>Following the conquest hundreds of people from France crossed the Channel to make their home in Britain were also dukes of Normandy and, about a hundred years later, took possession of the whole western half of France, thus bringing England into still closer contact with the continent. French monks, tradesmen and craftsmen flooded the southwestern towns, so that not only the higher nobility but also much of the middle class was French.
The Norman Conquest was not only a great event in British political history but also the greatest single event in the history of the English language. Its earliest effect was a drastre change in the linguistic situation.
The Norman Conquerors of England had originally come from Scandinavia. About one hundred and fifty years before they scized the valley of the Scine and settled in what was henceworth known as Normandy. They were swiftly assimilated by the French and in the 11th century came to Britain as French speakers and bearers of French culture. They spoke the Northern dialect if French, which differed in some points from Central, Parisian French. Their tongue in Britain is often reffered to as Anglo-French or Anglo-Norman, but may just as well be called French, since we are less concerned here with the distinction of French dialects than with the continuous French influence upon English, both in the Norman period of history and a long while after the Anglo-Norman language had ceased to exist.
In the early 13th c., as a result of lengthy and inefficient wars with France John Lackland lost the French provinces, including the dukedom of Normandy. Among other consequences the loss of the lands in France cut off the Normans in Britain from France, which speeded up the Anglo-France, which speeded up the decline of the Anglo-French language.
The most immediate consequence of the Norman domination in Britain is to be seen in the wide use of the French language in many spheres of life. For almost free hundred years French was the official language of administration: it was the language of the kings court, the law courts, the church, the army and the castle. It was also every day language of many nobles, of the higher clergy and of many townspeople in the South. The intellectual life, literature and education were in the hands of French-speaking people; French, alongside Latin, was the language of writing. Teaching was largely conducted in French and boys at school were taught to translate their Latin into French instead of English.
For all that, England never stopped being an English-speaking country. The bulk of the population held fast to their own tongue: the lower classes in the towns, and especially in the country-side, those who lived in the Midlands and up north, continued to speak English and looked upon French as foreign and hostile. Since most of the people were illiterate, the English language was almost exclusively used for spoken communication.
At first the two languages existed side by side without mingling. Then, slowly and quickly, they began to permeate each other. The Norman barons and the French town-dwellers had to pick up English words to make themselves understood while the English began to use French words in current speech. A good knowledge of French would mark a person of higher standing giving him a certain social prestige probably many people become bilingual and had a fair command of both languages.
These peculiar linguistic conditions could not remain static. The struggle between French and English was bound to end ion the complete victory of English, for English was the living language of the entire people, while French was restricted to certain social spheres and to writing. Yet the final victory as still a long way off. In the 13th c. only a few steps were made in that direction. The earliest sign of the official recognition of English by the Norman hinges was the famous Proclamation issued by Henry 3 in 1258 to the councilors in Parliament. It was written in three languages: French, Latin and English.
The three hundreds years of the domination of French affected English more than any other foreign influence before or after. The early French borrowings reflect accurately the spheres of Norman influence upon English life; later borrowings can by attributed to the continued cultural, economic and political contacts between the countries. The French influence added new features to the regional and social differentiation of the language. New words, coming from French, could not be adopted simultaneously by all the speakers if English; they were first used in some varieties of the language, namely in the regional dialects of Southern England and in the speech if the upper classes, but were unknown in the other varieties of the language.
The use of a foreign tongue as the state language, the diversity of the dialects and the decline of the written form of English created a situation extremely favorable for increased variation and for more intensive linguistic change.
The regional M.E. dialects had developed from respective OE dialects. A precise map of all the dialects will probably never be made, for available sources are scare and unreliable: localized and their approximate boundaries have been determined largely by inference; for later ME the difficulty lies in the growing dialect mixture.
With these reservation the following dialect groups can be distinguished in Early M.E.
The Southern group included the Kentish and the South-Western dialects. Kentish was a direct descendant of the O.E. Saxon dialects, - not only West Saxon, but also East Saxon. The East Saxon dialect was not prominent in OE but became more important in Early M.E., since it made the basis of the dialect of London in the 12th and 13th c. Among the dialects of this group the Gloucestes dialect and the London dialect may be mentioned.
The group of Midland (Central) dialect corresponding to the OE Mercian dialect is divided into West Midland and East Midland as two main areas, with further subdivisions within: South-East midland and North-East Midland, South-west Midland and North-West Midland. In M.E. the Midland area became more diversified linguistically than the OE Mercian kingdom occupying approximately the same territory: from the Thames in the South to the Welsh-speaking area in the West and up north to the river Humber.
The Northern dialect had developed from OE Northumbrian. In Early M.E. the Northern dialects included several provincial dialects, e.g. the Yorkshire and the Lancashire dialects, and also what later became known as Scottish.
In the course Early M.E. the area if the English language in the British Isles grew. Fallowing the Norman Conquest the former Celtic kingdoms fell under Norman recluse. Wales was subjugated in the late 12th c. the English made their first attempts to conquest Ireland. The invaders settled among the Irish and were soon assimilated, a large proportion of the invaders being Welshmen. Though part of Ireland was ruled from England, the country remained divided and had little contact with England. The English language was used there alongside Celtic languages-Irish and Welsh and was influenced by Celtic.
The E.M.E. dialectal division was preserved in the succeeding centuries, though even in Late M.E. the linguistic situation changed. In Early M.E. while the state language and the main language of literature was French, the local dialects were relatively equal. In Late M.E., when English had been reestablished as the main language of administration and writing, one of the regional dialects, the London dialect, prevailed over the others.
For a long time after the Norman Conquest there were two written languages in England, both of them foreign: Latin and French. English was held in disdain as a tongue used only by common illiterate people and not fit for writing. In some dialects the gap in the written tradition spanned almost two hundred years.
The earliest samples of Early M.E. prose are the new entries made in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles from the year 1122 to the year 1154, known as the Peterborough Chronicle.
The works in the vernacular, which began to appear towards the end of the 12th c., were mostly of a religions nature. The great mass of these works are homilies, sermons in prose and verse, paraphrases from the Bible, psalms and prayers. The earliest of these religious works, the Poema Morala (Moral Ode) represent the Kentish dialect of the late 12th or the early 13th.
Of particular interest for the history of the language is Ormulum, a poem composed by the monk Orm in about 1200 in the North-East Midland dialect (Lineolnshire). It consist of unrhymed metrical paraphrases of the Gospels. The text abounds in Scandinavianists and lacs French borrowings. Its most outstanding feature is the spelling system devised by the author. He doubled the consonants after short vowels in closed syllables and used special semicircular marks over short vowels in open syllables. Here are some lines from the poem where the author recommends that these rules should be followed I copying the poem.
Among other works of religious nature we can mention Ancrene Riwle (The Rule of Anchorites), a prose treatise in the Northern dialect: Cursor Mundi, an amplified version of the Gospels, and the Pricke of Conscience, a translation attributed to Richard Rolle of Hampole.
Alongside these religious works there sprang up a new kind of secular literature inspired by the French romances of chivalry. Romances were long composition in verse or prose, describing the life and adventures of knights. The great majority of romances fell into groups or cycles concerned with a limited number of matters. Those relating to the matter of Britain were probably the most popular and original wor