Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

Language

User avatar
Rowan
Bibliophile
Posts: 1462
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: I love history, but it's boring in school. Historical fiction brings it alive for me.
Preferred HF: Iron-Age Britain, Roman Britain, Medieval Britain
Location: New Orleans
Contact:

Post by Rowan » Sun September 21st, 2008, 4:36 pm

[quote=""Ash""]I was actually going to mention it, because I enjoyed it so much. But then I happened to see the first reviews on amazon were one stars, with lots and lots of folks agreeing. Reading them gave me pause; I wish I knew more about the subject to know how much their complaints of inaccuracies are true. May need a reread (I really did learn lots from it, so don't let those reviews stop you)[/quote]

Most of the reviews I just looked at were multi-starred and the one review I saw that was two stars was from an idiot who probably read it cover to cover and has no real appreciation for the language or its history. I bought the book 13 years ago when I was in college. It's a text book. Most text books are boring. What I've read thus far is historically accurate, so I don't know what that guy's problem is.

User avatar
Catherine Delors
Avid Reader
Posts: 399
Joined: August 2008
Location: Paris, London, Los Angeles
Contact:

Post by Catherine Delors » Fri September 26th, 2008, 12:55 pm

As a non-native speaker, I agree that English is a very rich language, due to the diversity of foreign imports.
I remember reading that Tolkien said the Norman invasion was a linguistic catastrophe (I disagree, of course: it was a wonderful opportunity.)

User avatar
Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 2440
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Post by Margaret » Fri September 26th, 2008, 7:23 pm

LOL about Tolkien's comment. I certainly cherish the richness and variety of the English language. On the other hand, it's said to be one of the hardest languages to write poetry in, because there are so many clashing sound patterns. I'm not sure I agree. There are so many words in English that one has the option of choosing from among those that don't clash.

The Norman invasion was such a catastrophe for Saxon England in so many other ways that I wonder how much the "catastrophe" of the language shift registered for people who lived through the period. It's interesting to try to imagine what things were like for the people most involved - those who used both languages. They may have found it an opportunity!

Perhaps there's a flip side to other "catastrophes" as well. Certainly all the best historical novels are set in catastrophic times.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

User avatar
Catherine Delors
Avid Reader
Posts: 399
Joined: August 2008
Location: Paris, London, Los Angeles
Contact:

Post by Catherine Delors » Fri September 26th, 2008, 7:47 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]Certainly all the best historical novels are set in catastrophic times.[/quote]

You have a point there!

annis
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4585
Joined: August 2008

Post by annis » Sat September 27th, 2008, 9:18 am

Margaret- you might find this piece interesting.

The Norman Conquest influenced the linguistic landscape of England decisively. The following statement in the Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester from around 1300 illustrates this nicely:

"Þus com, lo, Engelond in-to Normandies hond: And Þe Normans ne couÞe speke Þo bote hor owe speche, And speke French as hii dude atom, and hor children dude also teche, So Þat heiemen of Þis lond, Þat of ho blod come, HoldeÞ alle Þulke speche Þat hii of hom nom: Vor bote a man conne Frenss me telÞ of him lute. Ac lowe men holdeÞ to Engliss, and to hor owe speche-ute. Ich wene Þer ne beÞ in al the world contreyes none Þat ne holdeÞ to hor owe speche, bote Engelond one.
Ac wel me wote uor to conne boÞe wel it is, Vor Þe more Þat a mon can, Þe more wurÞe he is."
Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester, 1300

Translation:

"Thus came, lo, England into Normandy's hand: and the Normans then knew how to speak only their own language, and spoke French as they did at home, and also had their children taught it, so that noblemen of this land, that come of their stock, all keep to the same speech that they received from them; for unless a man knows French, people make little account of him. But low men keep to English, and to their own language still. I think that in the whole world there are no countries that do not keep their own language, except England alone. But people know well that it is good to master both, because the more a man knows the more honoured he is."


So the chronicle indicates that the Norman upper-classes, first and foremost, spoke French – Norman French to be precise - and they taught this language to their children. French was the most prestigious language. English, however, was the language of the lower classes – the vernacular. But, English was spoken by the majority of the population of England.

The chronicler bemoans this situation as being unique in the world: any nation should stick to its own language – in this case English. However, he nevertheless regards it as a virtue to speak both languages. Clearly, to learn French was the only way possible to climb up the social ladder.

User avatar
Catherine Delors
Avid Reader
Posts: 399
Joined: August 2008
Location: Paris, London, Los Angeles
Contact:

Post by Catherine Delors » Sat September 27th, 2008, 10:45 am

Very interesting indeed!
French remained the official language of the courts for a while, before Norman French was absorbed into English. Hence the atrocious literary quality of English legalese.
It is funny to note that the Normans themselves had only recently abandoned the use of Norse. The early Dukes of Normandy were still sent to Bayeux as children to learn Norse, where it was still in common use.
By the way I grew up in the Normandy countryside, where Norman French was still the vernacular. A fun language. I speak it poorly, but I understand it very well. Don't know how close it is to the language spoken at the time of the Conquest, though.

User avatar
Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 2440
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Post by Margaret » Sat September 27th, 2008, 6:27 pm

What an interesting quote from Robert of Gloucester, Annis, and I'm glad you gave us the original language as well as the translation. There's old speech patterns are rather charming. It's interesting that Robert of Gloucester wrote his chronicle in Old English rather than Norman French; from his name and standing, he would seem to have been Norman. It's also interesting that the two languages seem to have been still quite distinct and separate almost a century and a half after the Norman Conquest. I didn't pick up from the quote you provided that RG was unhappy about England having two langauges, though perhaps this conclusion is justified by other parts of the Chronicle. I like his common sense approach.

And I'm fascinated that Norman French still exists as a language, Catherine. I had no idea! What are some of the most striking differences between Norman French and regular modern French? Do you know if it still has a flavor of Old Norse?
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

User avatar
Volgadon
Compulsive Reader
Posts: 654
Joined: September 2008
Location: Israel
Contact:

Post by Volgadon » Sat September 27th, 2008, 7:33 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]And I'm fascinated that Norman French still exists as a language, Catherine. I had no idea! What are some of the most striking differences between Norman French and regular modern French? Do you know if it still has a flavor of Old Norse?[/quote]

Maybe, maybe not, couldn't say....

Any Asterix fans?

annis
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4585
Joined: August 2008

Post by annis » Sat September 27th, 2008, 10:44 pm

I spent many happy hours reading Asterix books with my kids when they were young, but in our books he conveniently spoke English (of the modern variety)

I imagine that in reality Asterix, Obelix and co would have spoken a Gallic version of the Continental Celtic language, with a bit of reluctant Latin thrown in!

annis
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4585
Joined: August 2008

Post by annis » Sat September 27th, 2008, 10:52 pm

Margaret, I suspect that Robert of Gloucester is rather indignant that the majority of Anglo-Normans didn't make more of an effort to adopt the English language, and doesn't want to see it lost, but is relatively philosophical about the reality of having to deal with two languages in order to get on.

Very little is known about Robert, though there are indications that he was a monk from Gloucester and because of the dialect he used possibly of English heritage, though that is speculation.
Last edited by annis on Sat September 27th, 2008, 10:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Post Reply

Return to “Questions and Research”