The Norman Conquest of the English Language

At first the English withstood the Norman attack of 1066. But soon they succumbed to the invaders, as did their virile language of record. An article by H.R. Loyn.

We read Elizabethan prose at times with an antiquarian curiosity but little linguistic difficulty. With a few tricks learned, Chaucer is open to the intelligent schoolboy or schoolgirl. With many more tricks and much greater intellectual effort early Middle English prose can be mastered, and the Englishman can still just believe that he is reading English. Beyond the twelfth century it takes the faith of Barnes, the Dorset poet, or the skill of Professor Henry Higgins to convince an Englishman that this is still his own tongue. Language-men call the language of Anglo-Saxon England 'Old English'; to the intelligent scholar on the Clapham omnibus it is better thought of as Anglo-Saxon, a different language from English, demanding from him as much effort and sheer hard intellectual grind as, say, modern Norwegian, though mercifully not as much as modern German. Why should this be so? Is time alone enough to account for it? Or does the red thread of the Norman Conquest run across our linguistic history as it does across our social and institutional past?

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