What happened when a French-speaking king took over the English crown. By English with Stephen

Reasons for English: 1066 and all that language

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode looking at the changes that took place in the English language after the French-speaking Duke of Normandy took over the crown of England.

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Hello and welcome back! My name is Stephen Greene and this is the English with Stephen podcast. Today we have the second and final part of our little mini-series on the year 1066.

In the last episode, I talked about what happened in 1066 with the French Duke of Normandy invading England and taking over the throne. You don’t have to listen to that episode to understand what is happening here, but it might be useful for context and it is a great story, so feel free to go and listen to it if you haven’t already. I will be here waiting for you when you come back.

And if you have already listened to part one of this story, here comes part 2. Well, here comes part 2, just after this.

Before we get into the effect of 1066 on the English language, I’d like to remind you about my site, EnglishwithStephen.com. On my site you can find other links to things you might find interesting, you can get the free transcript for every episode to help you learn and understand more, and you can get links to all my social media, for example, I am on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. So please, go take a look at EnglishwithStephen.com, that’s S T E P H E N, EnglishwithStephen.com

And now back to 1066.

So, as I said at the end of the last episode, the Normans, from France had invaded England and taken over the country. William, the Duke of Normandy, was now also the King of England. He also saw his nickname change from William the Bastard to William the Conqueror. And he didn’t speak English, he spoke French. In fact, all of the nobility who now ruled all over England spoke French. French was the language of government and law and politics and everything else that was important.

If you were the average Anglo Saxon, though, life went on as normal. So long as you kept working in the fields it didn’t really matter who the king or the lord was, because you hardly ever saw anyone like this, be it Anglo Saxon or Norman.

You kept working away with the same group of family and friends. You lived and loved and did pretty much the same things as you did before. And you still did them in English.

This means we had two different societies at the same time in the same place. There was a French-speaking society and an Old English-speaking society. The French speakers worked in the towns and the cities. They ran the country. They were judges and lawyers. They were generals. They had money and did everything they could to enjoy it.

The English speakers lived in the countryside. They worked on farms, on the rivers and seas, and in the forests. They didn’t have much money and so didn’t have access to the finer things in life.

And this led to the two different societies having different words for similar things.

Take the word ‘cow’ for example. ‘Cow’ is an Old English word and came into English with the Anglo Saxons who brought it with them from Old German.

However, the meat of a cow is ‘beef’ comes from French and entered English not long after The Normans arrived.

The reason for this? Well, it was the Anglo Saxons who worked in the field and looked after the animals, so tey used their own word, ‘cow’. But it was the Normans who had the money and so could afford to eat the meat, and they used their word ‘beef’.

This is replicated many times throughout the language. We have the animal ‘deer’, but the meat ‘venison’. The animal sheep, and the meat ‘lamb’, the animal ‘pig’ and the meat ‘pork. The exceptions are animals that Anglo Saxons could sometimes afford to eat, like chicken and fish where the name of the meat is the same as the name for the animal.

But it wasn’t just food where there are pairings of Old English and French words. The Anglo Saxons worked in the woods, while the Normans went hunting in the forest. The Anglo Saxons might wish for a wedding whereas the Normans would desire a marriage. Anglo Saxons knew that having a child would bring happiness, however, the Normans hoped for felicity with a new infant.

Where there are two words, one from an Anglo Saxon origin and one from a Norman origin they usually have different connotations. For example, ‘to begin’ is usually seen as less formal as ‘to commence’. Similarly, ‘freedom’ is less formal than ‘liberty’. At other times, they have developed different meanings, for example, ‘doom’ and ‘judgement’.

English also imported a lot of words directly from French. Either the Old English words disappeared, or there was no English word with the same meaning in the first place. This often happened when talking about government, law, religion, military or food and drink.

A lot of the affixes, the words that you can add to either the beginning or the ends of words also come from French at this time. In fact, while these existed in Old English, very few of them made it to Modern English. Instead, French prefixes like ‘con-‘, ‘trans-‘, ‘pre-‘, or suffixes like ‘-ance’, ‘-tion’ and ‘-ment’ replaced them.

There were even changes to the grammar of the language, and this can be seen most clearly when talking about comparatives and superlatives.

As most students know, English has two ways to create comparatives and superlatives. If we are using a short adjective, like ‘fast’, then the comparative is ‘faster’ and the superlative is ‘the fastest’. However, if we are using a long adjective, like comfortable, then the comparative is ‘more comfortable’ and the superlative is ‘the most comfortable.

As my students often ask, why?

Well, the answer is probably in the Germanic v Latin distinction. You see, normally, Germanic words are shorter than the words which come from Latin through French. The Latin structure is to use ‘more’ + an adjective or ‘the most’ + an adjective. And in English, we use the same structure for longer adjectives, even if the adjective is not of French origin.

Germanic languages often use a suffix on the end of the adjective, just like English does with ‘+er’ or ‘+est’. And so we do this for shorter adjectives, even if they are not originally German.

Finally, there were spelling changes that the Normans introduced. They heard all this English around them and tried to write it down, only they used the spelling rules used in French. This is why we spell ‘queen’ with a ‘q u’ and not ‘c w’ as it was in Old English. It is also the French who are to blame for having the letter ‘h’ appear in words such as ‘night’ and enough, the letter ‘u’ in words such as ‘house’ and ‘mouse’. And, again, it was the French speakers who insisted on using a ‘c’ instead of an ‘s’ in ‘circle’ and ‘cell’. And who was it who decided ‘come’, ‘love’ and ‘son’ (the opposite of daughter) should have an ‘o’ instead of a ‘u’? You guessed it, the French-speaking Normans.

We have looked at some of the changes in vocabulary, grammar, and spelling that took place in English after the Normans invaded England in 1066. There are a lot more changes that occurred, but I think that is about all that is necessary to go over for one day.

Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget, you can go to my site EnglishwithStephen.com for a free transcript of this podcast, as well as for links to my social media and a whole lot of other stuff besides.

Thanks for listening. Speak soon!

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