Monday, March 17, 2008

The Romance of English

English is a Germanic language, deriving from the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, and having its formal roots in what we now call Frisian. However it is also as Latinized as any of the formal Romance languages, and for this we can thank the Normans.

When William the Conqueror conquered and took the reins of England in 1066, he made sure that the nobility was gentrified with people from Normandy, his home country. All of the royal houses, upper classes and clergy were taken over by Normans, who all spoke French.

This is a normal modus operandi for conquering nations. The interesting fact was how the English language managed to persist (unlike Celtic five hundred years earlier) and absorb the French terms. What came about were dual terms which, at first, meant the same thing, but as time passed came to represent minor differences in meaning that are not found in most languages, and that have made English as descriptive as it is.

A few examples are the French derived 'demand', and the English 'ask', which at first had the same meaning, but have diverged throughout the years. The same occurred with 'bit' (English) and 'morsel' (French), 'look' (English) and 'regard' (French), 'wish' (English) and 'desire' (French).

It is also possible to see linguistically what position in the social hierarchy the English and the Normans occupied. For example, the English lower classes raised 'pigs', while the Norman upper classes ate 'pork'; the English had 'cows', 'deer', 'hides' and 'sheep', while the Normans had 'beef', 'venison', 'skin' and 'mutton'.

We can only assume the Normans didn't enjoy chicken, or the United States might have now be strewn with Fast food restaurants called KFP and Poul-Fil-A.

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