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The Norman Conquest of the English Language Research Paper


Introduction

The Norman Conquest refers to the invasion of England by the Normans in the year 1066. Norman conquerors came from a province formerly in northwestern France called Normandy. The invasion happened under the leadership of Duke William II and William the conqueror (Thomas, 2008). The English people staged several attacks on the Normans with an aim to resist the invasion on their land. However, the strong leadership of the Normans led England to succumb to the pressure.

The Norman Conquest had several consequences on the English people and their culture. The consequences were the elimination of an elite group from the society, expatriation of people from their native land, and the introduction of new governance systems. Others included the development of language, high rate of immigration, and intermarriages between the two groups. The Norman invasion marked a crucial time in the development of the English language.

The conquest resulted in the development of two categories of the English language called the Old English and Middle English (Thomas, 2008). Old English refers to the language used before the Norman Conquest, while the Middle English refers to the language used after the conquest following the addition of numerous French vocabularies.

The main difference between the two categories is the grammatical elements and the collection of words (Butcher, 2013). The conquest also influenced the development of sound and structure elements of the English language. The Norman Conquest resulted in a complete transformation of the English language.

Discussion

The Norman conquerors arrived in England towards the end of the 11th Century. In the year 1066, some crucial events that led to the development of the modern English language occurred in England (Thomas, 2008). The Norman conquest of the English language occurred during this year. In the year 1066, Edward was elevated to be the King of England, while Godwin became his counselor. At the time, Godwin was the earl of West Saxon. He later died and was replaced by his son Harold.

An earl was a British royal who ranked below marquees and above a viscount. King Edward died in 1066 without having a child. Harold replaced him as the King of England (Freeman, 2009). However, things began taking a turn when William, who was the nobleman of Normandy, decided to challenge the leadership of King Harold. The motivation of William to fulfill his mission led him to the south coast of England without encountering any opposition.

The reason why William did not receive any opposition was that King Harold was busy dealing with other enemies in the north who were also attempting to conquer his throne (Thomas, 2008). The arrival of William was another hurdle for King Harold. This led to a serious battle that resulted in the death of King Harold. Eventually, William accomplished his goal of becoming the king of the English land. The victory of William over King Harold opened gates for the Norman Conquest.

The Normans were able to move from France to England without having any difficulties in terms of opposition (Thomas, 2008). Since their leader had already taken over the leadership of England, the Normans found it easy to assimilate the natives to their culture and language. However, it did not take long before the English people tried to restore their land back from the French.

They arranged a series of protests and cold wars against the leadership of William. Unfortunately, it was very hard for the natives to stage any solid attack on the French people because they were well organized under the leadership of William (Crystal, 2003).

After a series of failed resistance attempts by the English people, the Normans managed to conquer their target. Unexpectedly, the Normans struggled to maintain their influence over England despite their strong resource capacity. The reason for their struggle was that they were few in numbers compared to the English people.

William rewarded all the people that helped the Normans in conquering England with parcels of land (Butcher, 2013). William had a unique style of leadership that left most of the Englishmen, and his followers intimidated at how he managed to do everything in the right manner. William was an absentia ruler because he spent most of his time away from England. The Norman Conquest over England resulted in numerous consequences that influenced the history of the English people.

One of the main consequences of the Norman invasion was the development of the English language (Butcher, 2013). Since the Normans came from France and had already taken over the rule over England, certain dialects of the French language integrated into the English language. The introduction of Anglo-Norman led to the replacement of the old English with Middle English.

Middle English had a different sound and structure compared to the old English. The best way to understand how the Norman invasion influenced the English language is by analyzing the distinctive elements of the two categories of the English language. The Norman invasion influenced the development of the English language through the Norman French language (Butcher, 2013).

The old English

Before the Normans arrived in England, people were using old English. The old English had a number of characteristic elements. High alteration in tone or pitch was one of the characteristic features of the old English. It belonged to the West Germanic family of languages and had other characteristic features that were changed following the Norman Conquest (Freeman, 2009). These features included three-gender representation, instrumental case, dual numbers, and four cases, among others.

Adjectives and pronouns used in the old English could have up to thirty tone different alterations. The grammatical arrangement of words in a sentence applied an open-class word system (Crystal, 2003). The spelling of words in old English applied a system that closely related to speech sounds. However, the old language began having little changes following the influence of various groups that we’re settling in England (Thomas, 2008).

Most of the settlers included the Scandinavian people who raided the coast of Europe from the eighth Century to the eleventh Century. The settlers spoke Old Norse, which also belonged to the North Germanic family of languages. The Old Norse influenced the development of the English language by introducing certain vocabularies, which simplified the elements of its descriptive linguistics (Freeman, 2009).

The old English comprised of four idioms that originated from the four kingdoms in northern England. The four dialects were Kentish, West Saxon, Northumbrian, and Mercian. Of the four dialects, West Saxon became dominant in the written form and less visible in the spoken version. This influence resulted in Middle English.

The Middle English

Several years after the Normans had invaded England, the English language underwent numerous changes due to the influence of various settlers. By 1100, the old English had added another dialect to its initial four (Freeman, 2009). However, the names of the dialects had some slight changes as the Middle English begun gaining popularity among different users. The five dialects of the Middle English were Kentish, northern midland, west midland, east midland, and southwestern, all of which had developed from the old English.

The main development of the old English that bore the Middle English was the elimination of the function that allowed for changing of the grammatical functions of various words. In old English, it was possible to change the form of a word by adding a suffix at the end. This change also affected spoken English because it was harder to modify the loudness, pitch, or tone of a voice (Thomas, 2008).

Another major development was the absolute calibration of the plural. Introduction of the plural forms of the English words involved the addition of the letter “S” at the end of content words. Soon after the normalization of the plurals, the addition of several vocabularies from the Norman language and the Low German family of languages followed suit (Butcher, 2013). Middle English had a lot of influence from the French language because the Normans had already taken over the leadership of the church and the government.

However, it is important to understand that the development of Middle English involved numerous changes effected by various groups. These people had moved into England during the 11th Century. One of the other groups that had settled in England at the same time with the Normans was the Nordics, who were a northern family of the Germanic language spoken in Scandinavia, Iceland, and Norway (Freeman, 2009).

Their settlement in England did not bring any communication barriers because their language belonged to the same linguistic family as the old English. Therefore, there was an understanding between the settlers and the natives because apart from sharing a linguistic connection, their culture also had a number of similarities (Butcher, 2013). The arrival of the Nordics in England complemented the English language because most elements improved or remained as they were.

However, the arrival of the Normans in England introduced a new language and culture. Most people had very little knowledge about the language and culture introduced. The fact that they had taken full control over England meant that their status as the rulers gave them the authority and power to impose their language on the natives (Hamilton, 2013). The French language was a preserve for the upper class and the ruling class.

Even after nearly two decades post the Norman Conquest, people belonging to the upper class in England continued to use French as their first choice language. The assimilation process that promoted the addition of French vocabularies into the English language was necessitated by the high rate of intermarriages and close associations with the rulers.

Since the rulers did not know any English, the natives considered it a necessity to learn basic French for the sake of fostering good and close relations with the Norman rulers (Thomas, 2008).

Although French remained a language of the upper class and the rulers for a long time, a period came when even the people in higher social classes considered it a necessity to learn the English language (Hamilton, 2013). This is what contributed the most to the diffusion of the French language into the English language. People who used English to communicate relied on French vocabularies when a native French speaker failed to understand something expressed in English.

French was being used a lot by English people who had abandoned their native language. Most towns in England had a big percentage of inhabitants who had good knowledge of the French language. This phenomenon helped the Norman settlers to establish themselves in business and other economic activities due to their popularity (Hamilton, 2013). However, the decision by people belonging to the upper of learning the English language affected the diffusion process because the use of French had begun to fade.

This resulted in a steady rise in the use of Middle English. Towards the mid 13th Century, the French language had begun taking its position as a foreign language, as people had already accepted the English language again, albeit with some degree of influence (Butcher, 2013). Only a few groups of people belonging to the upper class, such as clergies and scholars who attempted to retain the culture of speaking in French with little success.

Other factors that contributed to the increased use of the English language again included the deep hatred that the natives had for the Normans, and the emergence of a middle class (Hamilton, 2013). The hatred between the Normans and the natives was very deep, thus prompting the English people to unite and reclaim their lost glory. This unity resulted in a steady decline in the use of the French language as the ruling class began experiencing hostility from the natives.

The emergence of a middle class in 1348 also contributed to the rise in the use of the English language again (Freeman, 2009). In 1348, a disaster called The Black Death occurred and resulted in the deaths of a sizeable fraction of the population. Most of the dead people were working for the rulers in their various projects. Therefore, their death meant that there was a shortage of labor, and the natives had to take up the opportunity to belong to the working class (Hamilton, 2013).

They formed a middle class that constituted a large number of native English speakers. They made English a popular language once more, prompting the parliament to pass a law in 1362 that reversed the manner of conducting court proceedings to using the English language instead of French (Crystal, 2003).

Although the English people were on course to reclaim their lost glory, they found it very challenging to replace the French literature that had dominated the English literature. Some of the commonly referenced literature at the time was written in French. Thus, they took the time to change it into English (Crystal, 2003). It was also challenging to change the literature because there were very many changes made to the grammar, vocabulary, and phonology of the English language.

Some of the phonological changes made to the English language by the Normans included lengthening and shortening of vowels, the addition of diphthongs, lengthening of consonants, and leveling of phonemes. Middle English also endured a number of grammatical changes that shaped the modern English language. One of the changes the English people noticed was a strong emphasis on the order of words in a sentence, as well as the increased use of prepositions (Butcher, 2013).

The loss of stress patterns and intonation meant that the grammatical description of gender was replaced with the natural application of the word. Other notable grammatical changes that the English people noticed about their language included the introduction of a third person, regularization of strong verbs, as well as the disappearance of strong and weak adjectives (Crystal, 2003).

There were also a number of vocabulary changes that were made to the English language by the Normans. It is important to note that the changes happened gradually depending on how people found it necessary to add a new vocabulary. Records show that over nine hundred French words were added to the English language through the interactions between the Normans and the natives who belonged to the working class.

The largest percentage of the French vocabulary that entered the English language came through the church as the Normans strived to assimilate the English people to their culture (Crystal, 2003). During the period after the English people restored their land back from the French, additional words entered the English language as they struggled to translate the French literature into their native language. All these changes formed the basis of the English spoken and written in contemporary society (Hamilton, 2013).

The French vocabularies were added to serve the purpose of complementing English words instead of replacing them. The practice of one language borrowing words from another language has continued since the Norman Conquest.

This has helped in the development of other languages apart from English (Butcher, 2013). As the English language continues to advance, there is a possibility that more vocabularies that are French will be accommodated in order to complement those that were added earlier. However, it is still possible for new vocabularies to be added to the English language in order to replace the old ones (Crystal, 2003).

Conclusion

The Norman invasion marked a very crucial time in the development of the English language used today. It is arguably the best thing that happened to the English language. The conquest resulted in the development of two categories of the English language called the Old English and Middle English. The old English comprised of four idioms that originated from the four kingdoms in northern England. The four dialects were Kentish, West Saxon, Northumbrian, and Mercian.

Since the Normans came from France and had already taken over the rule over England, certain dialects of the French language integrated into the English language. Several years after the Normans had invaded England, the English language underwent numerous changes due to the influence of various settlers. However, the arrival of the Normans in England introduced a new language and culture. Most people had little knowledge about the language and culture introduced.

The French language was a preserve for the upper class and the ruling class. Although French remained a language of the upper class and the rulers for a long time, a period came when even the people in higher social classes considered it a necessity to learn the English language. The Norman Conquest resulted in a complete transformation of the English language.

References

Butcher, C. (2013). The Origins and Development of the English Language. New York: Cengage learning.

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language. California: Cambridge University Press.

Freeman, E. A. (2009). The History of the Norman Conquest of England: Its Causes and its Results. New York: Clarendon Press.

Hamilton, J. (2013). The Norman Conquest of England. London: Oxford University Press.

Thomas, H. M. (2008). The Norman Conquest: England after William the Conqueror. New Jersey: Rowman & Littlefield.

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IvyPanda. "The Norman Conquest of the English Language." March 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-norman-conquest-of-the-english-language/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Norman Conquest of the English Language." March 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-norman-conquest-of-the-english-language/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Norman Conquest of the English Language'. 27 March.

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