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Gallicization of English

 

French Impact on Grammar and Syntax

When some language is related to a group of languages, it is usually assumed that it has strong similarities in grammatical structure as well as a common core of related lexical items with the languages in the group. The pronouncements about the “grammatical” impact of French on English are, obviously, more cautious, since structural changes develop over a long period of time and are too involved to be explained only by a single factor. There is no doubt, however, that French has influenced English grammar and syntax in two ways:

  • modifying the grammatical structure inherited from OE, and

  • introducing patterns characteristic of the Romance languages.

These two kinds of influence were usually combined.

Thus, for instance, the French invasion accelerated the rate of decay of the English inflexional system. The rapid and complete victory of the –(e)s plural inflexion was partly due to the universal French –s, which was derived from the Latin accusative plural (muros, murs; rosas, roses, etc.).

The coexistence of a Germanic and French patterns can be observed in the use of the inflected genitive “the king’s son”, corresponding to German des Königs Sohn, alongside with the phrasal genitive “the son of the king” corresponding to French le fils du roi.   

Germanic Pattern French Pattern
the king’s son

cf. German des Königs Sohn

the son of the king

cf. French le fils du roi

This example serves also as an illustration of the influence on French on English in phrasing. During the ME period a large number of phrases were borrowed from or modelled on French ones. It is remarkable how pervasive this kind of influence has been and it was not confined only to ME times. Any estimate of French influence on English must take into account this type of borrowing and calquing. For example:

English French Model

plenty of

to the contrary

if need be

because of

to make peace

tender age

plenté de

au contraire

si besoin est

par cause de

faire paix

tendre âge

The influence of French on English in phrasing shows not just in the adoption of foreign phrasal patterns, but also in the creation of new ones. In the early period after the Conquest the practice began of using two words for one, so that both Frenchmen and Englishmen might understand, e.g. law and order; lord and master; act and deed; on the model of which were later coined acknowledge and confess; safe and sound; help and succour; love and cherish; ways and means, etc.

Anglo-French Doublets
law and order

lord and master

act and deed

acknowledge and confess

safe and sound

help and succour

love and cherish

ways and means

In Chaucer we find such examples as swink and laboure; poynaunt and sharp; lord and sire; a lerned man, a clerk. By his time such collocations had perhaps become a literary device, but in Early ME literature the native word is clearly explanatory of the borrowed one, e.g. from the Ancren Riwle (early thirteenth century), cherité, that is luve; ignoraunce, that is unwisdom and unwitenesse.  

The habit of doubling (and even of tripling and quadrupling) Anglo-French synonyms would become a major feature of legal English.

 

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GALLICIZATION OF ENGLISH

  French Impact on Orthography

  French Impact on the Sound System

  French Impact on Grammar and Syntax

MIDDLE ENGLISH

  Middle English Subperiods

  French vs. English

  Geoffrey Chaucer

  Emerging Standard

  More

 

 
 
 
 

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