8 Ocak 2012 Pazar

The changes in English after the Norman Conquest

We always thought that English is inseparable to English people, but the language of England’s history is short. Different people have inhabited the British Isles, but we know very little about the languages spoken until the coming of the Celts around 3.000 years ago. Celtic languages were spoken all over Europe and there were many tribes. The Celts displaced or mixed with the people inhabiting Britain before them, they and the language they spoke were later displaced. Celtic was probably the first Indo-European language to spoken in England. We mean by the term Indo-European only to the culture of a group of people who lived in a relatively small area in early times and who spoke a more or less unified language out of which many languages have developed over thousands of years, not any racial connotations. It became the source of most other European and many South-Asian Languages.

Another language was Latin, which was spoken for a period of about four centuries before the coming of English. When Britain became a domain of the Roman Empire they received Latin. In 55 B.C. Julius Caesar, decided upon an invasion of England, yet aim of his attempt was not clear. Because of the political power of the Roman Empire, Latin was spoken in parts of Britain and European continent and applied a strong influence on Celtic and Germanic languages. Words such as wall, kitchen, wine and mile borrowed from Latin to Germanic (and though Germanic into English) during this time.  The Latin influence continues through medieval and renaissance times, not though actual migrations but though the Catholic Church and intellectual developments such as Humanism and the Renaissance.

In 449, English became an official language of British Isles with the reach of Germanic tribes and their languages. The Germanic tribes (e.g. the Franks, Angles, Saxons, Vandals, Goths) were different culturally, but it is not clear how distinct their language were. With time the tribe of Angles became the dominant group, and some people who settled in England form the fifth century called themselves Engle (Angles) and their language englisc (Angle-ish). The word “English” derives form one of these tribes—the Angles.

During the disorder that followed the withdrawal of the Roman legions and the coming of the Anglo-Saxons, Christianity had died out among the Britons. The only religion of the Anglo-Saxons themselves was Germanic paganism, in England during the Old English period (449–1066). Christianization is a landmark in the history of the English language because it brought England and the English speakers into the only living intellectual community of Europe, that of the Latin Church. England immediately adopted the Latin alpha- bet, and English was soon being written down extensively. New loanwords from Latin began to appear in English. During the seventh and eighth centuries, the level of Latin scholarship was so high in England that English scholars were in demand on the Continent.

William the I (William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy) and his followers took control of the area of northern France that became known as Normandy (Norman = “north man”). The Normans soon gave up their own language in favor of French, but it was a French heavily influenced by their original Germanic dialect, a fact that was much later to be of significance in the ultimate resurgence of English in England. One of the reasons for this relatively easy acceptance was that William brought the land more unity, peace, and stability than it had experienced for generations.

The linguistic situation in Britain after the Conquest was complex. French was the native language of a minority of a few thousand speakers, but a minority with influence out of all proportion to their numbers because they controlled the political, ecclesiastical, economic, and cultural life of the nation. The English court was a French-speaking court. Anglo-Norman writers including Marie de France, Wace, Béroul, and Thomas of Britain wrote for some of the finest French literature of the period in England for French-speaking English. A large majority of the population of England spoke English but English had no value. In the Church and of many secular documents the language of Latin became the written language. It was also spoken in the newly emerging universities and in the Church. Even if the kings had no English, most of the nobility would have had to learn English words in order to communicate with their Anglo-Saxon subordinates. Half of English dictionary is full with French words, such as; religion, pray, duty, pay, trouble, estate, tax. Most of them supervened English after 1204.  

We can see the Normans’ influence on English without argue. We may say that English became a pair of French, half of the dictionary was full of French words, the rulers of the country know French not English. With time, French loss its value in England and English became dominant again. This intercourse led to a smoothing out of the most striking dialectal differences and to the beginnings of a new branch of English, based on the London dialect but including features from all dialectal areas. By the 14th century, for about three hundred years after the Conquest, French became a language, like Latin, was taught in the schools. But French remained the official language of England until the second half of the 14th century. Two events of that century confirmed its fate and guaranteed the rebirth of English.

The first of these events was the Black Death (1348), one-third of the people in England died of the Black Death between 1348 and 1351. With the decreasing of the population, the need to labor was increased. The ruling classes were had to respect the lower classes because they needed them so much. This respect leaded them to respect English too. It was the only language of the lower classes.

The second of these events was the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). It was between England and France, and France defeated by England. And England no longer had any reasons to learn or use French. Before the end of the Hundred Years War, French had already become a second language in England, even among the nobility.

By the mid-fourteenth century, English was used as the language of learning in schools. In 1362, English became the official language in England. The kings of England had spoken English and the number of manuscripts written in English. By the fifteenth century, everyone in England knew English. Throughout the period there was great dialectal differences in the English spoken and written different parts of the country. A standard spoken and written English based on the London dialect was appeared. This London dialect is the basis of all the national standards of today in Britain.

Toward the end of the fifteenth century, printing came to England; the printers set up their establishments in London and printed their books in the London dialect. This books spread throughout the country, they can carry the written version of London English with them all the time. The period of the ascendancy of Henry VIII to the throne in 1509 and the period of the end of the Middle English are harmonized.

To sum up the changes in English briefly; first difference came with the Norman Conquest, and the influences of French, Latin, and Scandinavian; later on, the Black Death and The Hundred Years War, with these war series French creased its value/importance on English and in England. With Norman Conquest the Old English period continued until the year 1100, then Middle English period started and it ended in the year 1500 with the same time of the ascendancy of Henry VIII.         


Algeo, John. The Origins and Development of the English Language, 6th ed, Wadsworth, 2010.
Baugh, Albert C.,  A History of the English Language. Routledhe Publishing, 1993.
Chomsky, Noam. On Nature and Language. CUP.
Gelderen, Elly van. A History of the English Language. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2006.
Gruyter, Monton de. Studies in the History of the English Language IV: Empirical and Analytical Advances in the Study of English Language Change.
Susan M. Fitzmaurice & Donka Minkova (ed.), CUP, 2000.
Jespersen, Otto., Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin. 1954.
Knowles, Gerry. A Cultural History of the English Language. Arnold Publishing Company, 1997.

2 yorum:

  1. sıkıtakipçinimelikecim.cogd9 Ocak 2012 11:20

    iyiymiş baya

  2. Bu yorum bir blog yöneticisi tarafından silindi.