The timespan of English
Points to bear in mind
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- The white arrow showing the spoken language indicates an unbroken tradition. As it passes through the Viking period it becomes influenced by Norse; but note how spoken English survives through the French period.
- During the Viking period, Norse words and some Norse structural forms spread into English. Although Norse influence must have begun during the later OE period, it does not appear in the written language until English regains its written status with the decline of French.
- The arrow showing the written language undergoes a sudden break with the arrival of the Normans. The written language becomes French for a time, and when written English is resumed it has lost continuity with Old English writing traditions, relying instead on unwritten, spoken English.
- Norse and French influence the vocabulary of English, not its grammar. We can find a few Norse influences on the grammar, but French had no direct grammatical effect. However, French had an indirect effect in that Norman rule broke the Old English writing tradition, which had become out of touch with the spoken language by the time of the Norman Conquest. When written English was resumed, its grammar was very different from Old English; but although this change appears to be fairly sudden it represents changes in manuscript traditions, not sudden changes in the spoken language, which were far more gradual and had begun long before the arrival of the Normans.
- Although French had little grammatical effect on English, French words flooded into the vocabulary of spoken English, becoming more and more noticeable throughout the Middle English period.
- In the Middle Ages, London became heavily influenced by the speech of the East Midlands, and it is this dialect which forms the basis of modern Standard English.
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