A History of English - Why it is not One Language but Many

English Women

When I taught English to foreign speakers, I always started with a bit of history. Speakers of German, Dutch, Danish and other Gothic tongues recognize part of English and it is easy for them. Speakers of French, Italian and Spanish recognize another part of English and that part is easy to them. Speakers of a Romance language and a Gothic language would immediately see that Enlish is both with some hidden influence on it that changes the pronunciation and adds to the vocabulary. For many, many years, this hidden influence was denied and covered up. Recently, a DNA survey of the British Isles has revealed what the English denied: they are not just Anglo-Saxon. Even in the southeast, thought to be more pure, is very mixed. With what? A goodly chunk of the British are also Viking, both Danish and Norwegian, but the bulk of the DNA shows that the people of the British Isles are Iberian Celt. They are the last fringe of an ancient people who came out of Romania and the area of the Ukraine, pushed east over thousands of years and clung to the Atlantic seaboard as they were followed by more peoples from the East. They traded heavily with Crete and Phoenicia and traveled all over Britain, Brittany, Portugal and Northern Costal Spain. They defended their areas against Rome with success, unlike the inland Gaulish peoples and those Celts of Northern Italy and Catalonia. They were invaded by the Vikings and interbred heavily with them as they were exported all over the North as slaves and the Vikings settled in their lands and went native. They fought the Anglo-Saxon invasion for some time (stories of Arthur) but intermarried to the point where fighting was over tribal and environmental issues rather than those of race. And then came the Norman Conquest. With a succession of Norman Kings eating away at their territories, the Celts were pushed back out of their lands. By the time of the cival wars and the rise of the Tudors those left were considered foreigners. Fighting further alienated these people, putting brother against brother until anyone speaking a Celtic tongue was considered a hostile, an attitude which continues to this day. However, a long truce has detoxed this animosity which was as violent as that of the Middle East.

Foreign influence on the basic Celtic dialects is what created a base influence on the overlay of English, a mix of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French. In Scotland, the Viking influence was more heavy and influenced the Scots language and Scottish Gaelic, which also happened in Northern Ireland in Donegal. The Welsh, who fought with the Irish for longer than they fought with the English, speak a very different Celtic tongue, more closely related to the Celtic found in Brittany, a newer modification suggesting that the Welsh and other British came into the country from the Continent in a later wave than the Irish and Picts. Scotland was invaded by Ireland and those Celts pushed the Picts out of the Highlands. English of the Southeast and East is heavily influnced by Anglo-Saxon, but even more heavily by Danish. That part of the country was a Danish kingdom up until the Norman Conquest. Ireland, in her wars with England, called on her old allies, the Spanish in almost every Medieval conflict. They were as closely related to the Spanish as they were to the Welsh, their immediate neighbors. They were also a Norwegian kingdom at the time just before the Normans, also a Norwegian kingdom invaded England. Norman French a blend of Norwegian and French, was heavily influenced by the old Celtic language. French itself is a form of Latin that has been Celticized in its pronunciation and modification of endings and beginnings of words. So, now that you are totally confused by who the English are, let us go to the Continent at the time of Rome.

Roman Empire

From Rome: Total War Guide

This map is rather large, but I wanted to show you the Celtic Tribe names as well as the area of European Celts influenced by Rome. The purple areas on this map show the incursion of Germanic Tribes into Europe in the North, while at the same time, Rome had taken Greek outposts in the South, defeated the Celts and expanded into an empire. You can see here the green and tan areas showing Celtic speaking areas. Not many people think of Spain as being Celtic, but it was. the Iberian Penisula was conquered early, Gaul (modern France) later, and Britain last of all. The cultures of these Atlantic countries are still very similar. Spanish is most heavily Latinized, followed by Portuguese and French. Areas that were dominated by Latins and settled by Latins showed much more change in the language than areas that merely paid tribute. I won't go into the politics, except to say this. Sometimes an invasion is merely the capitulation of a king and his nobles. Sometimes an invasion is replacing the upper class. The next step of invasion is to replaced the educated and master caste, usually for religious reasons, sometimes for mercantile and engineering reasons. The final invasion is genocide or the killing off of the native people to replace them with your own peasants and farmers. The Roman Invasion replaced only some of the nobles at worst. Most of Gaul and Britain paid tribute only. Nobles mimicked Rome and picked up the language and were followed by their people. This did not happen in Britain at all.

Romance Words

These are a few words to help you see how French was modified by Celtic or Gaulish, which is of the same group as Welsh and Bretton. The French do not consider themselves any closer to the Brettons than they do to the Belgians, but as you can see from the map above, they were close neighbors. Modern Italian has lost many of the inflections (grammatical endings) of Latin and has softened the Latin. Modern Gaelic and Welsh has done the same with ancient Celtic. I am ignoring pan-European trends and focusing on English, for the same softening and de-inflecting has gone on in Scandanavian and Gothic languages. What I wanted you to see from this small example is how French modified Latin along Celtic lines. Take the Latin word for horse: equus. Nowhere in Latin is this "kaballo" cognate. Nowhere in any modern European language does this word exist. It is traced back to Proto-Indo-European. There are other words in French and Italian that use the root "equine" but the word for horse is the Proto-Celtic. However, the opposite happens with the word "family" which English has also taken from French. Using tools like comparing words, linguists can get a good idea of when a language split off from the parent. However, the large gap in the study of English is in the acknowledgement of the neighbors.

One of the characteristics of modern Celtic is the tendency to swallow and mutate both beginnings and endings of words. We see this in French, where the word "viridis" (green) has been changed to "vert" (pronounced "vair"). The "familia" gets changed to "famille" (fAWM eel). Here is another word list showing French with Celtic mutations.

Latin to French

It is a little difficult to tell without knowing the Celtic languages, but these Latin words were made to sound more Celtic by the Gaulish speakers. In Celtic, the slender "d" or the "d" followed by "e" or "i" is pronounced like the "j" sound. The French modification of this sound is softened to a zh sound. There are many other clues in French that allude to its Gaulish roots, but I wanted to show you this to get you used to the way that Celtic has worked to soften and flatten words, taking away endings and the staccato sound. I will show you the same effect that Celtic speakers had on Anglo-Saxon.

Angles and Saxons

The first thing you may notice from this map is that these people were from areas that today we think of as Denmark as well as the very northern reaches of Germany on the North Sea. Most of these areas were under Danish control for 200 years. Alfred the Great, a Saxon King who controlled the South, split England with Denmark. Yet we can see from the map, that Alfred may have considered himself English, but he was Danish neighbor gone native. The largest influence on English by this group of people is the sound of the vowels of the dialects of the Northeast and in the Americas. English shares a vowel group sound with Danish only. We say "cat", they say "cot" for the same kitty. Before I jump ahead, let me show you how the Celts modified the language of the invaders.

Gothic and Celtic Languages

Some words do not change much until you get to modern times like the word "brother." I was surprised to find the word "tluk" (talk) in Proto-Celtic, but not in modern Celtic, where the "cant" word is preferred. In English, "cant" is a dialect or a forn of street talk. In this image you can see a bit of what I meant by English having more vocabulary. In German there are three or four words related to "speak." In Danish also. But English has speak, tell, talk and a host of other words like dialog and report and converse, all from the Latin and Greek, about fifty words in all. I think you can see from this group of words that often the only influence that Celtic had upon English was to modify the endings of words, also to reverse some of the orders of the letters.

English Contribution Pool

Here is my diagram of the English Language. We have a bottom layer of what is call P-Celtic or the Celtic language of Gaul, Britainia, Amorica and Wales. From one side comes in the Gothic influence of Anglo-Saxon, from the other end, Latinized Gaulish or French. In my other articles I go into greater detail of my proof of the Celtic influence in English. Let it suffice to say at this time, that any speaker of English is a polyglot. It is both a Germanic and a Romantic language. It is a Celtic form of Saxon and French with heavy borrowing from Greek, Latin and Norwegian. I will also demonstrate that English is both like and unlike these other families in its psychology and in the way it influences the way we think and talk.

© 2018, A.R. Stone

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