291 Enl seminar 3 What was the influence of French and Latin in developing new domains of expression and stylistic levels?

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291 ENL Seminar 3 What was the influence of French and Latin in developing new domains of expression and stylistic levels?

The French Legacy

  • In earlier centuries the loaning of French words into English was introduced by native-speakers of French, while later on through speakers of Parisian French as a foreign language. Some words were borrowed twice, for example warden was taken from the early Anglo-Saxon while guardian was taken from Parisian French.
  • French had greater impact on Middle English in “quantity and the stylistic range” than it had on Old English.
  • The words entered English through the mediums of both written and spoken.
  • Some of the loans words were general, some technical while others were informal.
  • A large amount of terms were restricted to certain domains such as law, religion, society and politics, as well as culinary domains.
  • By the end of the Middle English period, around 30 % of English vocabulary was French in origin.
  • (Crystal 2005: 148)

Gallicization of French

  • The French influence can be found in the orthography, sound system and grammar of English.
  • An orthography change was from the Anglo-Saxon cw to the Romance qu as in quick and queen.
  • Old English: cwēn
  • Middle and Modern English: queen
  • An sound change: “The sounds [v] and [f], for example, had been allophones of /f/ in OE, but in ME they became separate phonemes. In OE, [v] and [f] never contrasted.”
  • An example of a change in grammar would be the decline of the English inflexion system.
  • (1066 And All That c. 2009)

Extract from “Canterbury Tales” by Chaucer with French loan words underlined.

  • “When that Aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour Of which vertu engendred is the flour…”

Process of Affixation

  • Be- prefix added to Old French words to create befool and besiege.
  • –Ful affix added to the end of Old French nouns to create the adjectives beautiful, graceful and faithful.
  • French suffix -able added to Germanic words, for example attainable, knowable, and doable.
  • The two languages combined to add suffixes to a single word such as unknowable.
  • 40-50 percent of all the words in the English language have at least one prefix or suffix.
  • French introduced prefixes (although they were Latin derived) such as con,- de-, pro-, and such suffixes as -able, -ance/ence, -tion.
  • An explosion would occur in the usage of prefixes towards the end of the Middle English period.
  • (Crystal 2005: 149)

Latin Legacy

  • The Romance words enhanced the English vocabulary. And once Latin entered, “the lexicon became even richer,” (Crystal 2005:155-6)
  • Latin would eventually have more influence on English than French in the Middle English period.
  • “Early loans” from Latin during the OE and ME periods changed pronunciations to sound like a Germanic or English word (Van Gelderen 2006: 112). Later, the Latin words were introduced without modifying their original sounds.
  • Latin remained the language of scholarship and science.
  • Latin was taught through the medium of French. It was assumed that Latin was pronounced and spelt in the French way because of this.
  • Therefore, in many cases it is quite hard to distinguish whether a word came into the English language through French or Latin or through the mutual influence of both. Theatre and contrite are such examples.
  • There are words which are clearly taken from Latin origin, especially those found in the domains of religion, early political administration and medieval scholarship.
  • These words came into our vocabulary mostly through the medium of writing and they were probably not very common in everyday speech.
  • (Crystal 2005: 155-6)

French and Latin United

  • The two languages together made quite an impact on Middle English.
  • By 1450, half of the existing words were non-Germanic.
  • It can be argued that English should not be categorized as a Germanic language, although the essential features of Anglo-Saxon were maintained through the grammar.
  • Around half of the most commonly used words were from Old English.
  • The additional vocabulary was able to introduce new concepts and new domains.
  • French and Latin were incorporated in the domains of Legal English, Medical English, Literary English and many more.
  • In the Middle English period, the English was able to operate at two stylistic levels. The first level was the learned, formal style used by those who were high in birth or education. The other style was for the everyday person, which was more informal.
  • The more formal the level of the language was, the more likely that it contained words from French and Latin origin.
  • (Crystal 2005:162)


  • Today, just over 30,000 words in our English vocabulary are from a French origin and over 50,000 words come from a Latin origin (Crystal 2005: 155).
  • The additional vocabulary introduced new concepts and domains into the English language, offering people a much larger “linguistic choice.” (Crystal 2005:162)
  • “As an example in 1200, people could only ask, but by 1500 they could question (from French) and interrogate (from Latin) as well.” (Crystal 2005:162)
  • Without the help from French and Latin, Middle English would not have been able to create new domains or stylistics and this would have impacted the rich language that is used today.

List of References

  • Crystal, D. (2005) The Stories of English, London: Penguin Books
  • Van Gelderen, e. (2006) History of the English Language [online] Philadelphia: John Benjamin. Available from [20 November 2009]
  • 1066 And All That (c. 2009) Middle English: Gallicization
  • [online] Available from < http://www.1066andallthat.com/ english_middle/gallicization_01.asp> [20 November 2009]

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