What Influence did French have on English During the Middle English Period?

by Bahar Ilk (Author)

Term Paper 2014 13 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table of Contents

1. Introduction ...3

2. The Role of French in England 1066 ... 4

3. The Background of French Loanwords in Middle English ... 5
3.1. The Influence of French Loanwords in Middle English ... 5
3.2. The French Hybrids in English at Middle English Time ... 7

4. The Realization of French Derivational Affixes in Middle English ... 8

5. The Phonological Difference between Norman French and Parisian French and their Influence on English Language ... 9

6. Conclusion ... 11

7. References ... 12

1. Introduction

The French language has always played a significant role in English. According to Scheler (1997: 72), 38 per cent of English words are of French origin. This high amount leads to the result that almost half of the English vocabulary are of French origin. Due to this striking high set of statistics, the reasons for this will be examined in this paper. Thus, the main aim of this paper is to investigate the impact of French language on English language during the medieval period. This fact has been particularly pronounced over the last decades. Thus, French had influenced the English lexicon a lot due to the Norman invasion. Where two languages exist side by side for a long time, a huge delivery of words from one language to the other is inevitable. A lot of Old English words were replaced by borrowed items, from the French language. Hence, French remnants can be found a lot in English language. In certain cases, there are striking similarities between both languages, which is interesting to analyse. Therefore, this term paper is going to examine the occurrence and the influence of French words on English language.

First, it starts with a short introduction of the historical background from the French influence on the English language. French influence is direct and observable upon the vocabulary. There will be some examples of borrowed word fields. Regardingly, derivational affixes from Old French into Middle English play a leading role in this term paper as well. In addition, the focus will also be set on the phonological difference between Norman French and Parisian French and on their influence on English language. The development of these words and their loan into the English language are enormous. Throughout the investigation, one can assume that French had influenced English the most in terms of lexicon, vocabulary and suffixation. If William the Conqueror had not invaded England in 1066, the vocabulary of English English vocabulary in present day English.

2. The Role of French in England 1066

After the death of Edward the Confessor, who was the last king in the direct male line of descent from Alfred the Great, Harold was elected to the kingship. Harold was the son of the powerful Earl Godwin. Instantly, William, the seventh Duke of Normandy challenged Harold‘s possession of the crown. William was distantly related to Edward the Confessor and he assumed that he had a better claim to the throne (cf. Pyles, Algeo 1993: 134f). The English King Harold was defeated at the battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror in 1066. His two brothers also fell in the battle, hence the English were degradingly defeated (ibid. 135).

As mentioned above, William the Normandy invaded England in 1066. Hence, 1066 is a date of great importance in Britain. It emphasizes the beginning of a new linguistic era. Obviously, the Norman invasion of England had far-­reaching consequences on the development of the English language (cf. Crystal 2003: 30). The English language was foreign to the invader and his members, therefore they continued to use their own language. French became the language of the governing classes in England. Nonetheless, there was never any period in which the majority of the country‘s population did not speak English. Regarding to that aspect, the main influence on English came through Old French and Norman French. This language was used by the upper classes (cf. McIntyre 2009: 12).

As time went on, the society was divided into two groups. The one group that spoke French was about 20 per cent and the other group that spoke English included the ordinary people and they formed the overwhelming majority (cf. Lass 1987). After twenty years of the invasion, the most religious houses were under superiors who spoke French. At the end of the 12th century, children spoke English as their mother tongue and learnt French in school. French was still the language of government, politics, military, diplomacy and protocol. However, English survived the French invasion since English language was too well established for it to be superceded by another language (cf. Crystal 2003: 31). Nonetheless, French left traces in the English language. In this section, the influence of French was mostly on the society. Their governing language turned from English into French. In their own country, their mother tongue English was seen as an inferior language and the children had to learn French in school since it became the new official language.

3. The Background of French Loanwords in Middle English

According to Durkin, many words in the Middle English period “can be shown to come directly from French, with French the main determiner of the word‘s form and meaning in English [...]“ (Durkin 2014: 236). It has been estimated that about 10,000 French words came into English during the Midle English period (cf. Crystal 2003: 46). These words are terms used in “government, law, learning, art and fashion, food and religion“ (Baugh & Cable 2002: 169-­173;; Nielsen 2005: 101-­105). The borrowing of French into Middle English happened in two phases, an earlier and a later stage. The first phase occurs between 1066 and 1250 and the second between 1250 and 1800. The first phase consists of only 1,000 borrowed words, whereas the second phase consists of 10,000 borrowed words (ibid.). In the first stage, there were words borrowed as “baron, noble, dame, servant, messenger, feast, minstrel, juggler, largess“ (Baugh 2002: 168). These borrowed words have become familiar with the lower class through contact with a French-­speaking nobility.

Regardingly, the second phase has been different since, in this phase, the French speakers adopted English. Therefore, at that time period, there was a very strong influence of French on Middle English due to the addition of French words into the English language by French speaking people, such as “gaol/jail“ (cf. Gelderen 2006: 99). Jail “came into English in two forms, jaiole from Old French and gayole from Anglo-­ Norman French gaole“ (OED). Finally, the spellings gaol and jail both have survived until today (ibid.).

3. 1. The Influence of French Loanwords in Middle English

“Over the centuries, English has expanded its vocabulary by extensively borrowing lexical items from other languages. Of all sources of loanwords French is by far the most important“ (Katamba 2005: 164). This quote by Katamba replies the main question of this investigation. It displays what influence French had on the English language. Thus, it influenced its vocabulary by borrowing loanwords more than all other sources.


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what influence french english during middle period


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    Bahar Ilk (Author)


Title: What Influence did French have on English During the Middle English Period?