The Norman Conquest. When King Alfred died, fighting with the Danes soon began again. Parties of the Norsemen sailed round Scotland and over to Ireland. Others sailed south across the Channel to France. They conquered the north of France and settled there. In the next hundred years they came to be called Normans, and their country Normandy.
In the middle of the 11th century the internal feuds among the Anglo-Saxon earls invited a foreign conquest. The Normans did not miss their chance. In the year 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, crossed the Channel and defeated the English at Hastings ['heistirjz] in a great battle. Within five years William the Conqueror became complete master of the whole of England. The lands of most of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy were given to the Norman barons, and they introduced their feudal laws to compel the peasants to work for them. The English became an oppressed nation.
William the Conqueror could not speak a word of English. He and his barons spoke the Norman dialect of the French language; but the Anglo-Saxon dialects were not suppressed. During the following 200 years communication went on in three languages:
1) at the monasteries learning went on in Latin;
2) Norman-French was the language of the ruling class and was spoken at court and in official institutions;
3) the common people held firmly to their mother tongue. In spite of this, however, the language changed so much in the course of time that we must speak about it. How the Language Changed.
1) Many French words came into the language. Under the influence of French the pronunciation of the people changed. Some French words could not be pronounced by the Anglo-Saxons, so some of the Norman-French sounds were substituted by more familiar sounds from Old English. There appeared many new long vowels (diphthongs) in their native language. This newly formed pronunciation was nearing that of Modern English.
2) The spelling did not correspond to the pronunciation. The Norman scribes brought to England their Latin traditions. The Anglo-Saxon letters p, ð for the sounds  and [ð] were runes. The Normans replaced these letters by the Latin t + h=th.
3) What was particularly new was the use of French suffixes with words of Anglo-Saxon origin. For instance, the noun-forming suf-1 fixes -ment (government, agreement) and -age (courage, marriage), giving an abstract meaning to the noun, and the adjective-forming suffix -able (admirable, capable) were used to form new words. Examples of such hybrids, as they are called, are:
fulfilment bondage readable
bewilderment cottage unbearable
bewitchment stoppage drinkable
4) The French prefix dis- was used to make up words of negative meaning: distrust, distaste.
5) The indefinite article was coming into use.
6) The struggle for supremacy between French and old English words went on in the following way:
a) If the French word meant a thing or idea for which there was no name in English, then the French word came into the language. Such words were those relating to government, church, court, armour, pleasure, food, art.
b) If the object or idea was clearly expressed in English, then the English word remained.
c) If both words remained, then it was because of a slight but clear-cut difference in the meaning. An interesting example is to be found in the first chapter of "Ivanhoe" by Sir Walter Scott. Wamba, a Saxon serf, tells the swineherd Gurth that his swine will be turned into Normans before morning. The Anglo-Saxon word "swine" means the living animals, while the French word "pork" is the name of the food. Other examples are:
calf — veal, ox — beef, sheep — mutton.
7) As a result of this process there appeared a large store of synonyms. Each of them has its own shade of meaning. The use of one or other of these synonyms makes all the difference between the written and the spoken language. Note the difference between the following verbs; those of Anglo-Saxon origin are used in conversation, while the verbs of French origin are used in formal speech:
to give up — to abandon
to give in
to come in — to enter
to begin — to commence
to go on — to continue
The history of English literature shows us how the popular tongue became the language of the educated classes because it was spoken by the majority of the population, by those who tilled the soil, sowed and reaped, by those who produced the goods and struggled against the foreign oppressors.
Norman-French and Anglo-Saxon were moulded into one national language only towards the beginning of the 14th century when the
Hundred Years' War broke out. The language of that time is called Middle English.