Share this Page URL

Part II. Where did all those Words come ... > Chapter 8. Middle English: AD 1150­1... - Pg. 11

11 Chapter 8. Middle English: AD 1150­1500 Middle English developed from Old English, with heavy borrowing from French. There was also some borrowing from Latin. Sometimes three words of different origins meant almost the same thing: ask (from Old English); question (from French); and interrogate (from Latin). Middle English was the earliest form of the language that was clearly English. Modern-day English speakers can read Middle English texts without too much difficulty--for example, Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Middle English was not yet an individual language, but a group of dialects not yet standardized. However, due to the Norman conquest in 1066, Middle English was not the primary language in England. The French language dominated England until the beginning of the Renaissance, around 1400. About ten thousand loanwords entered the language in the Middle English period. Loanwords are words borrowed from other languages. Justice is a loanword from French that has become part of the English language. About 75 percent of the French loanwords from the Norman conquest are still used in some form today. In the Middle English period, French became the language of the court and the upper classes. Although the common people and middle classes still spoke English, French changed almost every aspect of the English vocabulary, and more of the Old English elements dropped out of the language. Some French loanwords include: Topic government social rank law religion defense wearing apparel food Borrowed Words realm, royal, govern, mayor prince, duchess, baron, peasant justice, suit, jury, pardon saint, mercy, charity, preach war, peace, battle, lieutenant costume, robe, cape, lace, jewel beef, gravy, cream, peach, jelly, vinegar, spice, mince, roast French influence greatly simplified the English vocabulary by changing the forms of many verbs. Old English had a lot of "strong verbs" such as sing, sang, sung. The French changed many verbs to "weak verbs" with -ed endings, such as talk, talked. Some modern-day verbs have retained their strong forms, such as drink, drank, drunk; swim, swam, swum. When English and French words were both used, their meanings gradually changed. Today we have the following words that were originally the same in meaning. English doom hearty sheep swine calf house ask French judgment cordial mutton pork veal mansion demand