119 Years of Trust Roots THE TRIBUNE
saturday plus
Saturday, March 20, 1999



The French connection-II

IN the Middle Ages, when at last the descendants of the Norman invaders adapted themselves to the English culture, the Englishmen also felt sufficiently relaxed to borrow from the French language. Between 1250 and 1500, 9,000 words of French origin poured into the language and at least seventyfive per cent of them are still in use.

Most of the modern vocabulary of government and politics came into being at that time. And a major portion takes origin from French. Here are a few samples:

Alliance from French alier (to join).

Government from government.

Parliament from parler (to speak).

Revenue from revenu (to return)

French origins can be traced for many words from the

register of religion and law, too:

Bail from French bail (custody).

Charity from charite.

Clergy from clergie.

Jury from juree.

Larceny from larcen (theft).

The influx of borrowings was so great that sometimes the same word would be borrowed twice; corresponding to different French dialects. For example, canal and channel, warden and guardian, warrant and guarantee. A variation of this process exists in bisociation, where a word already existed in English (freedom, hearty, go up, go down, yearly, answer, room, seethe), yet a loanword of the same meaning was taken from French (liberty, cordial, ascend, descend, annual, reply, chamber, boil). The readiness to acquire near-synonyms has contributed immensely to the stylistic versatility of English today.

All the words borrowed in medieval times have been assimilated so well that today we hardly ever recognise them as French words. In the words of Prof Albert C. Baugh, "English retains a controlling interest, but French as a large minority stock holder supplements and rounds out the major organisation in almost every department.


Sometimes on their journey from one language to another, words acquire strange twists. The Hindi gulab, for instance, comes from the Persian gul ka aab meaning rose water. The gul was the rose, a specific flower. With the passage of time, the whole flower became gulab. Thus using gulab jal as an expression is misunderstanding the original usage.

— Deepti


This feature was published on March 13, 1999

Home Image Map
| Good Motoring and You | Dream Analysis | Regional Vignettes |
Fact File | Roots | Crossword | Stamp Quiz | Stamped Impressions | Mail box |