The Social, Political and Cultural History of an International Prestige Language
3. The French of Medieval England
In a twentieth-century volume on Le Français hors de France [French outside France], England does not even figure.1 From a modern perspective this makes sense, but historically England is important for any understanding of the role of French outside France. It was not only the geographical space in which French was first established as a language of written documents and of historical narrative,2 but also a locus where French flourished as one vernacular among others. The French of medieval England is therefore of particular interest from a sociolinguistic perspective.
We shall look first at the rise of French in the centuries immediately following the Norman Conquest of England and consider some of the questions raised by the ascendancy of French. Why did it become a major language in England? Who used it and for what purposes? And what contribution did the French of England make to wider francophone literary culture? We shall then go on to examine what happened to French from the middle of the thirteenth century. In this period English became increasingly used as a written language, while French gradually ceased to be a mother tongue. However, as we hope to show, French continued to be vital as both a spoken and a written language, and so we end by discussing some of the contexts in which it remained the language of choice well into the fifteenth century.
The obvious starting point for any discussion of the use of French in medieval...
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