Old Language Variety: ANGLO-NORMAN

Indo-European > Italic > Western Romance > Old French > Anglo-Norman

Old French is usually seen as little more than a collection of dialects known as the Langue d’Oïl. These dialects were spread over northern and central France; the variety spoken in Normandy migrated across the Channel to England in 1066, where it became what scholars call Anglo-Norman. Over the next few centuries the French spoken in England would try to compete with the more prestigious form used in Paris, eventually ceasing to be used at all.

The fate of Anglo-Norman (or Insular French) has long been debated. Some believe that the English stopped speaking it out of antagonism with the French (cf. David Crystal), while others believe it did not die out but actually merged with Middle English (cf. William Rothwell). What is certain is that in an age when English was dialectal, Anglo-Norman provided a steady standard in England to rival Latin. Much literature was composed in Anglo-Norman; the best extant copy of the Chanson de Roland is insular.

Anglo-Norman left its mark on English in the form of its large Romance vocabulary and orthography. Most of the earlier French loanwords are Norman in origin; later borrowings show the influence of Central French. In the later Middle Ages Anglo-Norman lost prestige, and was ridiculed by Chaucer as the poor substandard French of 'Stratforde atte Bowe', before succumbing to the continental form.

The main differences between Anglo-Norman and Central and Parisian French were in spelling and pronunciation, though other phonological features single them out. One such is the consonantal shift from W > G, as seen in names such as Walter and Gautier, William and Guillaume. Many modern English words, when compared to their French equivalents, show this difference, such as ‘wasp’ and ‘guespe’, ‘war’ and ‘guerre’. English binaries also show the Norman and Central influence: ‘warden/guardian’, ‘warranty/guarantee’.

examples of anglo-norman

‘Murdre est occisioun de homme desconu, felounosement fete, dunt homme ne peut saver par qi ne par quels. Et volums qe a chescun murdre soit le hundred, ou le murdre serra trové fet, en nostre merci ; et si le fet serra trové en deus hundrez, si soint ambideus amerciez solum la quantité qe serreit un hundred. Et volums qe nul murdre soit ajugee par la ou acun parent al mort peuse estre trové, qi peuse moustrer qe il fust Engleys, et issi presenter de ly Englescherie ; ne, tut soit il alien, par la ou il avera taunt de espace de vie qe il meymes encuse les felouns.’
'Britton': Chap VI: 'De Murdre', c.late 13th C.(Translation to come!)

Requillez genz bel a manger;
Si poez meimes alloser.
Taillez ceo pain que est paré;
Les bisseaus seient pur Deu doné
Du cotel trenchoms les bisseaus;
Du quiller mangoms mieaus.
Frussés ceo pain qi vent de fourn;
Debrusés cel os de venour;
Rumpés la cord qe fet nusaunce;
Enfreinés covenaunt de deceivaunce.
Walter de Bibbesworthe, 'Tretiz', lines 1053-1062, c.late 13th C. (Translation to come).

P’ce q monstre est soventfoitz au Roi, p Prelatz, Ducs, Counts, Barons & tout la cõe, les g’ntz meschiefs q sont advenuz as plusours du realme de ce q les leyes custumes & estatutz du dit realme ne sont pas conuz cõement en mesme le realme, p cause qils sont pledez monstrez & juggez en la lange Franceis, qest trop desconue en dit realme.’
The 1362 Statute of Pleading (guaranteeing the use of English in courts): (Translation: Because it is often shewed to the King by the Prelates, Dukes, Earls, Barons, and all the Commonalty, of the great Mischiefs which have happened to divers of the Realm, because the Laws, Customs and Statutes of this Realm be not commonly [holden and kept] in the same Realm, for that they be pleaded, shewed and judged in the French Tongue, which is much unknown in the said Realm.)

a short anglo-norman bibliography
  • VISING, Johan: Anglo-Norman Language and Literature (Connecticut: 1970; orig. Oxford UP: 1923
  • MENGER, Louis Emil: The Anglo-Norman Dialect (New York: 1904)
  • LEGGE, Dominica: Anglo-Norman as a Spoken Language, in BROWN, R. Allen (ed): Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1979, pp108-117 (Woodbridge: 1980)
  • ROTHWELL, William: The Legacy of Anglo-French – Faux Amis in French and English, in Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie 109 (1993) [online edition:]
  • ROTHWELL, William: The Missing Link in English Etymology: Anglo-French, in Medium Ævum vol LX, no.2, (1991)
  • PRICE, Glanville: The Languages of Britain, chap.17 ‘Anglo-Norman’ (Arnold, London: 1984)
  • ROTHWELL, William: Stratforde atte Bowe and Paris, in Modern Language Review LX, pp39-54 (1985)
  • BAILEY, C-J.N. & MAROLDT, K.: The French Lineage of English, in MEISEL, J.M. (ed): Langues en Contact (pp21-53) (Verlag, Tübingen: 1977)

some anglo-norman links


At 04:08, Blogger Noctis said...

I definitely loved the blog. Really interesting work, great topics. It's hard to find someone that enjoys reading Beowulf now a days.
Best regards from Spain.

At 13:00, Blogger petescully said...

Beowulf is great, you'd be surprised, I had to fight for that one at the library. Thanks for the comment!
More languages to come.


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