The Domination of French in England
The Norman Conquest. Toward the close of the Old English period an event occurred which had a greater effect on the English language than any other in the course of its history. This event was the Norman Conquest in 1066. What the language would have been like if William the Conqueror had not succeeded in making good his claim to the English throne can only be a matter of conjecture. It would probably have pursued much the same course as the other Germanic languages, retaining perhaps more of its inflections and preserving a preponderantly Germanic vocabulary..., and incorporating words from other languages much less freely. In particular it would have lacked the greater part of that enormous number of French words which today make English seem, on the side of vocabulary, almost as much a Romance as a Germanic language. The Norman Conquest changed the whole course of the English language. An event of such far-reaching consequences must be considered in some detail. The Origin of Normandy. On the northern coast of France directly across from England is a district extending some seventy-five miles back from the Channel and known as Normandy. It derives its name from the bands of Northmen who settled there in the ninth and tenth centuries, at the same time as similar bands were settling in the north and east of England. The Seine offered a convenient channel for penetration into the country, and the settlements of Danes in this region furnish a close parallel to those around the Humber. A generation after Alfred reached an agreement with the Northmen in England, a somewhat similar understanding was reached between Rollo, the leader of the Danes in Normandy, and Charles the Simple, king of France. In 912 the right of the Northmen to occupy this part of France was recognized; Rollo acknowledged the French king as his overlord and became the first duke of the Normans. In the following century and a half a succession of masterful dukes raised the dukedom to a position of great influence, overshadowing at times the power of the king of France. The adaptability of the Scandinavian, always a marked characteristic of this people, nowhere showed itself more quickly. Readily adopting the ideas and customs of those among whom he came to live, the Norman had soon absorbed the most important elements of French civilization. Moreover he injected fresh vigor into what he borrowed. He profited from his contact with French military forces and, adding French tactics to his own impetuous courage, soon had one of the best armies, if we may use the term, in Europe. He took important features of Frankish law, including the idea of the jury, and with a genius for organization which shows up as clearly in the Norman kingdom of Sicily as in Normandy and later in England, made it one of the outstanding legal systems of the world. He accepted Christianity and began the construction of those great Norman cathedrals that are still marvels to the modern architect. But most important of all, for us, he soon gave up his own language and learned French. So rapidly did the old Scandinavian tongue disappear in the Norman capital that the second duke was forced to send his son to Bayeux that he might learn something of the speech of his forefathers. In the eleventh century, at the time of the Norman Conquest, the civilization of Normandy was essentially French, and the Normans were among the most advanced and progressive of the peoples of Europe. For some years before the Norman Conquest the relations between England and Normandy had been fairly close. In 1002 Æthelred the Unready had married a Norman wife, and, when driven into exile by the Danes, took refuge with his brother-in-law, the duke of Normandy. His son Edward, who had thus been brought up in France, was almost more French than English. At all events, when in 1042 the Danish line died out and Edward, known as the Confessor, was restored to the throne from which...
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