English has been influenced by French more than many of us know.
Many different languages have shaped the development of the English language as we know it today. During its diverse history, English has taken on elements of spoken tongues and dialects from all over the earth. This is not surprising, as it is one of the most widely spoken languages on the planet.
Our language originally sprang from the dialects of three Germanic tribes known by historians as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. These peoples settled in Britain around 450 AD. Their language became known as Anglo-Saxon.
One of the most important influences ever to shape the English language arrived in 1066 AD-William the Conqueror’s invasion of the British Isles.
The Norman Conquest and its Consequences
On William the Conqueror’s accession to the throne of England, several important changes took place. Firstly, the French dialect the Normans spoke (Anglo-Norman) became the official language of the court, administration, and perhaps just as importantly, the language of culture. At the same time, English was relegated the common people, and became the language of everyday use. This official ignoring of Old English actually assisted in simplifying the language. Being ignored by grammarians, the language was simplified, and became more practical.
Initially, French and English remained very much separate, and each language influenced the other but little. In the period between 1066 and 1120 AD, a mere 900 Anglo-Norman words became assimilated into English. As the Saxons began to accept their Norman conquerors, however; language change became more rapid, with 10,000 Anglo-Norman words entering English before the 15th century.
Of the 10,000 French words adopted during the Norman occupation, three-quarters of these are still in use. Currently, French vocabulary is found in all areas-government, law, art, and literature. More than one third of English words today are derived, directly or indirectly, from French. This is so pronounced, that without prior study, English speakers already know 15,000 French words.
Much of current English pronunciation can be traced to definite French influence. Old English had many unvoiced, fricative sounds, while French introduced voiced counterparts.
|sh||g (as in mirage)|
|-||diphthong (as in boy)|
An interesting observation in the study of Middle English is the word order of certain phrases. In expressions like secretary general and surgeon general, the French order of adjectives and nouns is used. [English-adjective + noun; French-noun + adjective]
French influence has made a lasting print on English as we know it today. Many words which are generally conceded to be merely English, actually have their roots in French. Just pick up a dictionary to see.