The French Influence on English Language

The French Influence on English Language

The Influence of French on English Language


After the victory in the Norman Conquest (1066) the French became the masters of England. The new conditions brought about by the Norman Conquest, however, opened the door for a great and abundant influx of foreign words. The knowledge of French gave access not only to the rich literature of the continent but also to the high administrative positions.

French Influence in the Middle Ages

The Normans left intact the two old words king and queen, but gave to English nearly all words relating to government and to the highest administration. Examples of these words are crown, state, government, reign, realm, sovereign, minister, chancellor, power, country, authority, parliament, Council, counsel, people, nation etc.

Feudalism was introduced into England by the Normans, and along with it there came such feudal words as feudal, fief, vassal liege, prince, peer, duke, duchess, baron, count, countess, viscount. But surprisingly enough, the English words lord and lady continued to exist with honour.

The French upper classes took into their hands the management of military affairs with the result that a host of military words came from France. Some of these military words are war, Peace, arms, armour: lance, banner, ensign, assault, siege, soldier officer, Sergeant, lieutenant, navy, admiral, troops etc.

The Normans also greatly influenced the English law which was naturally in their hands. Consequently many law terms now in use in England are of Norman-French origin, such as justice, judge. Jury, court, suit, sue plaintiff, defendant, plea, plead, to Summon, session, attorney, crime, felony, traitor, damages, property, exile, penalty, prison, bill, act, tax etc.

Like the law the religion, specially its higher offices, was controlled by The Norman rulers. The consequence was that the following religious terms found their way into English: religion, saviour, trinity, angel, clergy parish, abbey, friar, saint, sacrifice, altar, prayer, sermon, homily, virgin, service, baptism, miracle, preach, pray etc. Words like rule, lesson, save, tempt, flame, order, nature etc. which are now secular words came from French as purely religious words.

The French also introduced the whole gamut of words pertaining to moral ideas from virtue to vice: duty, conscience, grace, charity, cruel, chaste, covet, desire, lecher, jealous, pity, discipline, mercy and others.

Beside these words belonging to the special spheres, there were introduced many words which are of general meaning and which throw a flood of light on the reciprocal relations between the Normans and the English. These words are sir, and madam, master, mistress, with their contrast servant; command, obey, order rich, poor, money, interest, cash, rent etc.

The living animalsox, sheep, calf, swine, deer-continued to bear their native names, the flesh of those animals as used for food was denoted by French words, beef, mutton, veal, pork, bacon, venison. The point is explained by the fact that the English servants were in charge of the animals when alive, but when killed they were eaten by their French masters. The similar significance perhaps informs such words as butler, buttery, bottle, dinner, banquet, feasts roast, toast, pasty, soup, sausage, jelly etc.

There are a good number of French words which relate to pleasures, enjoyment, pastimes and fashions. Among the words relating to pleasures and enjoyment we note such words as joy, pleasure, delight, ease, comfort, flowers and fruits. The words relating to pastimes are chase, cards, dice and many words. The French words relating to fashions are apparel, dress, costume, garment, tailor, mason, furniture, table, chair, carpenter etc.

Many words relating to art and architecture were taken from French, e.g., art, beauty, colour, design, arch, tower, pillar, vault, choir, chapel, palace, mansion, and castle.

French influence in the 17th Century

The accession of Charles II, who had long lived at the French court, on the English throne in 1660, intensified the French influence on English, because it ushered a period of exceptionally close contact between the English and the French in matters of literature and social intercourse. French words borrowed during this time (i.e. 17th century) are dragoon, parole, reprimand, ballet, burlesque, chagrin champagne, coquette, liaison, par excellence, naive, rapport, forte, muslin, soup, group, penchant etc.

French influence in the 18th Century

The eighteenth century was again rich in French loan-words of all kinds including military terms. The following is the list of the French words adopted in the 18th century: guillotine régimé, corps, manoeuvre, espionage, depot, fusillade, salon, bureau, canteen, critique, coterie, nuance, belles-letters, brochure, picnic, etiquette, ennui, police, coup.

Literature and art: resumé, littérateur, cliché, Renaissance, baton, matinée, motif, macabre etc.

Food: restaurant, menu, chef, sauté, fondant, gratin etc.

Diplomatic: attaché, prestige, impasse, chargé dè affairs, débácle, raison dêtre, rapprochement etc.

Dress: rosette, fichu, profile, crépe, néglige, beret, etc.

French influence in the 20th Century

The process of borrowings from French has continued even in the 20th century. The two World Wars in which England and France were allies have helped much the process of French borrowings in the present century. Among the 20th century borrowings we may mention such words as garage, vers libre, fuselage, hangar, limousine, and camouflage etc.

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Thus, starting with Norman period, the French culture and manner, society and values continued to cast charm on English minds throughout 17th, 18th, 19th, 2oth century and event the later ages to come.

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