English pp 34-47 | Cite as

1066 and All That

  • Jan Svartvik
  • Geoffrey Leech


In our survey of the history of the English language, we have now come to perhaps the most famous landmark of all. In the popular view, history is often highly personalized: it is men and women that make history. In this case it was Duke William of Normandy — known to the English as William the Conqueror — who defeated the English king Harold in the fateful year 1066. This classic date is usually remembered, though not celebrated, by the English as the beginning of 300 years of strong French influence, changing the whole course of English history. But how far did the Norman Conquest change the course of the English language? The wider implications of the Norman Conquest for England and the English language are matters of debate. As The Oxford History of Britain puts it:

In some respects 1066 wrought great changes; in other respects, great changes occurred but can hardly be ascribed to the Conquest; in yet others, the most striking feature is not change at all, but continuity.

For example, after the Conquest a number of Old Norse words — such as words now spelled egg, get, sky, sister and window — show up in written English for the first time. But does this mean that the language was changing? Or was it merely that, at this time, what had already happened to spoken Old English was now being properly recorded in writing?


English Language Thirteenth Century Fourteenth Century French Word English History 
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Notes and Comments

  1. The chapter title comes from a classic of British humour, 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman (1930). This chapter, like the last, draws extensively on standard histories of the English language, especially N. F. Blake’s A History of the English Language.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Svartvik
    • 1
  • Geoffrey Leech
    • 2
  1. 1.Lund UniversitySweden
  2. 2.Lancaster UniversityUK

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