[PDF Notes] What is the history behind the adaptation of English as Universal Language?

The Normans were originally a Germanic tribe, but they had settled in Normandy in the north of France, and had adopted a modified French language and culture. As a result of the Conquest, the refinement of French culture came to be introduced into England and exerted a powerful and formative influence on its language and literature. The Norman Conquest introduced them to the cultural heritage of Latinized Europe.

The Norman rulers looked down upon the English as a barbarous and backward people, and despised the rude vigor of their language that lacked the elegance and grace of French. Naturally under their rule French had to be the language of the Court and the Government, and those among the conquered people who had dealings with the Government thought it prudent to learn French in addition to their own language.

The Conquest also tended to bring the native population together as never before, and the several dialects spoken in the different parts of the country were gradually assimilated to form a common language, English which was basically the Midland dialect.

The interesting linguistic consequence of this has been well explained by Trench in his Study of Words: “We might almost reconstruct our history, so far as it turns upon the Norman Conquest, by an analysis of our present language, a mustering of the nature and character of those which the two races have generally contributed to it”.

Thus we should confidently conclude that the Norman was the ruling race, from the noticeable fact that all the words of dignity, honor, and preeminence, with one remarkable exception descent to us from them-sovereign, scepter, throne, realm, royalty, homage, prince, duke, count, chancellor, treasurer, palace, castle, hall, dome, and a multitude more.

What happened was that instead of two nations there arose two classes: the “gentlemen” and the “people”. Each of these classes comprised two sections: the churchman and the laymen, and the cleavage between them were sharp.

The nobles and the heads of the church usually made common cause against the people who often found leadership from among the parish priests. Both these classes however came to use gradually the same language, English. It was when English became the universally accepted language that a genuine national literature grew up.

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