1066, the Duke of Normandy, the famous William sailed across the British Channel. He challenged King Harold of England in the struggle for the English throne. After winning the battle of Hastings William was crowned king of England and the Norman Kingdom was established. Norman-French became the language of the English court. At the beginning French was spoken only by the Normans but soon through intermarriage, English men learnt French. Some 10,000 French words were taken into English language during the Middle English period and about 75% of them are still in use. In grammatical use the English suffixes and prefixes were freely added with the French words. e.g. ‘gentle’ borrowed in 1225 is found compounded with an English word ‘gentlewomen’ in 1230.

Illustration by Vikram Roy © 2012 (Medium: 0.6 Black Ball Pen and Water Colour in the Background)

The English and Norman commoners learnt some each-others language. Result, the English nobility was not an English nobility but an Anglo-French aristocracy. William himself made an effort at the age of forty-three to learn some English to settle disputes between his subjects. William considers destroying the Saxon tongue in order that the English and the French might speak the same language.

We might say that in the period up to 1200 A.D. the Normans did not cultivate English although they were not ignorant of it. By the middle of the thirteenth century English came into general use among the French aristocrats. A large-scale of French words adopted into the English language.

About 1300 A.D. English was once again known by every single British, but French is not fallen into disuse, it still remained in the British church and the court. The English servants serving meat at the dining table to the French upper classes had to conform to them in French. Thus the names of the animals remained English while their meat had French names –

 Animal (English)   Meat (French)
 Sheep  Mutton
 Cow  Beef
 Swine / Pig  Pork

A list of French words borrowing in English is given below –

Subject French English
Time Avrill April
Hour Hour
Date Date
Decembre December
Construction Table Table
Quartier Quarter
Appartement Apartment
Chambre Chamber
Toilette Toilet
Parlement Parliament
Couvent Convent
Cite City
Food Boeuf Beef
Mouton Mutton
Fructus Fruit
Oile Oil
Miscellaneous Acteur Actor
Actrice Actress
Debonaire (de bonne aire) Debonair
Nought Not
T u Do You
Taxer Tax
Virgine Virgin

Since French-speaking Normans took control over the church and the court of London. A largest number of words borrowed by the government, spiritual and ecclesiastical (religious) services. As example – state, royal (roial), exile (exil), rebel, noble, peer, prince, princess, justice, army (armee), navy (navie), enemy (enemi), battle, soldier, spy (verb), combat (verb) and more. French words also borrowed in English art, culture, and fashion as music, poet (poete), prose, romance, pen, paper, grammar, noun, gender, pain, blue, diamond, dance (verb), melody, image, beauty, remedy, poison, joy, poor, nice, etc. Many of the above words are different from modern French in use or pronunciation or spelling.

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About VIKRAM ROY

Hi, I am Vikram, a friend of you! I would like to take this opportunity of personally welcoming you to my blog! You can read my book “The Alchemist A Mystery In Three Acts” Available now on Amazon.com : http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005IDUD4C Always love, Vikram Roy

68 responses »

  1. Ashmita says:

    woww… i never knew i spoke so much of French! 😛 this is nice piece of info! 🙂

  2. Cat Forsley says:

    MY first Language is French 🙂
    what a great post …….
    Man with the same theme as me 🙂
    wish you the best 🙂
    Cat xx

  3. colltales says:

    Nice drawing Vikram. W.

  4. grosenberg says:

    Informative, thanks

  5. 1stjoeyanna says:

    I love learning so much information on your blog! 🙂

  6. Belle pièce d’art Vikram pour accompagner une pièce instructive de l’histoire. Bravo!

    This is my French contribution! 🙂

  7. Do you know how long Latin prevailed after Romans left 475 or so ?

    • VIKRAM ROY says:

      Hi DAG, Latin influence on English after the Anglo Saxon settlement in Britain is divided into two stages; early settlement (450 to 600) and post-Christian settlement (650), or may be a decade more! 🙂

  8. Noel Williams (prhayz) www.prhayz.com says:

    Excellent!

  9. awesome and I love your drawing…

  10. Doraz says:

    I really learned a lot on this post of yours. Thanks. 😎

  11. Oh how you love words! You come up with some truly wonderful gems to post about!
    ~Blessings

  12. Lottie Nevin says:

    Vikram, this is great post – thank you.

    Have you ever written anything on Chaucer? His name, as you probably know comes from the french Chausseur, meaning shoemaker.

    I loved your writing about William Blake too – one of my all time favourites

  13. Katrina says:

    Love the sketch, and the post

  14. ronkozloff says:

    Interesting post as I am here in Montreal. The drawing is lovely. Thanks.

  15. freefrednice says:

    the french gave the english beauty through language, the idyllic latin component is what presents itself between the similarities, i speak french pretty fluently, and studied german for a year or so in university, and the latin element in german is definitely missing, so abrupt and jaw intense, the french introduced a fluidity of the tongue that suggest ease, and that’s what you have, german and french = english. a theory 😉

  16. We both must be etymologists! I love words and knowing their root just makes them all the more interesting.
    Also love it that you include one of your own drawings!

  17. Impower You says:

    Nice post. I think it’s funny that the word Beef is of French origin. In America there is a small group of people that think France is the devil and that Americans(of US origin) are perfect. Since beef is considered so “American” , it makes me laugh. I know that wasn’t the point of your post.

    Does that make sense? Perhaps it is my own logic and doesn’t make sense to anyone else.

    I feel so much smarter now that I read this. Thanks.

    • VIKRAM ROY says:

      The words don’t have any connections with the devil. Words are words people use to describe themselves. Why people can’t think they are all world citizen? Then see you will not feel an American or a French! Are you a part of the universe? Then everyone is. Thanks 🙂

      • Impower You says:

        Right. Especially these days with the mixing of cultures it is silly that people don’t realize how many words they use EVERDAY are from different areas even ones they don’t respect.

  18. jmro98 says:

    Thanks for shedding some light into french-english relationships in that earlier time, like somebody mentionned it, here in Montréal, french and english cultures came to close contact, of course many new ethnics bring lot of things, some say good others not so good…:), people also say it is a bit of Europe meeting America, donc à bientôt…:)

  19. Sony Fugaban says:

    This is something new to me so thanks for the “Trivia”. This post is educational.

  20. Jocelyne says:

    Ceci est très bonne Vikram.

  21. Mo says:

    Can somebody explain about the English military words derived from French? Why, when and how?

  22. Uwalaka Ngozi says:

    Woooow i lov dis discovery, so i speak french

  23. Angela says:

    Hey, I was wondering if you had sources for this (in particular the ‘gentlewoman’ thing)? Just that I’m writing a paper on this for school. 🙂
    If you can’t remember, do you know any books on this that you would recommend?

    • VIKRAM ROY says:

      Early 13th century Old French word “gentil”, means high-born or noble, is borrowed in Middle English! Then the word compounded with “gentleman” and “gentlewoman” to describe noble man or noble woman!

  24. Pooja says:

    hi,vikram ur information regarding the language gives us the clear picture…will u please suggest me some more information on the same topic.. 🙂

  25. bography says:

    Vikram there are many English-French “false friends.” Take a peak, for example, at a Jewish view of. French bottom.
    http://onedaringjew.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/a-jewish-view-of-a-french-bottom/

  26. Hi Vikram!
    I love history and thoroughly enjoyed your post. Thanks for the fascinating information.
    Warmth and Peace, (Paz, Pax)

  27. kheenand says:

    The story of the English language is a fascinating one. We don’t even realise that so much of the vocab we use today is of French origin (every word ending in ion or ment is French) – it should mean learning that language is easier but of course there’s that convoluted grammar we have to learn too.
    If you enjoyed this book, try reading Melvin Bragg’s The Art of English which looks at the Anglo Saxon roots.

  28. Gosh, isn’t language fascinating? Very much taken by the fact that you have chosen this as a topic.

  29. Andrée Laganière says:

    Love your blogs, your poetry, your drawings. You truly are a Renaissance man! Thanks for your comments about my blog but the question remains: “Lis-tu le français?”

  30. Mark Thomas says:

    This is a great post, Vikram. The Norman invasion was hugely important for the English language and for a lot of the history of Europe. For 3 centuries after 1066, England actually had 3 official langauges; Norman French for the Royal Court, Latin for the Church and the Anglo-Saxon langauge for the rest of the population. This is why English often has so many synonymes today as they are words being borrowed from diferent languages.

  31. lozzi says:

    thanks you really helped me in my homework your blog is awsome

  32. Eliza B says:

    Interesting! I’m studying French and I love looking at the etymology of words. English is such a mélange of different languages. Which may be why its so fun to speak.

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