Effect of the Normans on Middle English

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 distinction made its way into Middle English:
French loans English
vetch fetch
view few
vile file
The French also influenced the adoption of several new diphthongs into English. Diphthongs are two vowel sounds which are pronounced as one.
Diphthong Old French Old English
/eu/ neveu neveu (nephew)
/au/ cause cause
/Ui/ bouillir boille (boil)
point point
/ i/ noyse noise
choisir chois (choice)
The new English diphthongs were not exactly like they were in French - they were modified by existing English vowels to create brand new diphthongs.
The stress pattern of Old French words differed from that of Old English words, and often both stress patterns were present. Germanic languages, such as English, tends to place primary stress on the first syllable, unless that syllable is an unstressed prefix. French, on the other hand, prefers to stress the heavy syllable (one containing a coda) closest to the end of the word. Middle English loans from French often retained their native stress pattern, however, in Present-Day English, the majority of these borrowed words have conformed to the Germanic pattern.

Irrefutably, the largest influence that the Normans had on the English language was on its vocabulary. From the time William usurped the English throne until the end of the Middle English period, our language was inundated with French vocabulary terms. In fact, of the 2,650 words in the epic English poem “Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight,” at least 750 are estimated to be of French origin. Even in Present-Day English, some of our most commonly used words are of French origin; table, tax, religion, trouble and pray are all derived from French words borrowed into Middle English.
Hardly one syntactic category was left untouched by French loan-words during Middle English, although the majority of English words borrowed from Old French tended to be nouns, verbs and adjectives. The following is a very brief sample of some now-common words which had recently joined English in the Middle English period:
Adjectives: inequales ‘inequal,’ principalis ‘principal,’
naturales ‘natural’
Verbs: strive, please, waste, join, cover
Prepositions: French contributed to the constructions of
according to and during
Interjections: gramercy ‘thank you’
Nouns: ancestor, cellar, dinner, garment, kennel,
music, noun, plague, statute
The French gave the English language many specialized words, such as those used in culinary or legal situations. Because the Normans had taken over judicial and aristocratic roles, their high-prestige vocabulary was passed on to the lower-class English who acted as their clerks and servants. Thus, many cooking terms such as broil, goblet, and beverage were passed on by masters to their servants. The French influence on the lexicon was nearly nonexistent in areas where the French