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  • #21
    Originally posted by ssokolow View Post

    Actually, it began with the Norman conquest of 1066, when the conquering Normans insisted that their language (a cousin to Old French) would be the language of government. The end result being that modern English descends from Old English grammar with a mixture of Old English and Old Norman words. (That's one reason English is such an outlier. We still have a grammar of germanic descent, but all the words not frequently used by peasants have been replaced by a romance lexicon.)

    If it's a long English word, it's likely a loanword, either because, like words ending with -ment (eg. equipment, parliament, etc.), it came from Old Norman, or because academics had a hard-on for latin for a while. (Check out the New Anglish wiki if you want to see what English might have looked like without that effect.)

    The peasants didn't learn the Old Norman grammar, so they tended to take conjugated forms of Old Norman words and then treat them as infinitives.

    As for "née" vs "né", that's actually an example of a consistent rule English has developed for borrowing Norman/French words: Take the female form because it's more compatible with English pronunciation intuitiion once diacritics have been removed (eg. "active" rather than "actif", "matinee" rather than "matine", etc.), and throw out the male form because, as a language, English has a history of jettisoning noun engenderment unless it can be repurposed to produce two distinct words. (eg. "mistress" took on its own distinct meaning, leaving either a gender-neutral "master" or things like "lady of the house" to serve the original purpose.)

    In the case of words ending in "ee" like "matinee", "nee", etc., the feminine form ends up winning out because, once the accent on the é is discarded by English-speaking people, the "ee" becomes the pronunciation cue. ("fiancée" is in the middle of this transition, with both "fiance" and "fiancee" being listed as valid in the dictionary, but English-speakers preferring the latter because the former looks like it should rhyme with "finance".)

    A few other related bits of trivia:
    1. This Norman Conquest mess is the reason English is almost unique in having separate words for living and cooked livestock. The peasants cared for them and called them "cow", "calf", "pig", etc. The lords ate them and called them "bœuf", "veau", "porc", etc.
    2. Messrs. is the plural of Mr. because "Mister", though a corruption of "Master", originally comes from the French "Monsieur" (literally an archaic form of "My Sir"). Since posessives agree in number with the words they relate to in French, the plural of that is "Messieurs". ("Miss", "Mrs.", and "Ms." all descend from "Mistress".)
    3. "Fuck" is the victim of the grandfather of modern smear campaigns, with the Norman lords actively trying to replace the peasants' word of choice at the time with the ancestors to modern words like "fornicate" and "copulate".
    4. One of the reasons English pronunciation is so strange is that the printing press was introduced during the Great vowel shift, helping to cement spellings that were in the process of falling out of sync with spoken English.
    5. Rules like "Don't split the infinitive" and "Never end a sentence with a preposition" originate in the 19th century with academics who had such a hard-on for latin that they were convinced that forcing its rules onto English would make the language better. (Spoiler: It doesn't, because English's germanic grammar managed to remain consistent and powerful throughout the centuries and mixing in latin rules runs counter ot how it's still being refined by retiring needless complexity like "use whom, not who... when its status as an indirect object is already clear from the sentence structure".)
    6. The Norman conquest isn't the only thing which muddled up English, with the British isles also seeing earlier settlement by speakers of North Germanic languages. This is part of why English is technically a West Germanic language, yet we have North Germanic features, like the voiced ("this") and unvoiced ("thick") "th" consonants.

    ...can you tell I find this stuff fascinating. :P
    Indeed very fascinating