The Lord’s Prayer in Middle English, 1384:
Oure fadir that art in heuenes,
halewid be thi name;
thi kyndoom come to;
be thi wille don in erthe as in heuene:
gyue to us this dai oure breed ouer othir substaunce;
and forgyue to us oure dettis, as we forgyuen to oure gettouris;
and lede us not in to temptacioun, but delyuere us fro yuel.
Middle English (1150-1450) is English after the Norman French Conquest of England in 1066 but before the coming of printed books. It is the language of Chaucer.
- Speakers: 3 million in 1300
- Countries: England
- Script: Roman (29 letters: A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z & Ȝ Ƿ Þ Ð Æ. No J or W. U and V are the same letter)
- Language family: Germanic branch of the Indo-European family
Changes that made Old English into Middle English:
- Grammar: word order and prepositions largely take the place of word endings. Gender disappears.
- Spelling: more like French. So: sh instead of sc, wh instead of hw, gh instead of Ȝ, th instead of Þ or Ð.
- Vocabulary: huge compared to Old English. Full of borrowed words, particularly from French and Latin.
- Words that begin with p: Because of sound changes, these were rare in Old English. Many common words that start with p are from this time, mostly from French: people, punish, perfect, peace, push, purpose, pain, etc.
I used to think that the broken English of the Norman French became the prestige dialect of English and took over. It did not go quite like that.
The Vikings broke English. They settled the north and east of England starting in the 800s, speaking Old Norse. Old English and Old Norse had many of the same words but different word endings. A “broken” Old English that used prepositions and word order instead of endings arose as a bridge language. This became the base of Middle English.
Enter the Norman French: They spoke a country dialect of French, one that said the s in forest and beast and the w in question. They did not bring their women: that meant they married English women. Their children grew up speaking both English and Norman French. The top levels of society remained bilingual for some 300 years. Parisian French pushed out Norman French in the 1200s.
English became Franglish because the movers and shakers knew French as well as English. Doctors, lawyers, priests and professors knew Latin too. So tons of French and Latin words poured into English. It was a linguistic tsunami: only 15% of Old English words lived through it!
Even those Old English words that did live sometimes:
- Took on French meanings, like: have, give, take, make, do.
- Became limited in meaning, like: cow and apple lost part of their meaning to beef and fruit.
- Live alongside their French and Latin counterparts, like:
- kingly/royal, regal
Sources: Mainly: “Inventing English” (2012) by Seth Lerer, “The Oxford History of English” (2008) by Lynda Mugglestone, “The Stories of English” (2005) by David Crystal, Online Etymology Dictionary (2013).