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Anglo-Norman language

RegionEngland and Wales, Scotland, Ireland
Extinctcontributed to Middle English

     Home | Language | Anglo-Norman language

Anglo-Norman is the name traditionally given to the kind of Old Norman used in England and to some extent elsewhere in the British Isles during the Anglo-Norman period.

When William the Conqueror led the Norman invasion of England in 1066, he, his nobles, and many of his followers from Normandy, but also those from northern and western France, spoke a range of Oïl dialects; one of these was 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 literary and eventually administrative purposes from the 12th until the 15th century. It is difficult to know much about what was actually spoken, and sure knowledge of the dialect is restricted to that which was written.

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, and in due course amongst at least some sections of the minor nobility and the growing bourgeoisie. 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 mostly from the late fourteenth century onwards.

Although the English language survived and eventually eclipsed Anglo-Norman, the latter had been sufficiently widespread as to permanently affect English lexically. This is why English has lost or, more often, kept as parallel terms many of its original Germanic words, cognates of 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, for example attorney general, which in New High German is Generalanwalt, literally meaning "general attorney": in that configuration, the term maintains the similarity between the German and English spellings while still possessing the Anglo-Norman reversal of the noun and adjective. Similar legal terms include heir apparent, court martial, body politic, and so on.

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