour blue, brown, vermilion, scarlet, saffront and russet. Jewel, ornament, brooch, ivory related to wealthy, and significant names of French stones like turquoise, ruby, emerald, sapphire, pearl, diamond, crystal and coral. The French speaking classes used dinner and supper, feast, repast, collation and mess, so appetite, taste, viand, etc. One could have in the menu salmon, mackerel, sole, sardine, oyster, among meats beef, mutton, pork, bacon, sausage tripe, loin, chine with gravy included: among fowl, poultry, pigeon, among seasoning and condiments we find spice, herb, mustard, vinegar, cinnamon. The verbs roast, boil, stew, fry, grate and mince. A variety of new words suggest the innovations of social life: Curtain, cushion, screen, lamp, lantern, blanket, and basin, and domestic arrangements such as pantry, closet, wardrobe, etc. Recreation, leisure, revel, juggler, fool, melody, music, chess and conversation reveal various aspects of entertainment. And hunting as a main pastime of the nobility brought words such as: trot, stable, spaniel, forest, park, and warren. The cultural and intellectual interests of the ruling class are reflected in words pertaining to the arts, architecture, literature, learning, science and medicine. Such words as art, painting, sculpture, music, beauty, colour, figure, image, cathedral, palace, mansion, camber, ceiling, cellar, chimney, lattice, tower, porch, bay, choir, cloister, column. Literature is represented by the word itself and by poet, preface, title, volume, chapter, paper, noun, clause, gender, and medicine by such words as anatomy, physician, surgeon apothecary, malady, debility, distemper, pain, stomach, remedy, etc.


There is also a list of miscellaneous words, nouns, adjectives and verbs, to realise how universal was the French contribution: Nouns: coast, country, courtesy, courage, coward, fame, flower, force, reason, marriage, season, sum, tailor, substance, vision, use, etc. Adjectives such as common, gentle, gracious, honest, horrible, foreign, innocent, gay, contrary, brief, certain, abundant, active, actual, etc. Examples of verbs; wait, rinse, purify, pay, pass, oblige, observe, flourish, launch, marry, destroy, desire, excuse, obey, remember, rob, satisfy, save, refuse, relieve, etc. The influence of French may be seen in such phrases and turns of expressions such as: to draw near, to take leave, by heart, to do justice, in vain, without fail.




It will be observed that the French words introduced into English as a result of the Norman Conquest often present an appearance quite different from that which they have in modern French, it is a consequence of the developments that have taken place in both languages. A second cause of difference between English words and their French counterparts is the fact that the Anglo-Norman or Anglo-French dialect spoken in England differed from the language of Paris in numerous respects. Until the 14th century English borrowed its French words generally in the form which they had in the spoken French of England.

The Period of Greatest influence


For a hundred years after the Conquest there is no increase in the number of French words adopted . In the last half of the 12th century the number increases slightly and in the period from 1200 to 1250 more rapidly, but it doesn?t become great until 1250. By 1400 the movement has decreased. We have seen the years from 1250 to 400 mark the period when English was replacing French everywhere. During these 15º years 40& of all the French words in the English language came in.  The total number of French words adopted during the Middle English period was slightly over 10.000, of these about 75 percent are still in current use.




The rapidity with which the new French words were assimilates is evidenced by the promptness with which many of them became the basis of derivatives. English endings were apparently added to them with as much freedom as to English words. Example, from the adjective gentle, we get gentleman, gentlewoman, gentleness and gently. From faith, we get faithless, faithful, faithfully and faithfulness.  There are also lost of native words

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