Parlons-nous le franglais? Historical based blog

It’s been a while since my last blog, but here we go. (Apologies for the lack of photos – I can’t seem to upload them at present thanks to a bad wifi connection).

I decided that since my project is looking at the use of English in 3 different spaces around my town, I should first look at the history of England and France so that I can see if there are/ were any possible reasons for the use of English in France (and vice versa for personal interest); so this blog will largely focus on the histories of France and England as opposed to being on my present day research; I am using it as an way of informing my present day research.

Unfortunately, due to that fact that I am very busy teaching and researching things that are directly useful for my YARP, I have only been able to go back as far as the 1000s, (which is not to say that this is as far back as English/French historical links go – but it’s a far as I dare do back at the moment).

Let’s start at the beginning (always the best place to start I find), and attempt to answer the question: Why did the Normans start to take interest in England? 

Well, in 1002 King Aethelred II of England married Emma, the sister of Richard II, Duke of Normandy, and they had a son who became known as Edward the Confessor (who sadly spent many years in exile in Normandy before he succeeded to the English throne in 1042.) Due to Emma being Norman and having an English husband, their marriage led to the establishment of a powerful Norman interest in English politics, which Edward used to his advantage when he succeeded his father as King of England, as he used his fellow Frenchmen for support during his time in England by bringing in Norman courtiers, soldiers, and clerics and appointing them to positions of power, particularly in the Church. However, Edward was childless, which meant that when he died at the beginning of 1066, there was a clear lack of a clear heir to the throne as several contenders laid claim to the throne of England.

Who laid claim to the throne and why?

Edward’s immediate successor was the Harold Godwinson (The Earl of Wessex) who was the richest and most powerful of the English aristocrats.

Harold was elected King by the Witenagemot of England and crowned by the Ealdred, the Archbishop of York. However, he was immediately challenged by two powerful rulers.

The first was Duke William who claimed that he had been promised the throne by King Edward and that Harold had sworn agreement to this. However, King Harald III of Norway, commonly known as Harald Hardrada, also believed that he had the right to the throe based on an agreement between his predecessor Magnus I of Norway and the earlier English King, Harthacnut, whereby if either died without heir, the other would inherit both England and Norway. Of course with so many strong feelings and no way of sorting out who was the true heir to the throne, William and Harald began assembling troops and ships to invade England.

What happened next?

In summary, after two very large battles – The battle of Fulford and The Battle of Stamford Bridge – Harold of England won the battle against his Norwegian enemies (as Harald of Norway and Tostig were killed), leaving his ony competition to be William of Normandy.

Of course having remembered your history lessons in year 9, you – my avid readers – ask me So, what happened during the Norman Invasion, and the Battle of Hastings?”

The Norman Invasion happened when William of Normandy got together invasion fleet of between 7,000-8,000 men (although exact numbers are disputed) and decided to invade England, arriving in Sussex on 28th September.

However, after defeating his brother Tostig and Harald Hardrada in the north, Harold of England found left much of his force there, including Morcar and Edwin, and marched the rest of his army south to deal with the threatened Norman invasion. Hastings began at about 9 am on 14 October 1066 and lasted the whole day, but ended with the death of Harold (King of England). Surprisingly William was not proclaimed King straight away, as instead Edgar the Aetheling was proclaimed King. However, Edgar’s leading supporters didn’t have much confidence in him so the English leaders surrendered to William.

So what? William became King. How is this relevant to your project Churchill?

Well, being as my project discusses the use of English in my town in France, I thought that it would be important to look at certain words which may seem to have “English” roots, but in fact that don’t. For example, I have been lucky enough to talk to a French teacher who works at my CollĂšge and I told him about my project. He therefore took it upon himself to do some research for his 4e class, and to talk about how 1066 was important in terms of adding French words to the English language.

 Here I copy some sections from the worksheet:

 “XIe siĂšcle, 1066: Guillaume le ConquĂ©rant envahit l’Angleterre. En 1154, la reine d’Anglaterre est française: C’est AliĂ©nor d’Acquitaine. A la Cour d’Angleterre, on commence donc à parler français. Les nobles anglais se mettent à nommer leur nourriture en français: c’est pour cela qu’aujourd’hui, la viande et l’animal portent deux noms diffĂ©rents, l’un EMPRUNTÉ au français par les nobles, et l’autre HÉRITÉ du germanique, altĂ©rĂ© peu à peu par l’usage paysan.”


Beef = la viande de boeuf / Ox – le boeuf (l’animal)

Mutton = la viande de mouton/ Sheep or lamb – le mouton (l’animal)

Pork = la viande de porc / Pig – le couchon (l’animal)

So, to summarize here, words such as le mouton/ le boeuf/ le porc, which maybe to an English person may sound “English”, do in fact have French origins dating back to 1066.

Furthermore, during this time it appears that we inherited other words from the French that we still use today, but which have a fairly formal register and are used on some occasions to make oneself seem formal and educated. To exemplify:

  • Verbs: To commence = Commencer/ To continue = Continuer / To acquire = AcquĂ©rir – to name but a few
  • La cuisine: bon appĂ©tit/ sous chef/ à la carte
  • Les mondanitĂ©s: au fait/ en route/ voilĂ / rapport/ garage/ hotel/ forest
  • La guerre: War (from old north French word “Werre”)/ bayonet (Bainotter in French)

However, according to the worksheet given to the class « avec le dĂ©veloppement Ă©conomique de L’Angleterre au XVIIIe et au XIXe siĂšcle, les Ă©changes s’inversent et c’est l’anglais qui « envahit » la langue française par ses mots et ses produits « à la mode ».

As the teacher explained to me, the industrial revolution and the years afterwards were important in terms of English words coming to France, as many English people travelled to France to sell their products, and whilst there they both added words, and modified some French words; linking in with my project which is somewhat about the evidence of this “English invasion” in my area.

As one example (according to the said teacher), apparently the game tennis originated in France and was a game played with the hands. The participants would shout “Tenez!” as a way of calling for the ball. It is said that few English people who were in France during the revolution liked the game so much that they took it back to England, changed a few rules, and the pronunciation to “Tennis” so that they could pronounce it. Then, on their return to France, they brought their version of the game, and this is still played today by many French students – but using the English word “Tennis” instead of the original French.

According to the French family who I live with, students at school, and teachers here in France, technology and social media are all important to the spread and use of English in France, as they have told me that they have a lot of exposure to English via the internet i.e. seeing films/ TV series/ listening to English music etc. ; but I will discuss this more in another blog.

In my next post I will talk about the « Invasion » of English on the French language and how this is seen today around EpĂŽne in terms of clothing – as I have seen many of my pupils wearing clothing with English slogans and words, which when questioned, they don’t know the meaning of.

But for now, I hope that you have found this post interesting and useful. I reiterate that whilst this post doesn’t directly link to my YARP, I wished to provide a basic, historical background and attempt to explain the reasons for which there are so many English words in France and French words in England.

(NB: I am also not a historian, so although I have tried my best to be as accurate as possible when discussing history, I apologise in advance for having summarised so much, and for any potential mistakes I may have made). 

Interesting (and humorous) video:


In terms of sources used, I have used lots of information that I learnt from the 4e French class. The teacher who prepared the lesson apparently used a variety of internet sources which I don’t have the links to.  Any other information I have used has come from the following webpage Norman conquest of England. Although I am fully aware that it is not advisable to use Wikipedia for academic essays,  I decided that for the purpose of the blog this was acceptable as a full reference list of sources used for each citation is given at the bottom of the page. Furthermore, the aim of this blog is more to provide historical background than to be used in my YARP, or to be used by academics as a way of learning about the Norman Conquest.

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