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Normans And Middle English

.. French contribute to the words in the English language, it also contributed to its morphology. Words in Old English were highly inflected, but these inflections were largely lost during Middle English and the structure of words was drastically changed. Some researchers speculate that the onslaught of French loan-words contributed to the loss of English inflectional endings, due to the fact that it was difficult to assimilate the new words into a highly inflected language. However, English had already lost some of its inflections before the Normans landed on English shores, and therefore there must have been multiple contributors to the simplification of English. Because French nouns were borrowed without their own native inflections, they were adapted to English strong male declension, contributing to a more regular noun declension system as the sheer number of loan nouns increased. French verb loans, however, entered English as part of the existing weak verb class.

Weak verbs were characterized by their regularity of tensed forms, whereas the strong verbs were those which were irregular. Because all of these new verbs were regular in the language they supported the form regularity and the majority of the irregular forms were dropped from use. French adjective loans were borrowed into English along with their inflected endings for number. Adjectives in Old English had also carried this distinction, however, the singular form came to be used more regularly in the Middle English period. At the onset of the borrowings, French adjectives were borrowed with the French noun-adjective construction (houres inequales) but as English word order became more rigid and the French terms were modified to fit the English adjective-noun construction, the inflected number endings were dropped from the adjectives (dyverse langages). The French language contributed many new affixes to the English language during the Middle English period.

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Many of PDEs most common prefixes and suffixes appeared in the language after the Normans appeared on English soil. Prefixes such as re-, de- and in- and suffixes like -able, -ist, -ify and -ment are all relics of the period of French rule in England. Several less productive, but recognizable, affixes also entered English from French during Middle English. Prefixes counter-, inter and mal-, and suffixes -age, -al, -ery, -ess and -ity directly descend from the French. Syntax Old English was characterized by a much freer word order than Present-Day English allows. However, because of the loss of many of its inflections, Middle English was typified by a more rigid word order. Despite the increasing regularity of English sentences, the more prestigious French language left its mark on this aspect of the English language. For this reason, although ME preferred the native adjective-noun construction, the French noun-adjective pairs were acceptable in loan phrases.

French supported the continuation of Old English constructions that were French-like. In addition to the noun-adjective construction, Middle English continued to treat certain adjectives as nouns, a practice that was common in Old French as well as Old English. Although the use of adjectives as nouns has dropped out of the PDE grammar, that practice was kept alive through Middle English by the assistance of the French influence. One syntactic construction that was new to Middle English was the use of the preposition of to convey the possessive. This new usage was probably supported by the French particle de which was already being used in a possessive sense.

Yet another new construction to Middle English was the use of the perfect infinitive tense (“to have held them under”). This construction was most likely created by influence from similar Latin and French constructions. Middle English saw an emergence of polite second-person pronouns, a practice that was influenced by and modeled from the French. For example, in Gawaine and the Green Knight, Arthur uses one form of you when addressing Guinevere and another when addressing Gawaine. Gawaine himself uses even a third second-person pronoun when addressing the Green Knight.

Semantics One of the more difficult areas to see change in is that of semantics. From the limited set of data that remains from the beginnings of the English language, we can only surmise about how words were used and in what contexts. Therefore, it is difficult to see where there are shifts in denotation or connotation because records may not exist which demonstrate the full use of certain words. However, despite the parcity of surviving texts, researchers have been able to note several cases of semantic shifts between Old English and Middle English that were influenced by French. For example, the OE word freo originally had two meanings, free and noble.

However, when the French word noble entered the English language, the existing freo lost that meaning. Similarly, OEs smierwan had the meanings of smear and anoint, but when the French anoint entered the language, smierwan lost its positive connotation. Many speakers of Present-Day English notice that English has different words for animals when they are alive and when they are served as food. This distinction has its roots in Middle English. In OE, an animal had the same name whether it was in the barnyard or on the table.

However, when the Normans moved in as English aristocracy, they had different terms for their meat dishes. The English servants needed to learn the French terms for these dishes, and these terms have survived into PDE. Several animal/meat distinctions are due to the French: Old English Old French Present-Day English sheep mouton mutton cow boeuf beef swine porc pork calf veal veal fowl poulet poultry flitch bacon bacon Conclusion Clearly, when the Normans invaded the Saxon shore in 1066 they influenced much more than the existing language. Almost every aspect of English life was changed when the French took over their rule. However, one may argue that the longest-lasting impact of the Norman Invasion was that on the English language. Although The English spoken during the Middle English period may hardly resemble, to the lay person, the language spoken today, it is not difficult to recognize the areas where French influence still dominates the language. The most salient example is that of vocabulary.

Any student of Modern French is struck by the sheer vastness of similar lexical terms between it and Present-Day English, despite the fact that French and English derive historically from different sources. It would be impossible to speculate what the English language might look like today if the Normans had never invaded Britain. However, suffice it to say, the present English language has been extensively enriched by the quantity of this foreign influence. Bibliography Alexander, James W. William I, King of England, Groliers Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1996.

Burrow, J.A. and Thorlac Turnville-Petre. A Book of Middle English, Blackwell Publishers; Oxford. 1992. Fisiak, Jacek. A Short Grammar of Middle English, Oxford University Press; London, 1968.

Millward, C.M. A Biography of the English Language, Harcourt Brace; Boston. 1996. Take Our Word For It, weekly online publication, available at http://www.takeourword.com Yerkes, David. English Language, Groliers Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1996. Yerkes, David.

Middle English, Groliers Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1996.

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