OF THE NORMAN PERIOD
(12th — 13th centuries)
The Norman Conquest. When King Alfred died, fighting with the Danes
soon began again. Parties of the Norsemen sailed round Scotland and over
to Ireland. Others sailed south across the Channel to France. They
conquered the north of France and settled there. In the next hundred
years they came to be called Normans, and their country Normandy.
In the middle of the 11th century the internal feuds among the
Anglo-Saxon earls invited a foreign conquest. The Normans did not miss
their chance. In the year 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, crossed the
Channel and defeated the English at Hastings [‘heistirjz] in a great
battle. Within five years William the Conqueror became complete master
of the whole of England. The lands of most of the Anglo-Saxon
aristocracy were given to the Norman barons, and they introduced their
feudal laws to compel the peasants to work for them. The English became
an oppressed nation.
William the Conqueror could not speak a word of English. He and his
barons spoke the Norman dialect of the French language; but the
Anglo-Saxon dialects were not suppressed. During the following 200 years
communication went on in three languages:
1) at the monasteries learning went on in Latin;
2) Norman-French was the language of the ruling class and was spoken at
court and in official institutions;
3) the common people held firmly to their mother tongue. In spite of
this, however, the language changed so much in the course of time that
we must speak about it. How the Language Changed.
1) Many French words came into the language. Under the influence of
French the pronunciation of the people changed. Some French words could
not be pronounced by the Anglo-Saxons, so some of the Norman-French
sounds were substituted by more familiar sounds from Old English. There
appeared many new long vowels (diphthongs) in their native language.
This newly formed pronunciation was nearing that of Modern English.
2) The spelling did not correspond to the pronunciation. The Norman
scribes brought to England their Latin traditions. The Anglo-Saxon
letters p, ? for the sounds  and [?] were runes. The Normans replaced
these letters by the Latin t + h=th.
3) What was particularly new was the use of French suffixes with words
of Anglo-Saxon origin. For instance, the noun-forming suf-1 fixes -ment
(government, agreement) and -age (courage, marriage), giving an abstract
meaning to the noun, and the adjective-forming suffix -able (admirable,
capable) were used to form new words. Examples of such hybrids, as they
are called, are:
fulfilment bondage readable
bewilderment cottage unbearable
bewitchment stoppage drinkable
4) The French prefix dis- was used to make up words of negative meaning:
5) The indefinite article was coming into use.
6) The struggle for supremacy between French and old English words went
on in the following way:
a) If the French word meant a thing or idea for which there was no name
in English, then the French word came into the language. Such words were
those relating to government, church, court, armour, pleasure, food,
b) If the object or idea was clearly expressed in English, then the
English word remained.
c) If both words remained, then it was because of a slight but clear-cut
difference in the meaning. An interesting example is to be found in the
first chapter of “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott. Wamba, a Saxon serf,
tells the swineherd Gurth that his swine will be turned into Normans
before morning. The Anglo-Saxon word “swine” means the living animals,
while the French word “pork” is the name of the food. Other examples
calf — veal, ox — beef, sheep — mutton.
7) As a result of this process there appeared a large store of synonyms.
Each of them has its own shade of meaning. The use of one or other of
these synonyms makes all the difference between the written and the
spoken language. Note the difference between the following verbs; those
of Anglo-Saxon origin are used in conversation, while the verbs of
French origin are used in formal speech:
to give up — to abandon
to give in
to come in — to enter
to begin — to commence
to go on — to continue
The history of English literature shows us how the popular tongue became
the language of the educated classes because it was spoken by the
majority of the population, by those who tilled the soil, sowed and
reaped, by those who produced the goods and struggled against the
Norman-French and Anglo-Saxon were moulded into one national language
only towards the beginning of the 14th century when the
Hundred Years’ War broke out. The language of that time is called Middle
The First Universities, Oxford and Cambridge. Before the 12th century
people thought that books and any kind of learning belonged to the
Church only, and that common people who were not priests or monks had no
business to meddle with books. But with the development of such sciences
as medicine and law, corporations of general study called “universitas”
appeared in Italy and France. A fully developed university had four*]
faculties: three superior (higher) faculties, that of Theology (the
study of religious books), of Canon Law (church laws) and of Medicine;
and one inferior (primary) faculty, that of Art, where seven subjects
were, studied: Latin Grammar, Rhetoric (the art of expressive speaking),
Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music.
Paris was the great centre of higher education for English students. I
In the middle of the 12th century a controversy on the study of Logic
arose among the professors. A group of professors were expelled.
Followed by their students, they went over to Britain and in 1168
founded schools in the town of Oxford which formed the first university.
A second university was formed in 1209 in Cambridge, to which a large;
group of students migrated from Oxford.
The graduates were awarded degrees: Bachelor, Master and Doctor. Towards
the end of the 13th century colleges where other subjects]} were studied
appeared around the universities.
It became the custom for students to go about from one university to
another, learning what they could from the most famous teachers in each
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