The great language change

The French influence on Middle English and the English influence on Modern Dutch

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, French, strictly called Norman French, became the established language and English was no longer in official use. English however, continued to be the spoken language among common people. After three hundred years, English became the official language again; it was taught at schools again and the king, Henry VI, had English as mother tongue. The Old English language had changed greatly and a huge amount of French loan words had become part of the Middle English vocabulary. Some French words replaced the Old English ones entirely and other words co-existed. In present times, a similar event is happening to the Modern Dutch language: English words are used more frequently in Dutch and become part of the vernacular. The foreign influence on Middle English and Modern Dutch vocabulary is caused by direct contact, the necessity of loanwords, and the superior status of the foreign language.

        Direct contact with a foreign language is one of the main reasons for the influence on the vocabulary of the vernacular. In the medieval period, three languages were spoken in England: English, French and Latin. Since these languages existed side by side, it is only natural that words and idioms were borrowed from each other. "But English was the chief 'borrower', partly because it was for long the language of least prestige, and partly because, as it came to share and eventually take over the functions of French and later of Latin, it took over their vocabulary" (Burrow and Turville-Petre 18). In the Modern Dutch society, people encounter the English language on a regular basis. An abundance of people listens to English music, play English computer games, watch television programs or films that are subtitled and without post-synchronization and English lessons are mandatory in schools. On vacation to countries, with a different vernacular than English, it is often used as lingua franca. Additionally, in both cases the language is seen as privileged and believed to be necessary. "Englishmen must learn to speak, and ever more emphatically, to read and write French [and Dutchmen need to learn English], since this was to become the language of all official business" (Blake et al. 426).

        Necessities for words leaded to foreign loanwords to be adopted into the vocabulary. After French became the official language of the class in England, it is not a surprise that "many words hav[e] to do with government and administration, lay and spiritual, are of French origin" (Pyles 324). Since the lower classes cooked the food of the Norman aristocracy, the English words for the animals stayed, but the name of it when cooked changed. The loanwords of the French cuisine have made it permanently into the language. "[N]ot only [names] to various animals when served up as food at Norman tables - beef, pork, veal , and mutton ... but also to the culinary processes by which the British [animals] ... were prepared for human consumption, for instance boil, broil, fry, stew, and roast" (Pyles 325) . In Modern Dutch, after the new technical revolution, Dutch adapted most of the English words in that area. After the invention of the computer and the Internet, loanwords such as 'computer', 'online', 'e-mail', and 'spam' came into the language. The Dutch tend to create their own words out of the English ones such as the words 'computeren', 'spammen' and 'e-mailen' since the verb ending in 'en' it is a Dutchism and this does not happen in the English language. In addition, words such as airbag, cruise control, air-conditioning and barbecue made its way into the vernacular.

        The superior status of a language plays an enormous part in the appeal of the foreign tongue; this superiority is sometimes seen as a threat. After the Norman Conquest, French was seen as a prestige language since it was the language of the court. Englishmen, who wanted to gain entry to the upper class, had to learn French if not they were treated as inferior. "The French language occupies a position of social esteem and holds the key to advancement: it is therefore consciously and deliberately learned by those who wish to rise in the world" (Blake et al. 424). After the Second World War, the American lifestyle made its way to Europe, bringing its fast food chains, music and literature to become an example for the Europeans. English became the world language since America was the world power and all international business was conducted in English. Furthermore, almost all English loanwords in Dutch have a Dutch translation; however, when using an English word it makes the word or action sound superior. Per example, the Dutch word 'prijs' or 'onderscheiding' does not sound nearly as powerful as the word 'award' which is now a frequent used word in The Netherlands. This usage of English words is called 'Anglomania' (Grezel 51). The fear that Dutch will cease to exist is a daily topic, people are afraid that English will completely overthrow the language. This dread also existed in the medieval period in England. According to Kees de Bot, is English not a threat to Dutch, only that English is a useful language that is needed for a career, but also for private use. The languages play a different part in society, but do not interfere with each other and it is possible for both languages to co-exist in The Netherlands for a long time (De Caluwe et al. 191).

        To conclude, the French influence on Middle English was a great one. Many new words, borrowed from Norman French, became part of the Middle English vocabulary and changed the language forever. Currently, English is changing the Dutch language because of its superior status, the same status French had in the Middle Ages. French was the language that was needed to achieve something in England and now English is a world language and therefore necessary for international success. Languages change all the time and the fear of losing the language is unnecessary since other languages can only enrich the vocabulary.

Works Consulted

  • Blake, Norman, et al. The Cambridge History of the English Language, volume II 1066-1446. Cambridge: University Press, 1992.
  • Burrow, John A., and Thorlac Turvill-Petre. A Book of Middle English. Blackwell publishers, 1996.
  • De Caluwe, Johan, et al. Taalvariatie & Taalbeleid. Antwerpen/Apeldoorn: Garant, 2002.
  • Grezel, Jan Erik. "Kleine taalorganisaties tegen het Engels." Onze Taal. 2007 2/3. 8 March 2010. < Kleinetaalorganisaties.pdf
  • Janssens, Guy, and Ann marynissen. Het Nederlands vroeger er nu. Leuven: Acco, 2003.
  • Pyles, Thomas. The Origins and Development of the English Language. Second edition. New York: Harbourt Brace Jovanoich Inc, 1971.

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