The Norman conquest had forever altered the face of history and the face of the English language.
The period thought of as the Middle English period roughly from 1150-1500 is a period that is demonstrative of the massive changes associated with the Norman conquest. Though there is some evidence that French did not completely overtake English in common or official use the language had a great influence upon English via the Normans and the elasticity of the language at its source.
The Middle English period (1150-1500) was marked by momentous changes in the English language, changes more extensive and fundamental than those that have taken place at any time before or since. Some of them were the result of the Norman Conquest and the conditions which followed in the wake of that event. Others were a continuation of tendencies that had begun to manifest themselves in Old English. These would have gone on even without the Conquest, but took place more rapidly because the Norman invasion removed from English those conservative influences that are always felt when a language is extensively used in books and is spoken by an influential educated class. The changes of this period affected English in both its grammar and its vocabulary. They were so extensive in each department that it is difficult to say which group is the more significant. Those in the grammar reduced English from a highly inflected language to an extremely analytic one. 1 Those in the vocabulary involved the loss of a large part of the Old English word-stock and the addition of thousands of words from French and Latin. At the beginning of the period English is a language which must be learned like a foreign tongue; at the end it is Modern English.
The fact that English still remained or returned as the dominant language in England after the conquest is testament to the idea that the language did not go completely out of use during the Norman period. Document history is testament to the resurgence of English as the written language of choice on the Island.
The first English documents discovered in the British Museum and Public Record Office belong to the second third of the fourteenth century. 1 it is true these are not frequent until the reign of Henry VI (1422-1461), but they point to the coming supremacy of English. The oldest private records in English yet found in the British Museum belong to the years 1375 and 1381, these being original documents of Wiltshire, preserved in London. The oldest London documents are of 1384 and 1386. The earliest petition to Parliament in English is one from the Mercers of London, bearing the date of 1386. 2 the earliest English will in the London Court of Probate is of the year 1387, 3 while the earliest statutes of the Guilds written in English date from 1389. 4 as another evidence of the disuse of French, it may be noted that from 1385, the eighth year of Richard II, Latin was commonly used instead of French, although for some time before this the latter had been almost exclusively used. The first English "Answers" by the king to petitions and bills in Parliament are of 1404. From the time of Henry VI (1422) private records are commonly in English.
Emerson in his very brief but comprehensive retracing of the document history stresses that English did again reign supreme, likely in part to its continued vernacular use as proof of the fact that the Norman conquest did not seem to go about, in any concerted way to erase English from the region, as some other conquests in Europe had done. England is absent of the kind of cultural cleansing that form complete alterations in language and education.
Events associated with the dominance of the English in the colonial world were significant in the way that the language developed, yet it is also clear that the far reaching effect on the language is less than its effect on the world, as it has spread to a large degree, an issue which will be discussed later in this work.
Baugh 356) Yet, this is with the exception of the colonization of America by England, as this event over time profoundly effected the language, which has become its own dialect as a result of use and exposure to variations in isolation of the UK. Subsequently the dominance of America over the world, and especially the world of technology, progress and international business has furthered the spread of American English across the world.
Baugh when speaking about the colonial period and how the events of it changed the nature of English stressed that this period was not as influential culturally as it was scientifically.
Some of these events and changes are reflected in the English vocabulary. But more influential in this respect are the great developments in science and the rapid progress that has been made in every field of intellectual activity in the last hundred years. Periods of great enterprise and activity seem generally to be accompanied by a corresponding increase in new words. This is the more true when all classes of the people participate in such activity, both in work and play, and share in its benefits.
Changes and adaptations in science, industry and even leisure activities have forever altered the landscape of the English language, adding vocabularies where such are needed to express new ideas, concepts and objects.
A the great developments in industry, the increased public interest in sports and amusements, and the many improvements in the mode of living, in which even the humblest worker has shared, have all contributed to the vocabulary. Among recent circumstances affecting the life of almost every one have been the world wars and the troubled periods following them. We shall find them also leaving their mark on the language.
This transitions this work into what can only be called modern English and further into what will later be defined as Global English.
Though Baugh stresses the evolutionary nature of modern English through industry and cultural development Emerson stresses that modern English has actually seen only limited change and adaptation, beyond vocabulary.
Compared with English in the Old and Middle periods, the history of the modern standard speech is exceedingly simple. First, the language of London has remained the standard written form since its establishment, subject only to the changes incident to any language. There has been since Middle English times no great revolution affecting language materially, no conquest by a foreign nation such as that of the Danes or the Normans in the Old English period. Nor has there been any such radical change from within, as that by which West Saxon English in the oldest age was finally replaced by Midland English as the standard speech of later times.
Emerson then goes on to discuss those changes which he observes in the language over the period.
A there have been some changes of a general nature...Most phenomena of a general character relating to Modern English are exemplifications of two tendencies found in the several centuries. The one is radical, showing itself in innovation, marked especially by freedom in coining new words, and by the extensive use of foreign ones. The other, a conservative tendency, is exhibited by the purists who have sought to check innovation of various kinds, and to develop by use the resources of the native speech. In the sixteenth century, for example, there existed in England a strong desire to "improve" English, as they phrased it, and to place it if possible on a level with the classic tongues....The means by which the modern languages were to be improved were importations of words from the classical languages, especially Latin, and imitation of the rhetorical effects of the classical writers. To this must be added, especially for England, the importation of words from France, and to some extent from Italy and Spain.
These two general changes are mostly subtle, as Emerson notes in comparison to the massive changes evident within periods of extreme social and political strife and change. In many ways the changes of the language in the modern period are far overshadowed by the changes that English has wrought to the globe.
McCrum and Macneil, point out in the Story of English that the development of English as a Global language is not only imminent but rapid and revolutionary. (xi) English has begun to dominate the world as the language you can generally expect to…
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