The Effect of the Normans on Middle English

Essay by lolita76University, Master's January 2004

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The year 1066 had a resounding impact on the course of English history. William the First, Duke of Normandy, conquered England and took it as a stronghold in his reign. The French rule over England lasted for several centuries and brought about innumerable changes to the English state, language, culture and lifestyle. William imported French rulers to take over English government and religious posts.

The French were not only the new aristocracy in England, but the new society. The English amended their language and their culture in an effort to more resemble the French and to communicate with their new lords. The English language was more changed by the Norman Conquest than by any other event in the course of English history.

Middle English is defined as the four hundred year period between the Norman Conquest and the time the printing press was introduced to England in 1476. This essay will explore the specific effects that the French had on Middle English morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics and lexicon.

During the period of French rule in England the standing of English as a valid language dropped substantially as French took over as the status language. Because so much of the French influence has been nativized by present-day speakers, many do not realize the impact that our language took in the years following 1066. Not one aspect of English life went untouched by the Norman presence in England, notably, its language.


In addition to introducing new words into the English language, the Normans also introduced some new sounds. The English had previously had no phonemic distinction between /f/ and /v/; /v/ was merely an allophone of /f/ that occurred between vowels. However, with the influx of French loans which began in /v/ and contrasted as minimal pairs in English, this...