When you first started learning English, you may have struggled with some patterns. You may have realised that there are a good number of words that are not pronounced the way you expected, in fact, there are words that are spelled virtually identically, yet pronounced differently. Why are the words fury and bury pronounced so differently from one another? It is helpful to learn some basic concepts of English phonetics and pronunciation to get an understanding of how the English language works, this post deals with one explanation why the English language works the way it does.
The English language has a vast history and it has been influenced by several different cultures and languages. This post addresses one of these concepts and will provide a basic overview:
1066, or why the Norman Conquest of England is responsible for the sheer amount of French words in English: the culprit was William the Conqueror, who crossed the English Channel from Normandy with 4000-7000 knights and foot soldiers. After reaching the coast and quickly taking Pevensey, it came to the famous Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066. Despite attempting to defend their country, Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, died in battle and his army was vanquished or was scattered. William established himself as the new king of England, being crowned William I in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day within the same year.
The English language as we know it today is dependent on this victory and its consequences. Coming from Normandy, William I transformed Anglo-Saxon England by changing many systems within the country. One significant change responsible for the change in the language was replacing the English nobility with a Norman aristocracy, as well as taking control of the church by installing Norman bishops instead of Anglo-Saxon ones. As a result, Old English became less and less important. The important people spoke Norman French. This had an effect on common speech too. It is the reason we have words like beef and cow, pork and pig. The common folk called the animals by their Old English names; the Norman French aristocracy used French to describe them. Today we use both terms, one for the meat that is eaten and one for the animal that gets to live another day.
Just like that, the Norman Conquest in 1066 dramatically changed the English language and this is one of several reasons why sometimes words are not pronounced the way you expected.