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can anyone elaborate? // linguistic thoughts - Lograh — LiveJournal

Monday, 23.Aug.2004

10:05 - can anyone elaborate? // linguistic thoughts

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So, I was reading a discussion over in denglish about the way US citizens view France vs. how we view Germany. One person suggested the following point, which I find quite interesting:

Modern Englsh grew out of a period where the upper class (Normans) spoke French while the lower class (Anglo-Saxons) spoke a Germanic language. One example of this in modern English is in the names of meats vs. the names of the corresponding animals. Where they differ, the name of the meat is descended from Norman French (beef, mutton, pork, poultry) and the name of the animal is descended from Anglo-Saxon (cattle, sheep, swine, chicken), possibly a relict of the hard-working Anglo-Saxons raising the animals while the effete Normans simply dined on them.

So, I've done a little shearching through m-w.com looking at the derivations of the particular examples he gave and found the the names of the meats did come from french, where the names of the animals came mostly from german (with the exceptions of "cattle", which was french but "cow" is from german, and "chicken" didn't seem to have any pre-english roots). So, I'm wondering if anyone reading this has some linguistic (or historical english) knowledge they could share that would elaborate on this class-based split of the origins of english words. It's definately something I'm going to be looking a bit further into, spending some time with a dictionary and drawing a chart of which words are french and which are german and trying to see if there's some posisble class-based relation among them.

If there is such a relation, I think it would go a long way to explaining why so many people (myself included) have this prejudice of the french as being high-society and snobbish and the germans are percieved as being more working-class types.


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Date:10:56 23.Aug.2004 (UTC)
things sort of alternated. Well before the Normans, the Romans left a mark on old English, both in England and in German lands (what became Saxony.) Thus the more formal words "insect" and "canine" (from Latin) were used along less formal "bug" and "dog" (from the Anglo-Saxon.)

For some interesting reading, check out "Beowulf" in the original Old English, and compare it to Chaucer in Middle English--you get a good "before & after" look at English as affected by the Normans.

A lot of the American view of French vs. Germans might be due to the fact that we had a whole lot of German immigrants and not so many French. You wouldn't really know it on the West Coast, but in the northern Midwest it gets very Deutsch...in northern Wisconsin, a county guide I read mentioned local cultural/ethnic groups and listed "German, Belgian and Scandinavian" as examples of the region's cultural diversity...
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Date:8:56 24.Aug.2004 (UTC)
heh.. yeah, I've seen some passages from Beowulf cited for how different Old English is from Middle/Modern English. I don't know how they ever managed to communicate at all, that language was messed up! :)

I've heard that the saturation of german heritage rises once you hit the east coast. I've been tempted to travel to a few places over there just to see the phone books (I've heard one place over there (can't remember where) has *PAGES* of people with my last name!).
So you're thinking that the german immigrants brought with them anti-french sentiment and the lack of french influence allowed that sentiment to grow into the pervasive anti-french attitude most americans seem to have? Possible. It's something to think on, for certain.
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Date:19:18 23.Aug.2004 (UTC)
since I took two semesters of old english and one of middle english, I suppose I'm qualified to answer.

that guy is right about the linguistic derivation, but completely wrong about the roots of anti-french sentiment in america.

I mean, COME ON. we wouldn't have won the revolutionary war without the french. the french were regarded as great friends for most of the first century, except for a little tenseness during the war of 1812. and the french thought of us as friends, too. that's why they gave us the statue of liberty, remember?

we helped france in WWI. after the war, many american artists chose france as their second home. france was considered a cultural center.

everything seems hunky-dory pretty much up until after WWII. france got its butt kicked pretty badly, and britain was almost beaten, too, but america cane to their aide. it wasn't *just* us, but a lot of americans thought pretty well of themselves after WWII.

the british had a very positive reaction to america after the war, which fit in with our own inflated views of ourselves... but the french, in personality, are much too much like americans. they were the cultural center for a couple centuries, and frequently act like it. and, occasionally, proved they still "had it", in some sense. french film wound up having an enormous influence on cinema, and the members of the Nouvelle Vague made sure to let everyone know that the french know cinema better than everyone else (although, ironically, this includes praising *american* movies most americans snub their noses at, like Jerry Lewis's solo work, or obscure american film noire.)

there's also the high german population that Jetrock mentioned... but he didn't mention something I know he could explain in great detail: there was a strong german-american nationalist movement in america around WWII that was heavily influenced by the nazi party. they eventually dissocieted themselves with the nazis, and most german-american don't admire hitler anymore, but there may be a lingering animosity between the two ethnic groups. hard to say. I haven't noticed my french relatives in wisconsin hanging around with germans, but then they eat brauts, so I dunno.
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Date:8:47 24.Aug.2004 (UTC)
okay, so there really is a class-based french/german split in english derivation? interesting. still something I want to look at.

I will agree, given the points you raised (and which I knew allready but had for some reason forgotten -- bad me! no doughnut!) that it doesn't explain the anti-french sentiment in America. But I will counter that neither does a few snobby french artists in the last handful of decades. Particularly when you consider that there are a good deal of americans who will admit that french culture is still high-up there. Heck, I'm one of them. I personally find French culture and art amazing, but I hate the people.

I can similarly say "COME ON" in response to the claim that the recent french snobbery is enough to kill over a century of good relations. Historically, as you were quick to point out, American-French relations were pretty damn good. But did the american people really *like* the french as much as those relations would lead one to belive? I'm sure we'd come to their aid in a war should they be attacked today, but that doesn't mean the average american citizen actually likes the french.

As for the french and germans hating one another, I obviously am far from an expert but I did notice that I got treated better in Paris when I spoke german than when I spoke english. I don't know if anything can be reasonably drawn from that, but I got the impression that they actually liked germans better than americans. I also roomed with a few germans for a few days and they told me how they belived most germans actually love the french.
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