In his 1819 novel, Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), considered by many to be the creator of the historical novel, narrates the tale of the struggles between Saxons and Normans and the efforts of Prince John to dethrone his brother, Richard the Lionheart and in passing highlights a number of linguistic curiosities.

The Saxon languages – English in particular, but also German and Dutch – have many words of romantic or Latin origin.

In his book, Scott highlights the different names given to farm animals (depending on whether they are alive or on the plate ready to eat) and the socio-political relationships behind these differences. Live animals being cared for and which are named by the Saxon servants in their Saxon language are called “pigs”, “deer”, “cows”, “chickens”, “sheep”, etc. However, when they appear on the plate, the higher status Norman invader who actually eats these animals, uses the Norman words to describe them as “pork”, “venison”, “beef”, “poultry”, “mutton”, etc.

These and other distinctions occurring in a language that are the result of a natural evolutionary process and of the interaction between different speakers at the same time must be taken into account by translators when contextualising a particular text.

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