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How the Battle of Hastings Changed the English Language

The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is a magnificent piece of artwork and has attracted the attention of audiences and historians for centuries. It depicts a large amount of Norman and Saxon history by its sheer size.

It is 70 metres (230 ft) long and only 20" high. With modern preservation, it has stood the test of time and the entire tapestry has been preserved. Through illustration and words, it tells the incredible story and events leading up to and during the Battle of Hastings.

Of course, the events are all told from the Norman point of view. The conquerers always write history. The tapestry is a tribute to William the Conquerer and his successful invasion of England.

Although it is called a tapestry, it is actually embroidery, not a woven tapestry. Little is known about the tapestry's history, such as who commissioned it, who designed it and who embroidered it.

Today, the Bayeux tapestry is displayed in the nave of the Bayeux Cathedral in Bayeux, France.

William the Conquerer (1028-1087)

When I was in high school and took a course called Language Study, I learned about my own native language, English, and how it originated and was influenced by other foreign languages. I learned how my own language evolved to what it is today.

This same lesson was followed up in college when I studied linguistics of the English language. There were many influences on English that came from outside the English language, but none were as influential as the one event that forever influenced the English language.

Among the dates and different eras of the English language was one date and event that was never to be forgotten and that was 'pounded into our heads,' and that was the Battle of Hastings (England) in the year 1066.

This one event forever changed the culture and language of England.

Up until the Battle of Hastings, England was under the rule of Anglo-Saxon kings. England had endured invasions by Germans, Romans, Celts, and Vikings. The English language at that time had become an amalgam of all the languages of these people.

By 1066, England was under the rule of Anglo-Saxon Harold Godwinson, Harold II of England, but William, Duke of Normandy (France) disputed Harold's claim to the throne asserting he had been promised the throne of England by the previous king, Edward the Confessor.

When Harold refused to give up the English throne, William put together a huge army and the Normandy invasion of England began. At the Battle of Hastings (Senlac Hill, only seven miles from Hastings, England) in southern England, Harold II was killed, legend has it, by an arrow through his eye, and William became known down through history as William the Conquerer and then King William I of England.

This Norman invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings (1066) was the single historical event that had the greatest impact on our English language.

William and his followers spoke Norman French from the northern Normandy area of France just across the English Channel from England. (Yes, of the Normandy beaches during WWII)

The Norman conquerors spoke Old French, a dialect that was Latin based and known as a Romance language, while English was a Germanic language.

As a result of William ascending to the throne of England, approximately 10,000 new French and Latin words entered the English language. For example, French words such as pharmacy, library and marriage became part of the English language.

Other French words that changed English forever are action, adventure, courage, siege, soldier, and spy. The Norman invasion of England led to a remarkable coexistence of two distinct languages, French and English. No other foreign language has made such an impact on English than French.

William I, now the King of England, worked quickly to take away the land holdings from the Anglo-Saxons and put them under Norman rule. His nobles quickly became the landholders in England as the Anglo-Saxons were subjugated to William's rule and became the tenants to their Norman conquerors.

William and his Norman followers looked upon the Anglo-Saxons as social inferiors and, therefore, French became the language of the upper class and of the royal court and Anglo-Saxon English became the language of the lower class and peasants. This remained so for nearly three hundred years and, therefore, Norman French had the time to greatly influence the English language as a whole.

Norman French replaced the vernacular English at court and Latin became the official language of government administration, further distancing the Anglo-Saxons from the royal court and high office. William himself never learned English and spoke Norman French until his death. And French remained the official language of English law courts until 1731.

Heavy social pressure made it essential for a man to speak Norman French if he wanted to succeed and move up in social circles. English was no longer the language of record in William's court, but it remained the native language of the common man.

By the 14th century when Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales, more than half of the English vocabulary consisted of Norman French words. And, by the time the period of Middle English came to a close (1450) Norman French and Anglo-Saxon had merged into a single linguistic form.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales in vernacular English so it would appeal to the common man and he is considered the 'father of the English language' and the creator of English as a literary language in the 14th century.

The more numerous Anglo-Saxon speakers triumphed over the Norman French speakers who came to adopt English in place of French.

No other European language has a vocabulary as mixed as English and the English of Shakespeare's day contained a tremendous number of Norman French words.

During this time, English lost its Nordic, German and Dutch direct influence as French had the greater influence. Marriages to French princesses had reinforced the French status in the royal courts, but during the 13th-century intermarriages with the English population became more frequent.

Borrowed words from French infused into the English language. (Irish / English / Norman French.)

Borrowed words from French infused into the English language. (Irish / English / Norman French.)

As time moved on, French became progressively a second language among the upper classes and with the Hundred Year's War a growing spirit of English nationalism emerged and the status of Norman French went out of style.

French was the mother tongue of the English king, Henry IV (1399-1413), but he was the first English king to take his oath in English. His son, Henry V (1413-1422) was the first English king to write in English.

By the 15th century, English became the official language of Parliament and of legislation, about a half-century after English became the language of kings and most of the English upper classes.

Brown University's linguistic researchers and historians have researched the influence of Norman French on English. To check the French influence they ran one million words from modern English texts on all sorts of topics through a computer and found these texts contained approximately 50,000 different words and over half were borrowed from Norman French. Every one of the one hundred most common words were Anglo-Saxon, thus the core of the English language vocabulary has remained Germanic.

Norman French Influence

Norman French, also known as the Anglo-Norman language, was one French dialect from a wide range of northern French dialects in France. From all these French dialects an amalgam developed into the unique insular dialect known as Norman French or Anglo-Norman.

Norman French originally developed from the central Gallo-Romance dialects and would eventually become Parisian French in France in terms of grammar punctuation and vocabulary. Therefore, the Middle English era was also heavily influenced by Norman French.

This is the French that William brought to England and which influenced the English language. Because French was the language of the royal courts, the borrowings in English became the more sophisticated and elegant terms of use.

While Saxon names were used for the animals the Saxon peasants tended: oxen, calves, swine, and sheep, once on the Norman's dinner table the names used were French: beef, veal, pork and mutton.

Norman French added a richness to the English language it did not have before the invasion. These French vocabulary terms became part of the English language. English came to have a uniqueness that French and other European languages did not have.

This gave English one thing other languages did not have and that is synonyms or words with the same meaning yet having a different shade of nuance or emphasis. For example, we have a slight difference between the words fatherly and paternal in our English language today.

Partial genealogical tree of England's kings.  Every monarch after William I, including Queen Elizabeth II, claim heritage to William the Conquerer.

Partial genealogical tree of England's kings. Every monarch after William I, including Queen Elizabeth II, claim heritage to William the Conquerer.

Only in English can we make such fine distinctions between words like asking, questioning and interrogating. We can express three or four shades of meaning with words like rise, mount or ascend.

French has given English rich and sophisticated words such as melody, music, painting, lieutenant, captain, communion, temptation, and salvation.

Humble Anglo-Saxon traders and laborers retained their Anglo-Saxon names like baker, miller, and shoemaker and the more skilled and professional trades took the French names like physician, painter, and tailor.

Before William the Conquerer, the English word for people was "leod" and the word for beautiful was "wlitg". Once the French invaded the English native words were exchanged by the more melodious French. Today, we admire "beautiful people" instead of "wlitg leods."

Concepts associated with culture, fine living and abstract learning tended to be described in Norman French while literal meanings were described in Anglo-Saxon English. For example: deer, venison; sweat, perspire and Anglo-Saxon: work, hard and Norman French: leisure, profit.

Entire vocabularies were borrowed from Norman French:

  • governmental - count, heraldry, fine, noble, parliament
  • military - battle, ally, alliance, admiral, navy, gallant, march, enemy, escape, peace, war, guerrilla
  • judicial - judge, jury, plaintiff, justice, court, defendant, murder, felony, petty, attorney, marriage
  • ecclesiastical - clergy, altar, miracle, preach, pray, sermon, saint
  • cuisine - sauce, boil, filet, soup, pastry, fry, roast, toast

Anglo-Saxon and Norman French over the years became more blended and with many modern doublet phrases, sayings and phrases that have an Anglo-Saxon word alongside a synonymous French word: law and order, lord and master, love and cherish, ways and means.

English grammar has been influenced by Norman French. English has borrowed prefixes from Norman French and Latin: pre, pro, dis, re, anti, inter are just a few examples

Some French suffixes English has borrowed: -or, -er, -tion, -ment, -ee, -able.

Middle English: Heavily Influenced by Norman French

EnglishNorman FrenchParisian French































The Vagaries of English – Dave Allen

Modern English

Modern English was considered to have begun by the time of Shakespeare and through to the present. It is generally accepted by historians and linguists that the Middle English period came to a close by about 1450. By this time the Norman and Anglo-Saxon languages had merged into a single linguistic form. An enormous number of Norman French words had come into the English language and about three-fourths of them are still in use today.

When the Normans arrived in England, French scribes and copyists wrote English as they heard it not realizing the peculiarities of Anglo-Saxon English in pronunciation and spelling, and so as a result of the Norman conquest, English spelling went through a change also. We retain many of those spellings today.

Interestingly, Norman French borrowings into English haven't changed in pronunciation for 800 years, but modern French pronunciation has. Today, our English vocabulary has 200,000 common usage words while modern French has a mere 100,000.

Researchers, historians and linguists today have chartered English as an Indo-European language from the Germanic branch of languages. So, today we know the English language has been altered with French Norman influences instead of just Germanic ones. No other European language has a vocabulary as mixed as English.

Since the core of English vocabulary has remained Germanic we have many pithy sayings and statements that date back to Anglo-Saxon English:

  • The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
  • With this ring, I thee wed
  • To have and to hold
  • From this day forward
  • For better or for worse
  • In sickness and in health
  • Thank God
  • I love you

These Anglo-Saxon words have the strength and depth to convey these messages.

Our modern English language is spoken by 300 million people today. Fortunately, the Normans didn't change everything even if the Anglo-Saxon ruling class was submerged. English did finally triumph over Norman French in England but it took almost 300 years.

Much of English's richness and scope comes from its dual inheritance as seen and heard in Shakespeare's sonnet: "Shall I compare these to a summer's day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate."

And, don't forget that Shakespeare coined many words and phrases that are English and have made their way into our language today.

While good, old William the Conqueror brought his Norman French to England and even refused to learn English himself, the Anglo-Saxon English did survive the invasion and remained, albeit with many French borrowings, the native tongue of England.

And, I have never forgotten the year, 1066, or the Battle of Hastings.

Below is a video about Norman French influencing English starting in 1066. It is narrated by renowned journalist Robin MacNeil. To get to the part when the Norman invasion begins in the first video jump it ahead to 7 minutes 35 seconds. There is a second part available on YouTube that begins where the first video leaves off. I highly recommend viewing these for additional information on the subject.

Norman Invasion Brought French Vocabulary to English

Sources and Further Reading

William the Conquerer's burial site in Caen, Normandy, France.

William the Conquerer's burial site in Caen, Normandy, France.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Suzette Walker


Glen De Lough on September 21, 2020:

Great Paper.

I have a real interest in the development of the English language and this will add to my study.

I have another fascination with Medieval Genealogy and the chart below fills in a couple of gaps for me. Neat arrangement.

zoetropo on February 11, 2019:

English is our mother tongue. Language is taught by women. English supplanted Brythonic because English-speaking women taught the children, generation after generation. This isn’t a story of macho conquest, but of maids and nurses. Ancient DNA from Cambridgeshire reveals family graves in which the wealthy women were Britons and their servants were Angles. Like the upper class women of our recent past, the mothers were too busy bearing babies and managing households to raise and educate their own children: that was left to a maid or governess.

Some British men may have taken English wives, as the legendary Vortigern’s marriage to Rowena exemplifies.

In Brittany, the danger that non-British speaking women posed to the British language was taken so seriously, according to one brutal account, that the women’s tongues were removed.

In the lists of the early English kings, we find names such as Cerdic and Penda, which are British, not Germanic. Nothing is said of where Cerdic came from, only where he landed, in Hampshire. A contemporary of Cerdic’s was Budic of Brittany, a much more likely place of origin of someone with the name Cerdic than anywhere else on the Continent, and Bretons often landed in Hampshire due to the directions of the Channel currents.

English retains some Brythonic words. Two are the first words an English baby speaks: Mum and Dad. Others include eight, days, wild, throng, gull, mare, iron, yoke, rock, wall, ooze, wan, gammy, crag, tor, tweed, cam. Of course there are many Brythonic surnames such as Goff, Duff and Brock. Mr Bean’s name is Cornish.

The Oxford English Dictionary is an unreliable source for some etymologies as the Oxford scholars have a yen for shoehorning words into a putative Germanic origin, even if the only evidence they have is a homophone of very different meaning. If they cannot even do that, but the word is present in a Celtic language, they will most often throw up their hands and declare the word’s provenance to be “unknown”.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 27, 2016:

Yes, the English language comes from many different influences. The Norman invasion had the most influence however. The English court only spoke French over a great time period and so English "borrowed" many words from the Crench language.

Nick Bishop on March 24, 2016:

Well there was a dominant Anglo - Saxon culture and language and how many Anglo - Saxons which is a word collectively meaning Saxons, Angles, Jutes came is open to question. Some say it was a mass migration which drove out the Celts enmass or just a individuals who came as a ruling aristocracy and the Celts and whoever else was in Britain at that time just became Anglocised as it were.

If the Germanic invaders came as an all encompassing group with thousands of people then it is easy to see why they would overwhelm the native Brits or least they outbred the natives much like the European settlers in the Americas.

If they came over as a ruling minority aristocracy then they must have had considerable power and force to subjugate the Romanised Brits and others so they would adopt Anglo - Saxon ways like culture and language.

Nick Bishop on March 24, 2016:

The Normans or Scandinavian French men were a minority ruling some 2 million Saxons and so in a round about way the Saxon language though changed is still here as are we their descendents.

Nick Bishop on March 23, 2016:

The Normans were actually descendents of Vikings and many Scandinavian words crept into the the Norman French vocabulary.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 03, 2015:

Audrey: Thank you so much for stopping by and reading this. Yes, the English language is an amalgam of so many borrowed words from so many different languages.

Audrey Howitt from California on April 02, 2015:

Loved, loved this hub--English is such a combination of languages really--

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on February 21, 2015:

MizBejabbers: Thanks for stopping by and reading this. Yes, English has borrowed words from an array of other languages and the language itself is a 'melting pot.' Of course, its base is Germanic from both the Germans and Anglo-Saxons, but Latin and French are great contributors to English. So glad you enjoyed this and thank you for your insightful comments.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on February 20, 2015:

Ah ha, so that is why we study Latin despite English having a Germanic base. Also it may explain why English is so versatile to add new words, unlike German that tacks on words to words, like Volkswagen. It was explained to my husband, who got a degree in computer engineering in Japan back in the 1960s that their classes were in English because Japanese had no way of adding the technical terms to their language. He had to learn Japanese for his non-computer classes. What it doesn't explain, though, is why is French so hard to pronounce by Southerners like me (and my mother's family is of French descent). LOL Anyway, very educational. Voted up++

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 19, 2015:

Dip Mtra: Thank you so much for reading this and I am glad you enjoyed it.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 19, 2015:

ologsinquito: Thank you so much for stopping by to read this. I am pleased you enjoyed it. Yes, he was made a saint after his death but was a very important king of England. We have him to thank for our language.

Dip Mtra from World Citizen on January 18, 2015:

Great hub Suzette. Voted up.

ologsinquito from USA on January 18, 2015:

I didn't know Saint Edward the Confessor was an English king. In fact, I didn't know much about him, and this prompted me to do a little reading. Very interesting article.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 29, 2014:

toknowinfo: Thank you so much for reading this and I am pleased you found it interesting. Some of these 'old guys' were really interesting and lead interesting lives. Although, I glad I missed the 'dark ages,' and all this fighting. I like all my conveniences. LOL!

toknowinfo on October 29, 2014:

This is a great hub, so interesting and full of info. Thank so much for sharing this.. i really learned a lot.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 28, 2014:

Hi Mike: Thanks so much for your interest and comments. I am pleased you enjoyed this and found it informative. Yes, starting in high school and through college, 1066 was an important year. I remember in by western culture class that we even had to learn the military positions each side took and how they each fought the battle. I thought that was a bit much to have to know! Thanks again for your visit.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on October 28, 2014:

Hello suzette. This post makes me almost go back to my high school days and actually learn something. Amazing how the French have influenced the English language and the United States as well.

Your knowledge based posts are well done and interesting. You must have been a heck of a good teacher.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 27, 2014:

Natashalh: Thank you so much for reading this and I am pleased you enjoyed it. I got a kick out of the sheep/mutton vocab words also. French certainly gave us more elegant words. Swine/pork is another one that makes me chuckle. Languages and how they change are so interesting to me. Thanks for your visit.

Natasha from Hawaii on October 27, 2014:

Fascinating! I've always thought it was interesting how English has different words for essentially the same thing based on whether it's at table or in the barnyard like "sheep" vs the French-derived "mutton." I hadn't thought about a few of the words you mentioned and connected them to French, and I really enjoyed the chart!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 27, 2014:

tillsontitan: Yes, as students it was impressed upon us the importance of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. I managed to learn that lesson quite well! I have always found this period in history so interesting and the English monarchy has been ruled by so many kings and queens from foreign land. Even Queen Elizabeth II, today, is German rather than English, and Prince Phillip's hereditary is from Greece and Denmark. So England is an amalgam of everything! LOL! Thanks so much for your visit and I appreciated your comments.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 27, 2014:

bdegiulio: Yes, I read your hub on that daring bed and breakfast you stayed in in Bayeux. Then I started researching for this hub and was amazed to hear what the tapestry was all about. Yes, from what I was able to find, the research says it is hanging in the cathedral, but thanks for telling me it has been moved to its own museum. It certainly is important enough to have its own museum. I find it wonderful that such a historical marker has survived all intact. Thanks so much for your visit and I appreciate your insightful comments.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 27, 2014:

Hi Nell, and thank you so much for your kind comments. I enjoyed writing this hub because I have always been interested in the English language and in words in general. Words are why we all write and we use those words to convey the stories and messages we want to tell. One thing about the English language is we are the only language with a thesaurus; we have great synonyms to choose from for write those stories. Yes, you are certainly correct. King Harold was up in Northumbria fighting off the Vikings and had to rush down to southern England to then defend that shore. Thank goodness we all aren't speaking Danish! LOL! And, if Harold hadn't been killed, William might not have been successful in his quest for the English throne either. And, then, of course, the victors write the history. I, too, am glad English prevailed and it had to because the majority of the people in England spoke English. It took a long while, but English also prevailed in royal court. I have always loved the English language and English literature courses and I was an English lit. major in college. England has such a rich history and literature. And, like most Americans, I have such an interest in the British monarchy. Thanks so much for reading this, Nell and for your insightful comments. Most appreciated.

Mary Craig from New York on October 27, 2014:

Very interesting. For those of us not as knowledgeable about 1066 and the results on the English language this was an eye opener. Just enough information to inform us and not enough to bore us! Well done.

Voted useful, and interesting for some reason I can't vote up.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on October 26, 2014:

Hi Suzette. Very interesting. I just returned from France and actually saw the Bayeux Tapestry. It's an amazing piece of history. We spent a few days in Bayeux touring the Normandy WWII sites and Bayeux. One correction if I may, the Bayeux Tapestry has been moved from the Cathderal to it's own museum a few blocks away. It was moved fairly recently so many people may not be aware.

We really enjoyed getting the chance to see it and to hear the story of the Battle of Hastings. Well done.

Nell Rose from England on October 26, 2014:

Nicely done Suzette! This is fascinating reading, and should be HOTD! I recommend it! lol! yes a lot of our words are french, but as you say we conquered the language in the end. Of course the French would not have won at the battle of hastings if we hadn't had to run up to the north of england at the same time to try to defeat the darn vikings at the same time! we would have pushed the french back to france! our troops were so divided we didn't have enough of them to win fighting to wars at the same time, but can you imagine our language if they hadn't stayed? um, now that would be interesting! great hub! voted up and shared, nell

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 26, 2014:

Vellur: Thank you so much for your comments and I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this, especially being from Dubai. I bet the language(s) there are interesting in their own right too. I appreciate your visit.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 26, 2014:

vocalcoach: Thank you so much for reading this. The English language has always been fascinating to me too. "There is nothing to fear by fear itself" did come straight from FDR, but the particular words are Anglo-Saxon and not from Norman French. That is what I meant in the article. All those phrases are considered Anglo-Saxon. Literal meanings and getting right down to meanings usually are historically Anglo-Saxon and the pretty elegant way of saying things are more from the French. Thank you so much for your kind comments and I have enjoyed your visit.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on October 26, 2014:

It is interesting to note how words in English has changed over a period of time through the influence of different origins of French. Interesting and educational, learned a lot after reading your hub. Great hub, voted up.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on October 25, 2014:

The study of the English language has always fascinated me. But I've never enjoyed the history of the language until now. You've presented a marvelous historic event here. And all this time I thought the quote "There is nothing to fear but fear itself", came straight from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. :)

You are a wonderful teacher. Voted Up, Useful, Awesome, Interesting and will share.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 24, 2014:

Nadine: Thank you so much for your comments and I am pleased you found this informative. I love Language Study and I think the English language is the most interesting of the languages out there, but I guess I'm a bit prejudiced. LOL! I always learn something from your interesting articles, also, so I love reading your hubs. They always make me think. Thanks so much for taking the time to visit and read this. Much appreciated.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on October 23, 2014:

Gosh again I learned more by reading other hubs, in this case the history of the English Language. Thank you!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 23, 2014:

alan: Yes, I see you are from the UK, so this is your territory. I am writing it from a linguistic point of view. I do know some of these historical specifics but I didn't include all in my article because I would probably bore my readers to death. Yes, I give a brief overview, but my readers get the drift about the Norman French of the conquerers and the Anglo-Saxon English both merging into an interesting linguistic language in only about 300 years. That is a nano-second in all of history. The French added a richness and sophistication to English that it did not have before the Norman invasion. I have enjoyed reading your comments, and I hope you enjoyed reading my article. The names of you and your family are very interesting. I am Suzannah (actually Hebrew, but also English) by birth and my nickname is Suzette (French). Yet, I am a German/Italian Roman Catholic. LOL! So a mixed bag of stew. Thanks so much for your visit and comments.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 23, 2014:

Bruce: What interesting comments you make. I agree the 300 million figure seems low but I attribute it to only where English is the first language. I love how you explain all this. English is the only language with a thesaurus. LOL! You are right about that and I never thought about it in those terms. What you say about the Anglo-Saxon word and Latin word is true. Then the French word adds elegance and sophistication to the language. I do love language study and find it so fascinating. Thanks so much for our interest and I am pleased you enjoyed this. Thanks again for your visit.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on October 23, 2014:

Hello Suzette. My two daughters are Joanne and Suzanne, my son is Robert, my wife's given name is Iris (although she uses her middle name Kath) and I have the Breton name Alan with Robert as my middle name from my Dad. Interestingly his Dad was very English, Alfred Stanley.

You've got a fairly simplified version of events here that's handy for outsiders to 'gain a foothold' on the English mountain.

In the years after Duke William became King William and his sons came and went, the Norman barons and aristocracy kept their Norman-Frankish (the Franks were another Germanic people who latinised their native tongue). After a while, when they went to Normandy to visit their cousins, they were mocked for their archaic use of the Frankish/French tongue. They decided to go the whole hog and 'turn English'. After all they'd probably learnt Aenglisc (English) from their whet nurses at their apron strings, their whet nurses would have had their kin around them, speaking Aenglisc, and by the time of Geoffrey (originally Geoffroi) Chaucer knew better Aenglisc than Norman French. It was only natural that Frankish words entered their vocabulary and graduated downward through the pecking order.

Building and cooking terminology and some legal terminology was Frankish, medicine Latin and mathematics Greek/Arab, but property ownership is Danish ('frihold', 'steading', 'toft', 'garth'), the 'bricks and mortar' (grammar) has come down to us almost unsullied from Aenglisc. Very few place names changed, although a few had Frankish 'monikers' added, like 'Theydon Bois' in north-western Essex, 'Acaster Malbis' near York and 'The Duchy of Lancaster', the 'duke' being the queen.

We have these ruined abbeys all over the place with names like 'Fountains', 'Rievaulx' and 'Grace' in North Yorkshire, places that grew 'organically' around castles such as Richmond (my namesake Alan 'Fergant' from Brittany built that one).

Identity crises? We're past that. Our most celebrated general in WWII, Bernard Montgomery, traced his ancestors back to 1066, on William's side of the divide. His immediate superior? Harold Alexander, Earl of Tunis.

The British Empire? That's been traced back to the grasping Normans, Angevins and Plantagenets.

Diplomacy? That was in Harold's court, he offered the opposition the option of opting out. The last two didn't take the option, one was Harald Sigurdsson, the other Duke William.

Bruce Deitrick Price from Virginia Beach, Va. on October 23, 2014:

An excellent article that everyone should read. But I do suspect the 300 million figure is low. English is the first or second language in more than 20 countries around the world, including much of India, I believe.

Here is how I've been telling people the salient points for years. English is the only language with a thesaurus. English has a short aggressive word for everything (from Anglo-Saxon) and a long important-sounding word for everything (from Latin). Make/manufacture is a typical example.

Also, we have an inheritance from Latin that is more direct than many people think. Google "3: Latin Lives On" for a list of 333 common words that are letter for letter identical.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 23, 2014:

Thanks, Eric, and I am pleased you enjoyed reading this.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 23, 2014:

A wonderful job on a very interesting subject. Something tells me that Norman French is/was less nasal than the lower portion of what is now France. And I wonder how on the grand scale Cockney fits in. Great stuff here thank you.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 23, 2014:

Kim: Thank you so much for your lovely comments. This Norman invasion did change our English spellings forever and it is why it is so difficult to spell in English. I have come to rely so much on Spell Check here on the computer that I am forgetting my spelling rules. LOL! As you know, Kim I am one of your biggest fans of your poetry. In fact, you and Audrey Howitt, in my opinion, are the two best poets here on HP. Thanks again and I appreciate your comments.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 23, 2014:

Bill: I think 1066 and 1976 are imprinted on our brains forever. Thanks so much for your comments and for your interest in reading this.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 23, 2014:

Jackie: Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I truly appreciate them. I know, the emergence of French words into English does make us examine our language more. Thanks so much for your visit, as always.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 23, 2014:

chef: Thank you so much for your kind comments. I know, how could those French invade England! The nerve of them. Norman French did make English a better language and I am glad the Anglo-Saxon Germanic remained the core of the language and finally over took Norman French. We are able to make finer distinctions with our English, so it did make the language better. Until researching this i had never heard or seen David Allan before - he is hilarious, and I enjoyed his performance so much. Thanks again for your interest and comments. Most appreciated.

ocfireflies from North Carolina on October 23, 2014:


I wish you had been my teacher when I took the "History of the English Language" for you present it so one can understand all of those nuances.

Unfortunately, these historical applications have created many "exceptions to the spelling rules" which can wreak havoc for lots of early learners.

As always, a wonderful hub presented professionally and offering interesting and valuable information.

It probably goes without saying, but as one of your biggest fans, I will V-up and Share.

Thou art the best : )


Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 23, 2014:

This is one of those historical events that I think most people learned about in school...kind of like the American Revolution, but possibly with bigger consequences. Nice summary of a mammoth event in world history.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on October 23, 2014:

So very interesting!! You will have me examining words for awhile now. Things we would just never give thought to but for your great research. Thanks so much. ^+

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on October 23, 2014:

Well done suzette. I too have this date imprinted in my brain. To think, being invaded by the French! How embarrassing, outrageous and unthinkable. But in the kind light of history it has to be admitted that our language did take a huge hit - for the better - because of this invasion and take over.

A great article, with Dave Allan as a bonus.

Voted up and shared.