Tuesday, April 1, 2008

History of the English Language (4)

Middle English


For about 300 years following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Norman kings and their high nobility spoke only a variety of French called Anglo-Norman. English continued to be the language of the common people. Various contemporary sources suggest that within fifty years of the invasion most of the Normans outside the royal court had switched to English, with French remaining the prestige language of government and law largely out of social inertia. For example, Orderic Vitalis, a historian born in 1075 and the son of a Norman knight, said that he learned French only as a second language. A tendency for French-derived words to have more formal connotations has continued to the present day; most modern English speakers would consider a "cordial reception" (from French) to be more formal than a "hearty welcome" (Germanic). Another homely example is that of the names for meats, such as beef and pork from French boeuf and porc. The animals from which the meats come are called by Anglo Saxon words, such as cow and pig. This might be because Anglo-Saxon peasants raised the animals; Norman-French lords ate the meat.


While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle continued until 1154, most other literature from this period was in Old French or Latin. A large number of Norman words were taken into Old English, with many doubling for Old English words (examples include, ox/beef, sheep/mutton and so on). The Norman influence reinforced the continued changes in the language over the following centuries, producing what is now referred to as Middle English. Among the changes was an increase in the use of a unique aspect of English grammar, the "continuous" tenses, with the suffix "-ing". English spelling was also influenced by French in this period, with the /θ/ and /ð/ sounds being spelled th rather than with the Old English letters þ (thorn) and ð (eth), which did not exist in French. The most famous writer from the Middle English period is Geoffrey Chaucer and of his works The Canterbury Tales is the best known.


English literature started to reappear ca 1200, when a changing political climate and the decline in Anglo-Norman made it more respectable. By the end of that century, even the royal court had switched to English. Anglo-Norman remained in use in limited circles somewhat longer, but it had ceased to be a living language.


Source: Answers.com

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