The status of French in medieval England: evidence from the use of object pronoun syntax

The status of French in medieval England: evidence from the use of object pronoun syntax

Ingham, Richard (UCE Birmingham)

Vox Romanica 65 (2006)


The special status of Anglo-Norman (AN) in relation to continental French has recently been subject to renewed debate, one perspective emphasising its sui generis status as a second language in England (Kibbee 2000), and another that it was part of the medieval French dialect continuum (Trotter 2003). This study presents evidence that syntactically AN was not an isolated variety, but closely reflected ongoing internal systemic change within continental French in the syntax of object pronouns, which is known to be vulnerable in the acquisition of French as a second language. An extensive sample of Anglo-Norman texts datable between the mid 12th and the mid 14th centuries is examined. Object pronoun use in four contexts is analysed: finite clauses with auxiliaries, non-finite clauses, V1 imperative clauses, and V2 imperative clauses. In all these contexts Anglo-Norman usage with respect to object pronoun morphosyntax very closely parallelled continental French, and did not reflect different object pronoun positions in Middle English. In finite clauses with auxiliaries, object pronouns continued to precede a tensed auxiliary. In non-finite clauses, clitic pronouns underwent a switch towards preceding an infinitive after about 1320, as in continental French. Pronouns preceded verbs in V2 imperatives but not in ordinary V1 imperatives. English offered no model for such accurate positional discrimination across these differing contexts. It is concluded that, for this outcome to be observed, AN must have retained close ties with continental French linguistic developments. The issue is raised of how such linguistic competence was transmitted, whether by instruction or by other means.

Abstract ~ In French

Cet article se penche sur la syntaxe des pronoms personnels compléments d’objet direct en Anglo-Normand. A partir d’un examen de textes allant du XIIe au XIVe siècles, il est demontré que l’Anglo-Norman a étroitement suivi l’évolution du français en ce qui concerne le placement des pronoms clitiques dans les propositions infinitivales. A été également respecté le placement du pronom c.o.d. dans les propositions à auxiliaire fléchi, aussi bien que dans les impératives. L’influence de la syntaxe du moyen anglais ne s’est nullement fait sentir dans ces domaines. Cette analyse rejoint une perspective selon laquelle l’Anglo-Normand faisait partie d’un continuum dialectal francophone, au lieu d’en être coupé par son statut de langue seconde. Le problème est posé de la transmission de ces compétences linguistiques, soit par l’enseignement soit autrement.

Click here to read this article from Vox Romanica

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine
Show Buttons
Hide Buttons