Anglo-Norman language

Anglo-Norman language

infobox Language
extinct=contributed to Middle English
The Anglo-Norman language is a term traditionally used to refer to the variety of French used in England and to some extent elsewhere in the British Isles following the Norman conquest in 1066.

When William the Conqueror invaded England, he, his nobles, and many of his followers from Normandy spoke an Oïl language called Norman. Others who came with him would have spoken varieties of the Picard language or western French. This amalgam developed into the unique insular dialect now known as Anglo-Norman, which was commonly used for administrative purposes from the 13th until the 15th century. It is difficult to know very much, of course, about what was actually spoken, and our knowledge is really only of the written language.

Nevertheless it is clear that Anglo-Norman was to a large extent the spoken language of the Norman nobility and was also spoken in the law courts, schools, and universities. Private and commercial correspondence was written in Anglo-Norman from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. Other social classes than just the nobility became keen to learn Anglo-Norman; manuscripts containing materials for instructing non-native speakers still exist, dating from the fourteenth century onwards.

Although English survived and eventually eclipsed Anglo-Norman, the latter had been sufficiently widespread as to permanently affect English lexically. This is why English has lost many original Germanic words which can still be found in German and Dutch. Grammatically, Anglo-Norman had little lasting impact on English, although it is still evident in official and legal terms where the noun and adjective are reversed: "attorney general", "heir apparent", "court martial", "body politic", and so on. [Amended version of: Crystal, David. "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language". Cambridge University Press, 1995.]

Use and development

Among important writers of the Anglo-Norman cultural commonwealth are the Jersey-born poet, Wace, and Marie de France. The literature of the Anglo-Norman period forms the reference point for subsequent literature in the Norman language, especially in the 19th century Norman literary revival and even into the 20th century in the case of André Dupont's "Épopée cotentine". The languages and literatures of the Channel Islands are sometimes referred to as Anglo-Norman, but this usage, derived from the French "îles anglo-normandes", is archaic and can be misleading: the Channel Islanders spoke and still speak a variety of Norman, not Anglo-Norman.

Anglo-Norman remained the main administrative language of England for at least a century after the conquest. In time was gradually displaced by a dialect closer to Parisian French, and it is clear that contact was maintained, so that Anglo-French remained (in at least some respects and at least at some social levels) part of the dialect continuum of French. By the late fifteenth century, however, any Anglo-French had become heavily Anglicised: see Law French. It continued to be known as "Norman French" until the end of the nineteenth century, even though philologically there was nothing Norman about it. [Pollock and Maitland, p. 87 note 3.] Over time, the use of Anglo-French expanded into the fields of law, administration, commerce, and science, in all of which a rich documentary legacy survives, indicative of the vitality and importance of the language.

One notable survival of influence on the political system is the use of certain Anglo-French set phrases in the Parliament of the United Kingdom for some endorsements to bills and the granting of Royal Assent to legislation. [Bennion, Francis. " [ Modern Royal Assent Procedure at Westminister] " (Word document). "New Law Journal". Retrieved on 18 November, 2007.] [cite web|url=|title=Companion to the Standing Orders and guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords|accessdate=2007-11-18|publisher=United Kingdom Parliament] These set phrases include:
*"Soit baille aux Communes" ("Let it be sent to the Commons", on a bill sent by the House of Lords to the House of Commons)
*"A ceste Bille (avecque une amendement/avecque des amendemens) les Communes sont assentus" ("To this Bill (with an amendment/with amendments) the Commons have assented", on a bill passed by the House of Commons and returned to the House of Lords)
*"A cette amendement/ces amendemens les Seigneurs sont assentus" ("To this amendment/these amendments the Lords have assented", on an amended bill returned by the House of Commons to the House of Lords, where the amendments were accepted)
*"Ceste Bille est remise aux Communes avecque une Raison/des Raisons" ("This Bill is returned to the Commons with a reason/with reasons", when the House of Lords disagrees with amendments made by the House of Commons)
*"Le Roy/La Reyne le veult" ("The King/Queen wills it", Royal Assent for a public bill)
*"Le Roy/La Reyne remercie ses bons sujets, accepte leur benevolence et ainsi le veult" ("The King/Queen thanks his/her good subjects, accepts their bounty, and wills it so", Royal Assent for a supply bill)
*"Soit fait comme il est désiré" ("Let it be done as it is desired", Royal Assent for a private bill)
*"Le Roy/La Reyne s'avisera" ("The King/Queen will consider it", if Royal Assent is withheld)

The exact spelling of the formulæ has varied over the years; for example, "s'avisera" has been spelled as "s'uvisera" and "s'advisera", and "Reyne" as "Raine".

Trilingualism in Medieval England

Much of the earliest recorded French is in fact Anglo-Norman. In France, almost nothing was being recorded in the vernacular because Latin was the language of the nobility, education, commerce, and the Church and was thus used for the purpose of records. Latin did not disappear in medieval England; it was certainly still in use by the Church. Anglo-Norman became the language of record in England and also the language of legal proceedings. Latin remained in use for particularly formal documentation, especially documents that would have to be read on the continent, as well as Church records. The vernacular throughout this period remained English, and as time went on, English replaced Anglo-Norman as the native tongue of the nobles, while Anglo-French replaced it as the language of the courts. By the middle of the 13th Century, Anglo-French took on the role of a second language learned by nobles and the urban elite alike for the purpose of official transactions with France.


As a langue d'oïl, Anglo-Norman had developed collaterally to the central Gallo-Romance dialects that would eventually become Parisian French, in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary - it being also important to remember that before the signature of Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts in 1539, French had not been standardised as an official administrative language of the kingdom of France.

Middle English was heavily influenced by both Anglo-Norman and later Anglo-French. Some etymologists have called Anglo-Norman 'the missing link' because many etymological dictionaries seem to ignore the contribution of that language in English.

Anglo-Norman morphology and pronunciation can be deduced from its heritage in English. Mostly this is done in comparison with continental French. English has many doublets as a result of this contrast:
* "warranty - guarantee"
* "warden - guardian"
* "glamour - grammar" (see below)
* "catch - chase" (see below)

Compare also:
*"wage" (Anglo-Norman) - "gage" (French)
*"wait" - "guetter" (French)
* "war" (from AN "werre") - "guerre" (French)
*"wicket" (Anglo-Norman) - "guichet" (French)

The palatalization of velar consonants before front vowel produced different results in Norman to the central langue d'oïl dialects that developed into French. English therefore, for example, has "fashion" from Norman "féchoun" as opposed to Modern French "façon".

The palatalization of velar consonants before /a/ that affected the development of French did not occur in Norman dialects north of the ligne Joret. English has therefore inherited words that retain a velar plosive where French has a fricative:

Other words such as "captain", "kennel", "cattle" and "canvas" exemplify how Norman retained a /k/ from Latin that was not retained in French.

However, Anglo-Norman also acted as a conduit for French words to enter England: for example, "challenge" clearly displays a form of French origin rather than the Norman "calenge".

There were also vowel differences: cf. AN "profound" with PF "profond", "soun" 'sound' - son, "round" - "rond". The former words were pronounced something like 'profoond', 'soond', 'roond' respectively (compare the similarly denasalised vowels of modern Norman), but they later developed their modern pronunciation in English.

Since many words established in Anglo-Norman from French via the intermediary of Norman were not subject to the processes of sound change that continued in parts of the continent, English sometimes preserves earlier pronunciations. For example, 'ch' used to be /IPA|tʃ/ in Medieval French; Modern French has /IPA|ʃ/ but English has preserved the older sound (in words like chamber, chain, chase and exchequer).

Similarly, 'j' had an older /IPA|dʒ/ sound (which it still has in English and some dialects of modern Norman) but has developed into /IPA|ʒ/ in Modern French.

The words "veil" and "leisure" retain the /ei/ (as does modern Norman in "vaile" and "laîsi") that in French has been replaced by /wa:/ "voile", "loisir".

The word "mushroom" preserves a hush sibilant in "mousseron" not recorded in French orthography, as does "cushion" for "coussin". Conversely, the pronunciation of the word "sugar" resembles Norman "chucre" even if the spelling is closer to French "sucre". It is possible that the original sound was an apical sibilant, like the Basque "s", which is halfway between a sibilant and a shibilant. "(Need reference for what constitutes 'closer' in this context.)"

Note the doublets "catch" and "chase", both deriving from Latin "captiare". "Catch" demonstrates the Norman development of the velars, while "chase" is the French equivalent imported with a different meaning. "(Reference please, esp. document that shows Norman evolution of catch.)"

Distinctions in meaning between Anglo-Norman and French have led to many "faux amis" (words having similar form but different meanings) in Modern English and Modern French.

An interesting question arises when one considers English vocabulary of Germanic, and specifically Scandinavian, origin. Since, although a Romance language, Norman contains a significant amount of lexical material from Norse, some of the words introduced into England as part of Anglo-Norman were of Germanic origin. Indeed, sometimes one can identify cognates such as "flock" (Germanic in English existing prior to the Conquest) and "flloquet" (Germanic in Norman). The case of the word "mug" demonstrates that in instances, Anglo-Norman may have reinforced certain Scandinavian elements in English. "Mug" had been introduced into northern English dialects by Viking settlement. The same word had been established in Normandy by the Normans (Norsemen) and was then brought over after the Conquest and established firstly in southern English dialects. It is therefore argued that the word "mug" in English shows some of the complicated Germanic heritage of Anglo-Norman.

Many expressions used in English today have their origin in Anglo-Norman (e.g. the expression "before-hand" derives from AN "avaunt-main"), as do many modern words with interesting etymologies. "Mortgage", for example, literally meant "death-wage" in AN. "Curfew" meant "cover-fire", referring to the time in the evening when all fires had to be covered. The word "glamour" is derived, unglamorously, from AN "grammeire", the same words which gives us modern "grammar". Apparently "glamour" was used with the meaning "magic" or "magic spell" in Medieval times.

The influence of Anglo-Norman was very much asymmetrical in that very little influence from English was carried over into the continental possessions of the Anglo-Norman realm. Some administrative terms survived in some parts of mainland Normandy: "forlenc" (from "furrow", compare "furlong") in the Cotentin peninsula and a general use of the word "acre" for land measurement in Normandy until metrication in the 19th century. Otherwise the direct influence of English in mainland Norman (such as "smogler" - to smuggle) is because of direct contact in later centuries with English rather than Anglo-Norman.

Although Anglo-Norman was falling out of everyday use by the 13th century (Middle English was becoming stronger), it has left an indelible mark on English. Thousands of words, phrases and expressions are derived from it. English would have been a very different language without the influence of Anglo-Norman.


*Kelham, "Dictionary of the Norman or Old French Language" (1779)
*Pollock and Maitland, "History of English Law", 2nd edition: Cambridge 1898, pp. 80-87.
*Anglo-Norman Dictionary,


External links

* [ The Anglo-Norman hub - a project to produce an AN dictionary.] Contains articles and corpus texts.

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