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since been disused, or so much altered as to be of questionable identification. But the general permanence of Chaucer's French words may reasonably be esteemed a proof that he is in no sense the author of this particular combination of the two languages; that he adopted and did not invent the mixture.
The proportion of French was very much more considerable than is generally admitted. Sometimes we meet with lines which are almost wholly French:—
Was verray felicitee parfite. Prol. 340.
He was a verray perfit practisour. Prol. 424.
He was a verray parfit gentil knight. Prol. J 2.
And sikerly she was of great desport,
And ful plesaunt and amyable of port;
And peyned hire to countrefete chiere
Of Court, and been estatlich of manere;
And to been holden digne of reverence. Prol. 137.
§ 10. The Bilingualism of King's English.
77. But we have proofs of more intimate association with the French language than this amounts to. The dualism of our elder phraseology has been already noticed. It is a very expressive feature in regard to the early relations of English with French. Words run much in couples, the one being English and the other French; and it is plain that the habit was caused by the bilingual state of the population. Thus :—
act and deed.
aid and abet.
baile and borowe. 316.
captive and thrall.
head and chief.
head and front.
uncouthe and strange. Chaucer s Dreme, vol. vi. p. 57; ed. Bell.
nature and, kind. Ibid. p. 55.
disese and wo. Ibid. p. 102.
mirth and jollity.
meres and bounds.
huntynge and venerye. Canterbury Tales, 2308.
steedes and palfreys. Ibid. 2495.
stedfast and stable. Ballade to King Richard.
prest and bouu. T. Occleve, in Skeat's Specimens, p. 20.
watch and ward. Faery Queene, ii. 9. 25.
ways and means.
It is not an unfrequent thing in Chaucer for a line to contain a single fact bilingually repeated :—
He was a well good wriht a carpentere. Prol. 614.
78. Sometimes this feature might escape notice from the alteration that has taken place in the meaning of words. In the following quotation from the Prologue, there are two of these diglottisms in a single line :—
A knyght ther was and that a worthy man,
The last line contains four nouns to express two ideas. 'Trouthe' is 'honour,' and 'fredom' is-' curteisye.' The formula ' I plight thee my troth' is equal to saying 'I pledge thee my honour,' only the former is a more solemn way of saying it—the word troth having been reserved for more impressive use. The word freedom employed in the sense of gentlemanlike manners, politeness, as the equivalent of courtesy, is to be found by a study of our early poetry.
These examples may suffice to shew that this prevalent coupling of words, one English with one French, is no mere accident or rhetorical exuberance. It sprang first out of the mutual necessity felt by two races of people and two classes of society to make themselves intelligible the one to the other. It is, in fact, a putting of colloquial formulae to do the duty of a French-English and English-French vocabulary.
79. At length this ripens into a figure and form of eloquence. Force is given to a statement by saying it in the two languages, provided it can be done gracefully and melodiously. When Spenser has occasion to represent that Cambello, though taken by surprise, is nevertheless quite ready to fight, he sets this military virtue in relief by saying it in both English and French. The word prest means ready; it is the modern French prel:—
He lightly lept out of his place of rest,
The Faery Queene, iv. 3. 2 3.
The two languages became yokefellows in a still more intimate manner. From combination it is but a step to composition. Compounds of the most close and permanent kind were formed bilingually. Some of them exist in the present English. Such a compound is butt-end, where the first part is bout, the French word for end. In besiege we have be- a Saxon adverb meaning 'around,' linked to a French verb siiger, to sit; and the compound means 'to sit around' a place. The old word which this hybrid supplanted was besittan, from which we still retain the verb to beset. So in like manner the genuine Saxon beivray was superseded by the hybrid betray. A somewhat different case is that of the word gentleman, where a French compound gentilhomme is half translated, and so the word has been permanently fixed in a bilingual condition.
80. But there is a blending of a yet more intimate kind between the two languages. Sometimes an English word was retained in the language as the mere representative of some French word. It was divorced from its old sense, and made to take a sense from some French word of contiguous idea. A good example offers in the Prologue:—
And thogh Jiat he weere worthy he was wys,
The first line means that although the knight was valiant, yet was he modest, gentle, well-disciplined, sober-minded, as the lines following explain. The word wys or wise here does duty for the French sage, of which it is enough to say that French mothers at the present day, when they tell a child to be good, say Sot's sage. It would be a bald rendering of this maternal admonition if it were verbally Englished Be wise. Equally far is the use of the word wise in that passage of Chaucer both from the old Saxon sense and our modern use. We now use the word just as our early ancestors did, before it had received the French colouring which has since faded out.
81. In this way of representation much in our language is French in spirit though the words are made of Saxon material. The relative pronouns are a strong example. We have now two relative pronouns neuter, namely, that and which. The Saxon had only that; and there was no other use of which but as an interrogative. At this period, in imitation of the French que and lequel, the interrogative which assumed the function of a relative, and in Chaucer we often meet with these two in cumulation, thus—
I wil yow telle a tale which that I
The Clerk of Oxenfordes Prologe.
And in like manner the relative uses of who, what, when, where, whence, why, are all of them thinly-disguised imitations of the French. In Chaucer ther is still the usual conjunction, instead of where as we should now write :—
This constable was no thing lord of this place
The Man of Lowes Tale, 576.
82. As a result of these intimate blendings, it happened that words and phrases were produced of which it is impossible to say definitely that they are either French or English. No ingenuity has as yet been able to uncoil the fabric of certain expressions which at this epoch make their appearance. For example, 'He gave five shillings to boot' —what is the origin of this familiar and thoroughly English expression to boot? We know of a 'boot' or 'bote' which is native English from the Saxon verb betan, to mend or better a thing. The fishermen of Yarmouth have sometimes astonished the learned and curious who have conversed with them, by talking of beating their nets (so it sounds) when they mean mending them. In Saxon times B6t was the legal and most current word for amends of any kind. It passed into ecclesiastical diction in the term Djed-bot, deedbettering, a word that was succeeded by the term penance. Then bote was used later for material to mend with. It was for centuries, and perhaps still is in some parts, a set phrase in leases of land, that though the tenant might not fell timber, yet he might have wood to mend his plough and