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Spoken in England/Britain
Language extinction contributed to Middle English
Language family Indo-European
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3 xno

Anglo-Norman is a term traditionally used to refer to what was in fact a variety of different Old French dialects used in England and to some extent elsewhere in the British Isles during the Anglo-Norman period.[1]

When William the Conqueror led the Norman invasion of England, he, his nobles, and many of his followers from Normandy, but also northern and western France spoke a range of Oïl dialects. One of these was Norman. Others who came with him would have spoken varieties of the Picard language or western French. This amalgam developed into the unique insular dialect now known as Anglo-Norman, which was commonly used for administrative purposes from the 13th until the 15th century. It is difficult to know very much, of course, about what was actually spoken, and our knowledge is really only of the written language.

Nevertheless it is clear that Anglo-Norman was to a large extent the spoken language of the Norman nobility and was also spoken in the law courts, schools, and universities, and in due course amongst at least some sections of the minor nobility and the growing bourgeoisie. Private and commercial correspondence was written in Anglo-Norman from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. Other social classes than just the nobility became keen to learn Anglo-Norman; manuscripts containing materials for instructing non-native speakers still exist, dating from the mid-thirteenth century onwards.

Although the English language survived and eventually eclipsed Anglo-Norman, the latter had been sufficiently widespread as to permanently affect English lexically. This is why English has lost or, more often, kept as parallel terms many of its original Germanic words which can still be found in German and Dutch. Grammatically, Anglo-Norman had little lasting impact on English, although it is still evident in official and legal terms where the noun and adjective are reversed: attorney general, heir apparent, court martial, body politic, and so on.[2]


Use and development

Among important writers of the Anglo-Norman cultural commonwealth are the Jersey-born poet, Wace, and Marie de France. The literature of the Anglo-Norman period forms the reference point for subsequent literature in the Norman language, especially in the 19th century Norman literary revival and even into the 20th century in the case of André Dupont's Épopée cotentine. The languages and literatures of the Channel Islands are sometimes referred to as Anglo-Norman, but this usage, derived from the French îles anglo-normandes, is wrong: the Channel Islanders spoke and still speak a variety of Norman, not Anglo-Norman.

Anglo-Norman was never the main administrative language of England, Latin remaining the major language of record in legal and other official documents for most of the medieval period. However, from the later thirteenth century until the early fifteenth century Anglo-Norman and Anglo-French succeeded in establishing a very significant presence in law reports, charters, ordinances, official correspondence, and the language of trade at all levels. There is evidence, too, that it served as a means by which words from further afield (Italian, Arabic, Spanish, Catalan ...) entered England and thus in due course, English.

The language of later Anglo-French documents adopted some of the changes ongoing in continental French and lost many of its original dialectal characteristics, so that Anglo-French remained (in at least some respects and at least at some social levels) part of the dialect continuum of French, albeit often with distinctive spellings. By the late fifteenth century, however, what remained of insular French had become heavily Anglicised: see Law French. It continued to be known as "Norman French" until the end of the nineteenth century, even though philologically there was nothing Norman about it.[3] Over time, the use of Anglo-French expanded into the fields of law, administration, commerce, and science, in all of which a rich documentary legacy survives, indicative of the vitality and importance of the language.

One notable survival of influence on the political system is the use of certain Anglo-French set phrases in the Parliament of the United Kingdom for some endorsements to bills and the granting of Royal Assent to legislation.[4][5] These set phrases include:

  • Soit baille aux Communes ("Let it be sent to the Commons", on a bill sent by the House of Lords to the House of Commons)
  • A ceste Bille (avecque une amendement/avecque des amendemens) les Communes sont assentus ("To this Bill (with an amendment/with amendments) the Commons have assented", on a bill passed by the House of Commons and returned to the House of Lords)
  • A cette amendement/ces amendemens les Seigneurs sont assentus ("To this amendment/these amendments the Lords have assented", on an amended bill returned by the House of Commons to the House of Lords, where the amendments were accepted)
  • Ceste Bille est remise aux Communes avecque une Raison/des Raisons ("This Bill is returned to the Commons with a reason/with reasons", when the House of Lords disagrees with amendments made by the House of Commons)
  • Le Roy/La Reyne le veult ("The King/Queen wills it", Royal Assent for a public bill)
  • Le Roy/La Reyne remercie ses bons sujets, accepte leur benevolence et ainsi le veult ("The King/Queen thanks his/her good subjects, accepts their bounty, and wills it so", Royal Assent for a supply bill)
  • Soit fait comme il est désiré ("Let it be done as it is desired", Royal Assent for a private bill)
  • Le Roy/La Reyne s'avisera ("The King/Queen will consider it", if Royal Assent is withheld)

The exact spelling of the formulæ has varied over the years; for example, s'avisera has been spelled as s'uvisera and s'advisera, and Reyne as Raine.

Trilingualism in Medieval England

Much of the earliest recorded French is in fact Anglo-Norman. In France, almost nothing was being recorded in the vernacular because Latin was the language of the nobility, education, commerce, and the Roman Catholic Church and was thus used for the purpose of records. Latin did not disappear in medieval England; it was used by the Church, the royal government and much local administration, as it had been, in parallel with Anglo-Saxon, before 1066. The early adoption of Anglo-Norman as a written and literary language probably owes something to this history of bilingualism in writing.

Around the same time as a shift took place in France towards using French as a language of record in the mid-13th century, Anglo-Norman also became a main language of record in England. From around this point onwards, considerable variation begins to be apparent in Anglo-Norman, which ranges from the very local (and most Anglicized) to a level of language which approximates to and is sometimes indistinguishable from Parisian French. So, typically, local records will be most different from continental French, with diplomatic and international trade documents closest to the emerging continental norm.[6]. English remained the vernacular throughout this period, eventually spoken as a mother tongue by even the highest social classes.


As a langue d'oïl, Anglo-Norman had developed collaterally to the central Gallo-Romance dialects which would eventually become Parisian French, in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary - it being also important to remember that before the signature of the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts in 1539, and indeed for long after, in practice, French had not been standardised as an official administrative language of the kingdom of France.

Middle English was heavily influenced by both Anglo-Norman and, later, Anglo-French. Some etymologists have called Anglo-Norman 'the missing link' because many etymological dictionaries seem to ignore the contribution of that language in English and because Anglo-Norman can explain the transmission of words from French into English, and fill the void left by the absence of documentary records of English (in the main) between 1066 and c. 1200.

Anglo-Norman morphology and pronunciation can be deduced from its heritage in English. Mostly this is done in comparison with continental French. English has many doublets as a result of this contrast:

  • warranty - guarantee
  • warden - guardian
  • glamour - grammar (see below)
  • catch - chase (see below)

Compare also:

  • wage (Anglo-Norman) - gage (French)
  • wait - guetter (French)
  • war (from Anglo-Norman werre) - guerre (French)
  • wicket (Anglo-Norman) - guichet (French)

The palatalization of velar consonants before the front vowel produced different results in Norman to the central langue d'oïl dialects which developed into French. English therefore, for example, has fashion from Norman féchoun as opposed to Modern French façon.

The palatalization of velar consonants before /a/ that affected the development of French did not occur in Norman dialects north of the Joret line. English has therefore inherited words that retain a velar plosive where French has a fricative:

English < Norman = French
cabbage < caboche = chou
candle < caundèle = chandelle
castle < caste(l) = château
cauldron < caudron = chaudron
causeway < cauchie = chaussée
catch < cachi = chasser
cater < acater = acheter
wicket < viquet = guichet
plank < pllanque = planche
pocket < pouquette = poche
fork < fouorque = fourche
garden < gardin = jardin

Other words such as captain, kennel, cattle and canvas exemplify how Norman retained a /k/ sound from Latin that was not retained in French.

However, Anglo-Norman also acted as a conduit for French words to enter England: for example, challenge clearly displays a form of French origin, rather than the Norman calenge.

There were also vowel differences: compare AN profound with PF profond, soun 'sound' - son, round - rond. The former words were originally pronounced something like 'profoond', 'soond', 'roond' respectively (compare the similarly denasalised vowels of modern Norman), but later developed their modern pronunciation in English.

Since many words established in Anglo-Norman from French via the intermediary of Norman were not subject to the processes of sound change that continued in parts of the continent, English sometimes preserves earlier pronunciations. For example, 'ch' used to be /tʃ/ in Medieval French; Modern French has /ʃ/ but English has preserved the older sound (in words like chamber, chain, chase and exchequer).

Similarly, 'j' had an older /dʒ/ sound which it still has in English and some dialects of modern Norman, but which has developed into /ʒ/ in Modern French.

The words veil and leisure retain the /ei/ (as does modern Norman in vaile and laîsi) that in French has been replaced by /wɑː/ voile, loisir.

The word mushroom preserves a hush sibilant in mousseron not recorded in French orthography, as does cushion for coussin. Conversely, the pronunciation of the word sugar resembles Norman chucre even if the spelling is closer to French sucre. It is possible that the original sound was an apical sibilant, like the Basque s, which is halfway between a sibilant and a shibilant. (Need reference for what constitutes 'closer' in this context.)

Note the doublets catch and chase, both deriving from Latin captiare. Catch demonstrates the Norman development of the velars, while chase is the French equivalent imported with a different meaning. (Reference please, esp. document that shows Norman evolution of catch.)

Distinctions in meaning between Anglo-Norman and French have led to many faux amis (words having similar form but different meanings) in Modern English and Modern French.

An interesting question arises when one considers English vocabulary of Germanic, and specifically Scandinavian, origin. Since, although a Romance language, Norman contains a significant amount of lexical material from Norse, some of the words introduced into England as part of Anglo-Norman were of Germanic origin. Indeed, sometimes one can identify cognates such as flock (Germanic in English existing prior to the Conquest) and flloquet (Germanic in Norman). The case of the word mug demonstrates that in instances, Anglo-Norman may have reinforced certain Scandinavian elements already present in English. Mug had been introduced into northern English dialects by Viking settlement. The same word had been established in Normandy by the Normans (Norsemen) and was then brought over after the Conquest and established firstly in southern English dialects. It is therefore argued that the word mug in English shows some of the complicated Germanic heritage of Anglo-Norman.

Many expressions used in English today have their origin in Anglo-Norman (e.g. the expression before-hand derives from AN avaunt-main), as do many modern words with interesting etymologies. Mortgage, for example, literally meant death-wage in AN. Curfew meant cover-fire, referring to the time in the evening when all fires had to be covered. The word glamour is derived, unglamorously, from AN grammeire, the same word which gives us modern grammar. Apparently glamour meant magic or magic spell in Medieval times.

The influence of Anglo-Norman was very asymmetric, in that very little influence from English was carried over into the continental possessions of the Anglo-Norman kings. Some administrative terms survived in some parts of mainland Normandy: forlenc (from furrow, compare furlong) in the Cotentin peninsula, and a general use of the word acre for land measurement in Normandy until metrication in the 19th century. Otherwise the direct influence of English in mainland Norman (such as smogler - to smuggle) is because of direct contact in later centuries with English, rather than Anglo-Norman.

See also


  1. ^ For a wide-ranging introduction to the language and its uses, see Anglo-French and the AND by William Rothwell
  2. ^ Amended version of: Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  3. ^ Pollock and Maitland, p. 87 note 3.
  4. ^ Bennion, Francis. "Modern Royal Assent Procedure at Westminister" (Word document). New Law Journal. Retrieved on 18 November 2007.
  5. ^ "Companion to the Standing Orders and guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords". United Kingdom Parliament. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  6. ^ see Lusignan 2005; Trotter 2009,


  • Anglo-Norman Dictionary, AND, see []
  • Kelham, Dictionary of the Norman or Old French Language (1779) (very outdated)
  • Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law, 2nd edition: Cambridge 1898, pp. 80–87.


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External links


Simple English

The Anglo-Norman language is the name given to the special sort of the Norman language spoken by the Anglo-Normans, the descendants of the Normans who ruled the Kingdom of England following the conquest by William of Normandy in 1066. This langue d'oïl became the official language of England and later developed into the unique insular dialect now known as the Anglo-Norman language.

Anglo-Norman was the spoken language of the Norman nobility and was also used in the courts.

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