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Review of  The Transmission of Anglo-Norman

Reviewer: Devan B. Steiner
Book Title: The Transmission of Anglo-Norman
Book Author: Richard P. Ingham
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): Anglo-Norman
Issue Number: 24.2950

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In “The Transmission of Anglo-Norman: Language history and language acquisition”, Richard Ingham explores the question “how far is language learnable under non-normal conditions that modify input characteristics, learner characteristics, or both?” (p 3). To do this, he examines Anglo-Norman (A-N), the variety of French spoken in England from the 11th to the 15th century, a language learned and used as a second language (L2) for the majority of its existence. Even as an L2, A-N was widely used and, based on textual evidence, its speakers had a near-native level of competency. During the late 13th century, this advanced level of competency began to decline, ultimately resulting in the loss of A-N. This book is divided into 11 chapters, including an introduction and conclusion, and presents the results of six studies of A-N phonology and syntax. The aim is to “identify the ‘support system’ that permitted [AN’s] extended survival and whose removal caused its death” (p 4).

Chapter One begins by establishing the major challenge of working with Anglo-Norman, that it continued to be widely used in England long after ceasing to be an L1. During this time, A-N showed systematic developments that differed from those found in continental Old French (OFr). For this reason, many have suggested that Anglo-Norman should not be studied in its own right, but Ingham sees this extended L2 period as a reason A-N should be studied. It provides a case study for what happens to a language when it is a persistent L2, acquired in an educational environment in middle childhood, rather than as an L1 or an L2 acquired in adolescence. To examine A-N in this light -- as an early acquired L2 -- Ingham interprets the development of A-N through the lens of second language acquisition, which is highly innovative.

Chapter Two establishes a brief sketch of early 13th century A-N grammar. Here, Ingham distinguishes between the characteristics of A-N shared with Old French, and those that are idiosyncratic. He also notes which aspects of early (L1) A-N are similar to Middle English, and therefore not of interest to the present study, and those that differ from English. Similar features are to be avoided, as they provide no evidence for possible convergence between A-N and Middle English. A-N is then compared to other medieval L2 varieties of OFr known to have been acquired in adolescence or later, since languages acquired after this point tend to show evidence of L1 transfer. The data from these varieties show that elements not shared with the speaker’s L1 were lost while those shared with the L1 were over-extended. This provides a basis for comparison with Anglo-Norman in the following chapter; features in A-N that do not occur in English should have been lost due to L1 transfer from English, if it were an instructed L2.

Chapter Three reviews the literature on Anglo-Norman, including the various views on the point which A-N went into decline. The main work on A-N discussed is Pope (1934), the foundational work on A-N. Pope considers the mid 13th century as the point of no return, as far as A-N is concerned, due to the growing phonological differences between A-N and continental French. According to Ingham, the main problem with previous work on A-N is the faulty assumption that “once English was most people’s mother-tongue, French could not also be a competently acquired language”, which rests on “little to no empirical foundation” (p 27, 28). In addition, this chapter provides a sociohistorical foundation for Ingham’s later claims about the beginning of the loss of A-N as well as the age of its acquisition.

In Chapter Four, Ingham provides the rationale and design of the studies presented in the following chapters. The book focuses on phonological and syntactic variation, as they are potentially the most informative with respect to L1 transfer. Each feature examined was realized differently in Middle English and Old French, and therefore is a potential source for L1 transfer from English to AN. Furthermore, there are differences between OFr and A-N in the evolution of the selected features at various points in their history. Furthermore, Ingham only examines features where English contrast with Medieval French to avoid issues arising from French influence on English.

Chapter Five presents several aspects of Anglo-Norman phonology. The chapter begins by comparing changes in Old French (OFr) and A-N phonology, and discussing the possible influences from English on these changes in AN. Of the four vocalic changes examined, only the earliest, the merger of ai/ei, occurs in both A-N and OFr. The remaining vowels examined evolved differently in the two languages. The second half of the chapter critiques the argument put forward in Floquet (2010) against the use of rhyme in phonological studies. Floquet argues that in Modern French, a certain amount of neutralization involving features such as [palatal] is permitted in rhymed pairs; therefore mismatched rhymes in A-N may be the result of poetic license rather than phonological change. Ingham tests this methodological critique by examining mismatched rhymes diachronically. His results do not support a role for poetic license. Rhymes involving neutralizable features existing in Early Middle English (EME) do not show any appreciable sign of neutralization, while those involving sounds which did not occur in EME show A-N increasing frequency of neutralization. These contrasting results suggest that neutralization was only possible when part of a sound change. Overall, the changes seen in these studies indicate the presence of L1 transfer from English in Anglo Norman, at least phonologically.

Chapters Six through Ten examine various aspects of A-N syntax, morphology and pragmatics: the syntax of quantifiers, gender marking on nouns, verb second, null subjects, attributive adjective-noun order, and discourse particles. In each chapter, Ingham helpfully provides the reader with a clear explanation of what changes (or non-changes) are to be expected in A-N in the event of L1 transfer from English. Each of the changes seen in A-N mirror those in French rather than those in English until the mid-fourteenth century. Around 1350, there is evidence of systemic syntactic change in A-N, resulting in a grammar that is no longer native-like. This suggests a shift in the manner of acquisition at this time.

Given what is known about the effect of age of acquisition on L2 competency, the results of each study, both individually and as a whole, demonstrate two clear changes in A-N . The first shift in age of acquisition occurred in the early 13th century. At this point, A-N was no longer an L1, but an L2 acquired in a naturalistic setting in middle childhood. The second shift occurred in the mid-14th century, when A-N demonstrates an increasing frequency in non-native-like errors. This suggests that it was no longer acquired during in middle childhood, but rather in adolescence. Ingham concludes that “A-N lost its status as a spoken language among educated professionals after the Black Death” (p 162). This contrasts with the longstanding assumption that A-N was an “artificial” language (an L2 acquired in adolescence and used in limited contexts) after the early 13th century, following the loss of Normandy to the English crown.

Ingham sets out to answer this question: what happens to a language when it is learned in an educational environment in early education, and what must change for the language to die? He is successful in this pursuit. First, he demonstrates that acquisition in middle childhood results in near-native competency, including native-like changes over time. Secondly, delaying the age of acquisition to adolescence is sufficient to trigger language death.

In addition to presenting an innovative approach to language contact in diachrony, and contributing to the literature on acquisition and language change, Ingham breathes new life into the study of Anglo-Norman. By looking at phonology and syntax separately and comparing them to both English and Old French, as well as to what is expected at different ages of acquisition, Ingham is able to reframe our ideas about AN’s importance and longevity.

Throughout, Ingham provides a clear and detailed rationale for the methodologies employed in each study. He creates a clear and compelling narrative both in the book as a whole and in each chapter. By providing sufficient background information and step-by-step discussion of his methodologies and results, Ingham leads the reader to reach the appropriate conclusion on their own.

While Ingham’s results are compelling, they do not completely align with those of other recent work on Anglo-Norman. For example, in Chapter 8, Ingham examines the loss of verb-second in Anglo-Norman compared to English and Old French: “[if] A-N did experience substantial English influence on the syntax of V2, it should therefore have shown evidence of favouring V2 with nominal subjects and not with pronominal ones” (p 106). His results show that A-N did not show any significant difference in the frequency of V2 with either type of subject, leading him to conclude that there was no influence from English on A-N. Steiner (2010), on the other hand, finds that A-N did maintain V2 orders with nominal subjects longer than pronominal subjects. These results are indicative of imperfect L2 acquisition, when compared to the frequency of V2 in English and French. If nothing else, this discrepancy suggests that there is room for more work on this topic.

The one issue with the book is that the concluding chapter is somewhat underdeveloped. It would have been beneficial to solidify and explicate the link between the diachronic results from each study to what is expected given known acquisitional outcomes and how it all ties into the socio-historical context for Anglo-Norman. While Ingham treats this to varying extents in each chapter, it would have been beneficial to have an extended summary of the assumptions and conclusions.

Overall, this book is a significant contribution to research on Anglo-Norman, and a must-read for those working on the impact of contact between French-English as well as historical contact situations in general. While this is not an introductory book, as it assumes knowledge of various linguistic concepts, it provides enough of an overview of A-N, English and Old French to be accessible to linguists who do not specialize in these languages.

Floquet, O. (2010). Sur la nasale palatale et les rimes approximatives en Anglo-Normand. In F. Neveu (ed.) Actes IIe Congres mondial de Linguistique Française. New Orleans: EDP Sciences. Pp. 1303-1317.

Pope, M. (1934). From Latin to Modern French, with Especial Consideration of Anglo-Norman: Phonology and Morphology. Manchester: MUP.

Steiner, B.D. (2010). Middle English influence on late Anglo-Norman syntax: The effect of imperfect L2 acquisition. In J.C. Clements, J.F. Siegel, B.D. Steiner & M. Solon (Eds.), IUWPL9: New Perspectives on Language Contact and Contact-Induced Change. Bloomington, IN: IULC Publications. Pp. 99-115.
B. Devan Steiner is a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University and a lecturer of French at Ithaca College. She is currently completing her dissertation, entitled “The Role of Information Structure in the Loss of Verb Second in French”. Her work primarily focuses on Medieval and Renaissance French and Anglo-Norman. Her research interests include diachronic syntax, language contact, verb second, information structure and prosody.