Episode 65: Norman Dukes and Dialects

In the century before the Norman Conquest of England, Normandy gradually emerged as a powerful player in the politics of northern Europe.  Meanwhile, the language of the Normans underwent a major transition. The original Scandinavian language of the Normans gave way to a unique French dialect. In this episode, we explore the rise of Normandy, and we examine the changing language of the Normans. We also examine the legacy of the Norman vocabulary on Modern English.

4 thoughts on “Episode 65: Norman Dukes and Dialects

  1. Hi,

    I was fascinated by the parallels between the evolution of old english and standard french, as well as the similarities between the old norse of the Danes, and the norman french of the Normans. Both groups preserved all those hard consonants.
    This story helped me better understand the differences I can hear between Russian and western slavic languages, particularly polish. I can hear the differnce, but I actually speak only one slavic language, russian. Russian kept the hard consonants, while polish appears to have much more of the j and sh sounds. Also the ukranian language has a very soft g sound, as well as a general soft sense inits vowels, compared with russian. In fact the way to explain the pronanciation of the english h letter to a russian speaker is by comparing it with ukranian g. So it seems some groups preffered to soften the rather hard consonants of the original indo european language while others didn’t.

    Another detail you mensioned in this chapter is how the dropping of inflections and the adaptation of fixed word order brought about the need of articles in both french and old english. I can confirm that russian is highly inflexive and has a very flexible word order and doesn’t have articles at all. In fact Russian speakers strugle with this concept when learning other languages.

    On the other hand modern german is very inflexive, and I think the word order is relatively flexible (I may be mistaken on the second part), yet it also uses articles. So when did the Anglo-Saxons and Franks added those articles? Did it happen before or after the split from the old german dialects?
    Didn’t the proto indo european language had articles?

    Does the assibilation process occured in other language groups, as far as you know?
    Are there any plausible theories to why this process comes about?

    I’d like to thank you again for the terrific work you are doing, and ask a technical question. I tried to add a comment to one of the episodes in itunes, but did not find how to do that. Is the only way to comment is to write a review (which I gladly did)?

    Many thanks,

    • Thanks for the comments. To answer your questions, articles didn’t appear in English until the early Middle English period. Old English didn’t use articles. I am not sure about PIE. (I don’t recall any specific discussion of PIE articles in my research, but I am not 100% sure about that.)

      Assibilation is actually quite common. Other Germanic languages like Frisian show some of the same sound changes as Old English. Also, as I noted in earlier episodes, the Romance languages also experienced a similar set of sound changes that were produced by assibilation. I am not a linguist, so I can’t really explain the technical aspects behind assibilation. I prefer to explain it as the tendency to shift a consonant sound forward to meet a particular vowel sound in the front of the mouth, but I suppose that assibilation can occur in other contexts as well.

      Regarding iTunes, you can post a rating or general review there (which I recommend). But it is not a good place for feedback or to have any questions answered. This is probably the best forum for that type of discussion.

  2. Just wanted to add that English has retained the nautical meaning of “race” as “tide race”; this is the standard term for an area of water where there is a dangerous tidal current at some states of the tide. I hope I am right in remembering that this was the episode where it was mentioned; I have been listening to them one after the other.

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