November 13, 2008

French lesson for the day!

I learned something, some of which I already knew, some new info... Here you go!  

The English language has been shaped by a number of other languages,  German being the most important.  What many people don't realize is how much the French language has influenced English.

Without going into too much detail, I want to give a little bit of background about the other languages which shaped English. It was born out of the dialects of three German tribes (Angles, Jutes, and Saxons) who settled in Britain in about 450 A.D. This group of dialects forms what linguists refer to as Anglo-Saxon, and at some point this language developed into what we know as Old English. This Germanic base was influenced in varying degrees by Celtic, Latin, and Scandinavian (Old Norse) - the languages spoken by invading armies.

Bill Bryson calls the Norman conquest of 1066 the "final cataclysm [which] awaited the English language." (1) When William the Conqueror became king of England, French took over as the language of the court, administration, and culture - and stayed there for 300 years. Meanwhile, English was "demoted" to everyday, unprestigious uses. These two languages existed side by side in England with no noticeable difficulties; in fact, since English was essentially ignored by grammarians during this time, it took advantage of its lowly status to become a grammatically simpler language and, after only 70 or 80 years existing side-by-side with French, Old English segued into Middle English.

During the Norman occupation, about 10,000 French words were adopted into English, some three-fourths of which are still in use today. This French vocabulary is found in every domain, from government and law to art and literature - learn some. More than a third of all English words are derived directly or indirectly from French, and it's estimated that English speakers who have never studied French already know 15,000 French words. (2)

English pronunciation owes a lot to French as well. Whereas Old English had the unvoiced fricative sounds , , (as in thin), and (shin), French influence helped to distinguish their voiced counterparts , , (the), and (mirage), and also contributed the diphthong (boy). (3)


The Big Finn said...

We certainly didn't adopt the French "r". I've heard very few native English speakers who can pronounce it well.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

So I am connected to France whoopeeee :-)

Thanks for this post Leesa...I have been asking about this for years, I knew some of it, some people have told me bits and pieces...

Leesa said...

Hi TBF-- Yes.. It's hard to pronounce that French "r"- as it is to pronounce the rolling Spanish "r" (for me) and likewise hard for the French to pronounce the "r" as is pronounced in English!!! : )

I'm waiting to hear what David has to say about this topic....

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

I cannot pronounce the French "r" or the Sapnish...and now I am trying to talk Italian...ha ha what a hoot!!!

Franco said...

Wow I didn't know that!

David said...

I never know if I should laugh or cringe when I read that English comes from Latin and German.

It comes from German and French! Not Latin, but French.
Repeat after me: the French language hasn't influenced English, it has created English. Without the Norman invasion, the English language would be something not that different from Dutch.

And yes, it's more than a third of words that are from French in the English as the number is closer to 70% (some linguists even say 80%). Thing is that these are the words that are used the less often, because they are administrative, scientific, intellectual, etc words, not everyday conversation words.

In just what I posted, here are the French words I used:

Latin, German, Repeat, language, influenced, created, invasion, different, third (this one is debatable... debatable being a French word too), number, percent, linguists, used, administrative, scientific, intellectual, etc, conversation, posted.

Starman said...

I have no trouble with the Spanish 'r' and I can easily do the French 'r' in some words but not others.

One of the first French study courses I took listed several pages of French words most English speakers consider English. For the most part, they are spelled exactly the same.

Barbara said...

Hi Leesa,
Now you are teaching a few things to the "big kids " ;)
I LOVE anything on langauages & their use.

That's an insteresting fact that
"estimated that English speakers who have never studied French already know 15,000 French words ".

Phivos Nicolaides said...

New things to me. That's good!

Susan in Lille said...

Why thank you Leesa!! I love that!! Plus any occasion to get to say (or think) "diphthong" is always welcome. *giggles like a little girl* ;-)