Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Effect Of Latin On The English Language: Part 3

Over the past two days we've covered the Roman invasion and occupation of Great Britain, as well as the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings. Today we'll be looking at the end of one era and the beginning of perhaps the most important era in Latin's influence over the English language, the arrival of the Normans in 1066.

The death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings,
depicted here on the Bayeux Tapestry.
Harold, the king of England at the time, had no heir. This led the Duke of Normandy, William, to assume that he was the rightful heir to the English throne. As was the procedure at the time, the two fought one another, but only after Harold had fought a bloody battle a few days previous in northern England.

The obvious winner of the battle was William, who later was known as William the Conqueror, since conquering seemed to be his lot in life. Though not without a few years of rebellion, William eventually established himself as king a mere six years later in 1072.

Here begins one of the most important sections of Latin's effect on the English language. Though the Latin language had failed to garner much support during the Roman occupation, under William's rule the language of official documents was changed from Old English to Latin, thus beginning English's love affair with Latin in a legal and administrative capacity.

William the Conqueror.
Anglo-Norman, which was a dialect of Old French, became the norm for the ruling and upper classes in England. The peasants and lower classes, however, continued to use Old English. The effect on the linguistic landscape was profound. A multitude of Old French words, whose origins primarily lay in the Latin language, found their way into the language that was being spoken at the time.

The effects of Anglo-Norman also extended beyond the lexicon, leaving a mark on the naming conventions of the time. The naming of newborns also changed to include significantly more names of Anglo-Norman and French origin.

It is believed that the effect was much less significant amongst lower classes. However, historians believe that many of them would have needed to be bilingual merely to maintain trade, civil, and administrative relations with the upper classes.