By Erica Kazavanga
THERE are many factors that contributed to the development of the English that we have today.
English as we have it today has undergone a metamorphosis and there are many factors attributed to this change. This article looks at one such factor, namely the Norman Conquest.
Many people might wonder what the Norman Conquest is. The Norman Conquest is an event that occurred towards the close of the Old English period in 1066-1200.
In 1066 Edward (the confessor), who was the King of England, died childless. Harold, the son of Godwin (a shrewd, capable man and Edward’s principal advisor and Earl of the West Saxon), succeeded him as King of England.
Meanwhile, in Normandy, a state in Northern France ruled by Viking immigrants, William the Duke of Normandy had his own claims to the English throne.
He had the support of Pope Alexander II and alleged that Harold pledged loyalty to him before the conquest. The King of Norway had another claim to the throne and he was supported by a brother of Harold, who had attempted to seize the throne himself.
The King of Norway invaded England and Harold fought him and triumphed. News reached him that William invaded England and Harold had to give his attention to this. The result was that Harold was defeated and William took over the throne of England.
Why was this feud important to English? William brought with him his Norman friends and kith and kin who took over the government and occupied important positions in government, courts and great estates in England. French was made the official language in England spoken in government and used in courts. It is interesting to note that French literature was produced in England addressed to English patrons and directed towards meeting their special tastes and interests.
The elite spoke French while the masses spoke English. The masses borrowed and adapted French words into English. This resulted in the development of Middle English and by the 13th century this became the language used both by the nobility and the commoners throughout the Kingdom.
The borrowing of French words into Old and Middle English occurred in two phases: 1066-1250 and 1250-1500. In the first phase, fewer than 1000 words were borrowed. Examples of French borrowings during this period include: ‘baron’, ‘servant’, ‘messenger’ and ‘story’.
In the second phase, the French speakers adopted English as it was difficult to keep their native language beyond second and third generations. During this phase (2nd phase) the influence of French on Middle English was strongest because the French speakers were adding French words to the English they were acquiring.
The estimate of words borrowed during this phase is 10 000 words. The words borrowed were nouns, verbs, adjectives and a few adverbs.
Words borrowed from French between 1066 and 1500 are terms used in government, such as: ‘government’; ‘royal’; ‘ state’; ‘authority’; ‘prince’; ‘duke’; ‘duchess’; ‘tax’; ‘mayor’; ‘governor’; ‘warden’; and ‘treasurer’.
French words found their way into English law jargon. Some of the French terms used in law in English are: ‘judge’; ‘jury’; ‘felon’; ‘bail’; ‘estate’; ‘evidence’; ‘verdict’; ‘punish’; and ‘crime’. Education took words such as ‘study’; ‘anatomy’; ‘geometry’; ‘grammar’; ‘logic’; ‘medicine’; and ‘square’.
Arts and fashion were not to be outdone in the borrowing of French words. They had their share of words such as ‘art’; ‘sculpture’; ‘music’; ‘painting’; ‘colour’; ‘figure’; ‘image’; ‘poet’; ‘title’; ‘fashion’; ‘dress’; ‘lace’; ‘garment’; ‘veil’; ‘button’; ‘couch’; and ‘chair’.
The next time you have your ‘supper’ or ‘dinner’, you should know that these were not originally used in English. These words have French origins. Other words related to food which have French origins include: ‘feast’; ‘appetite’; ‘taste’; ‘salmon’; ‘beef’; ‘mutton’; ‘pork’; ‘lemon’; ‘orange’; ‘raisin’; and ‘date’.
Examples of words borrowed in religion are: ‘temptation’; ‘salvation’; ‘confess’; ‘convert’; ‘ordain’; ‘baptism’; ‘communion’; ‘mercy’; ‘charity’; ‘solemn’; ‘divine’; and ‘devout’. All these changes in the vocabulary of English were brought about as a result of the Norman Conquest and hence its importance in the development of English.
I trust that you found the above revelations on the English words we use today fascinating and enriching of your English vocabulary. If you find some of these English words difficult, consult an English dictionary. This will increase your word power in English.
• Erica Kazavanga is a Master of Arts in English student in the Department of Languages and Literature Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Namibia.