French contact

“French has syllable-timed prosody; English has a stress-timed prosody.”

English borrowed thousands of words from French, but did so by imposing a Germanic stress pattern on the original. Another way of saying the above sentence is this: Germanic is left-headed; French is right-headed”.

Germanic words stress the first syllable and follow it with an unstressed syllable; this is called a trochee. A three syllable word has to unstressed syllables and is called a dactyl. The sense that vowel is stressed combines loudness, length and pitch (usually deeper).  Stress is applied to the nucleus of a syllable, a vowel, not the onset or coda.

New Norman food words were different from the OE animal names:

boeuf → “beef”, mouton → “mŭtŭn”, poulet “pŭlǐt”, both trochees; venaison → “venəsən” or “venısən”, a dactyl 

One word has only one stress. If you hear two stresses, you hear two words: “a crow is a black bird, but a crow is not a blackbird”; “all soldiers PRESent and correct, preSENT arms!”

Borrowings for nouns and adjectives usually impose Germanic stress on first syllable: most 2-syllable nouns:     PRESent, EXport, CHIna, TAble; most 2-syllable adjectives: PRESent, SLENder, CLEVer, HAPpy

But borrowings (from French) of some two-syllable verbs can import right-headed stress: preSENT, exPORT, deCIDE, beGIN  

Borrowings of polysyllables from Greek can following the lending language: stress on penultimate syllable:         geoGRAPHic; stress on ante-penultimate syllable:   deMOcracy, phoTOgraphy

Borrowing of polysyllables from French of “communauté Européenne” → “European community” seems to give two stressed and two unstressed. The French requirement for equal syllables rejects a coda finishing with a consonant, so there may be and extra syllable in “Européenne”

F:         err – rrho – pay – en – nuh     ko – myew – no – tay.

E:         yewr – up – ee- un                  kom – yew – nut -ee

F:     exportez vos produits manufacturés via le service export de la Communauté Européenne

E:     export your manufactured products via the European Community’s export office

The next example uses IPA for the English. Is there a /j/ sound before letter <u> in French?

F:      je suis étudiante en littérature française à l’université de Bruxelles

E:      aɪ æm ə ˈstjuːdənt ɒv frɛnʧ ˈlɪtərɪʧər æt ðə ˌjuːnɪˈvɜːsɪti ɒv ˈbrʌsəlz

Shakespeare is credited with up to 1700 neologisms. One class of his creations applies a bound morpheme as a suffix. Germanic suffixes such as -ness are unstressed.

The following bound suffixes from French seem to avoid right-headed stress: 

-able was made it into two little unstressed syllables ŭbŭl”, e.g. “likable”

What about <-ment>, <-tion>, <-ure>, <-ish>, <-al>?

été  has too much stress so we made société into “sos- ai-ŭt-ee”

Derivational morphology of English therefore usually manages to fit French borrowings into left-headed stress, but occasionally right-headed stress is preserved: “society”, “present arms”  

The word “pup” is an interesting back-formation from “poupée”.

English speakers were exposed to Norman French, which was regarded in Paris as a regional dialect. The accent of William of Normandy may have been Picard. This is known colloquially and in the film, “Welcome to the Sticks” as ch’ti because /s/ is replaced by /ʃ/.

Wace was from Jersey and translated Geoffrey’s history for Norman French audience about their territories in England. A few lines from his “Roman de Brut” are reproduced below. (The final consonants need pronouncing for Middle French.)

‘Ky vot oyr e wot saver /
De rey en rey e de eir en eir /
ke cil furent e dunt vindrent /
ke engleterre primes tindrent’.

French Phonology