Sunday, October 16, 2016

How 1066 Changed English

I've read compelling arguments that the defeat of the English in 1066 turned out to be the best thing that could ever have happened to the English.  Saxon law was pretty good, but the combination of Saxon law and efficiency with Norman law and customs made for a good melding.

I'm not in a position to say if that's true or not.  It happened, 950 years ago, and we live with the results today.  I'm quite sure that every event in history has both good and bad results.  When looking at history, though, I like to look for the changes.

In this post I wrote about how English is currently changing.  In this article the author, while bemoaning the Norman victory, discusses how the language changed after 1066:
Englishness became, almost by definition, a badge of subjugation. Human nature being what it is, people soon began to adopt the names and manners of their overlords. On one English farm in 1114, records Peter Ackroyd, the workers were listed as being called Soen, Rainald, Ailwin, Lemar, Godwin, Ordric, Alric, Saroi, Ulviet and Ulfac. By the end of the century all those names had disappeared.

The status of the defeated English is often illustrated with reference to the vocabulary of meat. The Anglophone farmer in the field used plain Saxon words for his livestock: cow, pig, sheep. But by the time these animals found their way onto his Norman master’s plate, they had acquired French-derived names: beef, pork, mutton.

More telling, though, is the political vocabulary introduced under the Normans. Out go witan, folkmoot and folkright. In come fealty and homage, fief and vassal, villein and serf.


Pseudotsuga said...

So when the Normans stormed into England, was that good for the British (non-English) population too?
As far as the language changing, one writer postulates (and I can't remember his name now, drat it) why in English we habitually use "do/did" where other Germanic languages do not.
So we say "Did you eat that?" where the German can say "Isst du das?"
We can't say "Went you shopping?" or "drank you the milk?" "You not went to school?"and so on.
This one scholar posits that what we have is a layer of native British speakers (wives? children?) imprinting their native language structure onto their imperfect Saxon/Jutish/Anglish.
In the British tongue (which evolved into modern Welsh), there is a word "wedi" which means "after," but it is also used like this:
"Ydych wedi mynd?" literally "Are you after going?" but means "did you go?"
In Welsh you can say, "Bytais i" (I ate) and "Rydyw wedi byta" (which is literally "I am after eating" but means I did eat/I ate)
Other Germanic languages never developed the same "did you?" thing irregularity which bugs the heck out of ESL students.
There's a cool change for you.

Darren said...

I read about the "do" thing in Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue. Wild. I love etymology and language.

Auntie Ann said...

I found this article on why English is so different from other languages interesting:

Darren said...

I'll take a look, thanks.

Darren said...

Loved that essay, Auntie Ann!