The French Language in
England
Rollo
(Göngu-Hrólfur)
The Normans
1066
William
the Conqueror
The main linguistic effects of the
Norman invasion
• Secular and religious authorities became
French
• Old English spelling traditions were lost
• English came to be written as it was
spoken
• Dialectal differences appeared
The main linguistic effects of the
Norman invasion
The changes that had occurred since the
Norse invasions, now appeared for the
first time in the witten language
1066-1200 1200-1300 1300-1400
1066-1200 1200-1300 1300-1400
The French Language in England
1066-1200
• Norman French is the native language of
the nobility.
• Probably not a great deal of bilingualism.
• Small numbers of French loans enter
English.
1066-1200 1200-1300 1300-1400
The French Language in England
1200-1300
• 1204 Loss of Normandy.
• French is the cultivated, prestige language.
• Norman French loses prestige and the nobility
begin to look to Paris for their norm.
Difference between Norman French
and Central (Parisian) French
NORMAN FRENCH
• retained k
cattle castle carpenter
cauldron carry catch 
PARISIAN FRENCH
in some
• k has become
environments
chattels chair charity
chief change
chase 
• retained g
garden gaol
• g has become
joy jest jail
g survives only
in spelling
in some
environments
Difference between Norman French
and Central (Parisian) French
NORMAN FRENCH
•
is retained in
catch
PARISIAN FRENCH
•
has become s in
chase
• w in Germanic loanwords
while ward(en) William
war wasp
• w becomes g(w)
guile gardian Guy
(guerre, guêpe)
The French Language in England
1200-1300
• 1204 Loss of Normandy.
• French is the cultivated, prestige language.
• Norman French loses prestige and the nobility
begin to look to Paris for their norm.
• There is a diglossic situation, with French the
high-prestige, English the low-prestige variety.
Diglossia
Examples from
Modern English:
Prestige
hus mus
haus maus
Enry Arthur
Henry Harthur
Diglossia
Examples from Middle
English:
Prestige
hew
colour
stench
scent
neat
beef
athling
prince
The French Language in England
1200-1300
• 1204 Loss of Normandy.
• French is the cultivated, prestige language.
• Norman French loses prestige and the nobility
begin to look to Paris for their norm.
• There is a diglossic situation, with French the
high-prestige, English the low-prestige variety.
• Large numbers of French loans enter English
1066-1200 1200-1300 1300-1400
The French Language in England
1300-1400
• English becomes the dominant language,
but French remains dominant in literature
and at the court.
• Increasing evidence of imperfect
knowledge of French amongst the nobility.
• Although the knowledge of French is
waning, its linguistic prestige can be seen
by still increasing numbers of French loans
in English.
The French Language in England
1300-1400
Factors contributing to the decline of French:
• 1334-1453 The Hundred Years' War with France.
• 1348-9 The Black Death. 30% mortality. Labour
shortage, wage rises, increasing importance of the
English-speaking classes
• 1386 English accepted in the courts ('Statute of
Pleading')
• Two major English poets at the end of the 14th century:
– Gower writes mostly in French (but composes one long work
Confessio amantis, in English)
– Chaucer writes almost entirely in English.
• Evidence of private letters:
– 1350: French is the rule.
– After 1400: English becomes common.
– After 1450: English is the rule.
Jeo prie a la Benoit Trinite que vous ottroie bone
vie ove tresentier sauntee a treslonge durre, and
sende yowe sone to ows in helþ and prosperitee
for, in god fey, I hope to Al Mighty God that, yef ye
come youre owne persone, ye schulle have the
victorie of alle your enemyes. And for salvation of
oure Schire and Marches al aboute, treste ye
nought to no Leutenaunt.
Escript a Hereford, en tresgraunte haste, a trois de
la clocke apres noone, le tierce jour de
Septembre.
Richard Winston, Dean of Windsor, to the King 1403
Baugh fn 195 p. 151
Baugh: 1000 French words at random
(statistics in footnote to §133, p. 178 5th edn)
before-1050
1051-1000
1151-1150
1151-1200
1201-1250
1251-1300
1301-1350
1351-1400
1401-1450
1451-1500
1501-1550
1551-1600
2
0
2
7
35
99
108
198
74
90
62
95
Baugh: 1000 French words
NB first recorded occurence in a written text
status of French
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The French Language in England