Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Effect Of Latin On The English Language: Part 2

Yesterday we looked at how the Romans invaded the British Isles, yet despite Latin being the lingua franca used across the Roman Empire, the language never seemed to catch on in the British Isles. This is, of course, due to the fact that Great Britain wasn't quite done with being invaded yet.

When the Romans first invaded, there was no semblance of a language related to English being spoken on the island. In fact, though Cornish, Welsh, Gaelic, and Irish can be considered descendants of the original languages spoken on the island, the current de facto language of English wasn't used until the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons and the Jutes.

A reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon helmet.
Details of when exactly the Anglo-Saxons arrived are a bit sketchy, though historians believe it was after the Romans had left Britain, leaving a very paltry linguistic footprint. Dates are estimated to be during the 5th or 6th centuries. The Anglo-Saxons were groups of Germanic tribes who left their homelands to arrive in Britain to kick a bit of arse.

Once the Anglo-Saxons arrived, the English language began to take shape, though only in the southern regions of the island where they were most prominent. The northern regions would still remain tribal and incredibly diverse, both linguistically and culturally at the time.

Other languages were present at the time, including Pictish, spoken in what is now Scotland. It has remained somewhat of a mystery to linguists and has been suggested to be related to the Celtic languages, or possibly even the now isolated Basque language.

By the end of the 8th century, the Vikings had decided to rape and pillage the northern regions of what is now England, and even attempted raids on areas of Scotland. This practice would continue for many years until the end of the 9th century, though at points the Vikings, who were more politely known as the Norse by historians, did gain a foothold in Britain. The Norse would eventually lose power by the latter half of the 10th century.

Edmund Ironside (left) was the King of England who
repeatedly battled Cnut the Great (right).
The early 11th century had a few more invasions, particularly by Cnut the Great of Denmark. For nearly two decades England and Denmark were united, until Cnut's death when the regions of England became independent of Danish rule once more.

The language that is currently known as Old English was fairly common and widely used by this point, but still relatively pure in terms of Latin influence. That is, until one of England's most important historical dates, 1066, which we will be talking about in more depth tomorrow.