LATIN INFLUENCE OF OLD ENGLISH; 1ST PERIOD –UP TO CHRISTIANIZATION-

The contact between Latin and Old English started before Anglo-Saxon came to England, since Germanic tribes had already acquired many Latin words. The population also learned  Latin words from the Celts. A century and a half later, Roman missionaries introduced Christianity and an extensive adoption of Latin took place.

PreRoman

In order to determine the period when each borrowed word entered the language we must resort to different kind of evidence or varying value. For instance, if a word occurs in texts such as Beowulf or Cynewulf it indicates that it came into English not later than the early part of the period of Christian influence. However, we cannot be sure how much earlier it was acquired, since the first records belong to the year 700. Some words are not recorded before the 10th century (pīpe– pipe, cīese-cheese), so they can be assigned on other grounds to the period of continental borrowing. In order to establish the date when a term is acquire with resort to the following clues;

  • The character of the words (religious, Germanic) is key in order to trace back their origin. A number of words found in Old English and Old High German can hardly been borrowed before the Anglo-Saxons migrated to England; ‘copper’, which is rare in Old English, was borrowed on the continent (it can be found in more than 6 other Germanic languages).
  • We also find a clue of the origin of the borrowing in the phonetic form of a word; changes can be dated with some definiteness. In Old English –as in most Germanic languages- a change named ‘i-umlaut’ affected certain diphthongs when followed by ĭ or j. Thus, in words such as baƞkiz (benc > bench) or mūsiz (mȳs > plural of mūs, ‘mouse’), taking into account that the change happened in the 7th century, it indicates that the Latin word had been taken into English by that time. That also indicates that monēta (munit in Old English > mynet, Modern English ‘mint’) is an early borrowing. In many words, the evidence for their date of acquisition is funished by the sound changes of Vulgar Latin.

brit house before invasion

Fig.: Welsh house before the Roman invasion

The first Latin words acquired by Old English come from the contact between Latin and the Germanic tribes in the continent. There are hundreds of Latin borrowings in Germanic dialects. In the 4th century, the Germanic population was formed by several million people belonging to all ranks and classes of society. The populations close to the northern border were the most numerous; there were Christian churches set in military roads and trade with the Romans. The Germanic tribes adopted words from the more advanced Roman civilization and they were later adopted by Old English. Thus we find the following words from Germanic transmission;

  • We have some instances related to the main Germanic activities; agriculture, trade and war; pytt > pit; strœt > road, street; mīl > mile; miltestre > courtesan; segn > banner; pīl > javelin; weall > wall; cēap> (bargain, cheap) trade; mangian > trade [mangere > monger; mangung > trade, commerce; mangunghūs > shop;, pund > pound; mydd > bushel; sēam > burden, loan; mynet > coin [mynetian > to mint, to coin, mynete > money-changer]
  • Wine-trade with the Romans; wīn > wine; must > new wine; eced > vinegar; flasce > flask, bottle (note the similarity with Modern German Flasche); cyrfette > from Latin cucurbita, gourd; sester > jar, pitcher.
  • Domestic life; cytel > kettle, from Latin catīnus; mēse > table; scamol > from Latin scamellum, bench, stool; tepet > from Latin tapētum, carpet (note Modern German Teppish), curtain; pyle > from Latin pulvinus, pillow; pilece > from Latin pellicia, robe of skin; sigel > brooch, necklace.
  • Others; cycene > from Latin coquīna, kitchen; cuppe > from Latin cuppa, cup; disc > from Latin discus, dish; cucler > from Latin cocleārium, spoon; mortere > mortar, vesse; līnen > līnum, flax; līne > from Latin līnea, rope, line; gimm > from Latin gemma, gem.
  • Foods; cīese > cheese; spelt > wheat; pipor > pepper; senep > from Latin sināpi, mustard; cisten > from Latin castanea, chesnut; cires > from Latin cerasus, cherry tree; butere > from Latin būtyrum, butter; ynne > from Latin ūnnio, onion; plūme > plum; pise > from Latin pisum, pea; minte > from Latin mentha, mint.
  • Building; cealc > chalk; copor > copper; pic > pitch; tigele > tile.
  • Miscellaneous; mūl > mule; draca > dragon; cāsere > Emperor; Sæternesdæg > Saturday; Cirice > to Latin from Greek kyρikòν > church.
  • Adjectives; Sicor > from Latin securus safe; calv > from Latin calvus, bald.

Invasions_of_the_Roman_Empire_1

Words through Celtic transmission; as we have noted in the previous blog entry, there are a considerable amount regarding place-names. An important word -in terms of subsequent word-formation- that the Celts borrowed is ceaster, from Latin castra and it is very common in toponyms; Chester, Colchester, Dorchester, Manchester, Winchester, Lancaster, Doncaster, Gloucester, Worcester. Some of these places were Roman camps, but not all of them. The English attached it freely to a place intended for habitation.

A few other words are thought to belong to this period; port > from Latin portus, harbour, gate, town; munt > from Latin mōns, mountain; torr > from Latin turris, tower, rock; wīk > from Latin vīcus, village.

Source: A history of the English language

Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable (Routledge)

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FOREIGN INFLUENCES ON OLD ENGLISH; CELTIC

The dialects brought by the Jutes, Saxons and Angles interacted with the languages spoken by the Celts, Romans and Scandinavians.

celtic art

In the case of the Celts it is apparent that they were not totally exterminated except in certain areas. A large number of them was assimilated into the new culture. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle narrates the struggle between natives and the new-comers, and the fact that Britons were annihilated certain in areas such as Andreceaster or Pevensey, although this is an exceptional case. In the East and South-East the Germanic conquest was fully accomplished with fewer Celtic populations left. A large number of Celts fled to the West, where we can find a considerable number of Celtic toponyms. Among Celtic place-names we find;

  • Kent – from Celtic Cant or Cantion
  • Deira and Bernicia (two ancient Northumbrian kingdoms) which have their origin in Celtic tribal names.
  • In the West and South-West; Devonshire contains in the first element the tribal name Dumnonii.Cornwall – Cornubian Welsh
  • Cumberland (now part of Cumbria) – ‘land of the Cymry or Britons’
  • London – it possibly goes back to a Celtic designation
  • The first syllable of Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Gloucester,Worcester, Lichfield.
  • The earlier name of Canterbury – Durovernum
  • Names of rivers and hills; Thames,
  • various Celtic words for ‘river’ and ‘water’ in Avon, Exe, Esk, Usk, Dover, Wye.
  • Celtic words for ‘hill’; Barr (Welsh bar ‘top, summit’), Bredon (bre – hill), Bryn Mawr (Bryn-hill, Mawr-great), Creech, Pendle (pen-top), crag, luh (lake)
  • Others: Cumb (deep valley) => Duncombe, Holcombe, Winchcombe; Torr (high rock, peak)=>Torr, Torcross, Torhill; Pill (tidal creek)=>Pylle, Huntspill; Brocc (badger)=>Brockholes, Brockhall.

A few Latin words were borrowed during the Roman occupation and are sometimes combined with these Celtic terms; castra, fontana, fossa, portus, vicus.

Outside of place-names the influence is almost negligible. There is only a score of Old English words which can be traced back to a Celtic source within which we find to distinct groups; words learned by the Anglo-Saxons through everyday contact with natives, transmitted orally and words introduced by the Irish Christian missionaries, which have a religious nature.

  • In the first group we find words such as ‘binn’ (basket, crib), ‘bratt’ (cloak), ‘dun’ (dark coloured), ‘ass’ (from Latin ‘asinus’) and ‘brocc’ (brock or badger), and those describing geographical features such as the aforementioned.
  • In the second group we find those terms inherited from Celtic Christianity; ‘ancor'(hermit), ‘dry'(magician), ‘cine'(gathering of parchment leaves), ‘cross’, ‘clugge'(bell), ‘gabolring'(compass), ‘mind'(diadem), ‘stœr'(history), ‘cursian'(curse).

Source: A History of the English Language.

Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable (Routledge)

England before the English language I

There were a variety of cultures, each with its own language. The Stone Age lasted in England until 2,000 BC, although some stone weapons were still used at the Battle of Hastings. Eventually they gave way to bronze implements and these were finally displaced by iron in 500-600 BC.

There are no data about the language used in the Paleolithic era. The first people in England whose language we have knowledge about are the Celts. Then Latin, introduced when Britain was a province of the Roman Empire, was spoken extensively for 4 centuries.

palaeolithic_implements

Fig.: Implements found in Huntingdonshire.

In the summer of 55BC, julius Caesar invades England to discourage the Celts from coming from Britain through the channel to assist the Celts in Gaul. The expedition was an utter disaster. Finally, the Roman Conquest took place in AD 43, conducted by Emperor Claudius, who sent an army of 40,000 to Britain and subjugated it in 3 years. The Celt uprising lead by Boudica in AD 61 did not deter them, and the Northern frontier advanced to Solway-Tyne, where they built a stone wall.

The Romans built highways, roads, military and civil centers, houses, baths, temples, theatres, heating and water supply systems, created beautiful mosaics and painted stucco, brought their own fashion in dresses and ornaments, and made pottery, glassware and other utensils.  The Romanization was cut short in the 5th century.

spindle-whorl-ar2171

Fig.: Roman pottery.

There is evidence of the use of Latin in inscriptions. It did not replace Celtic (as it did in Gaul) though. The use of Latin declined after the legions withdrew in 410.

In 449 there is another invasion, this time by Germanic tribes. For 100 years, bands from Denmark and the Low Countries  invaded the South and East of the island. Jutes and Angles (Denmark), Frisians and Saxons (Germany) came in waves through the years and established themselves in different sites. The Picts and Scots, natives in the islands had remained unconquered and kept their own culture throughout the Romanization. The Celts depended on Roman arms when they withdrew from the island, and reached an agreement with the Jutes in order to lead the Picts and Scots out.

story-2

The Jutes settled in Kent, the Saxons in the South coast, Sussex, then Wessex too, Middlesex and North of the Thames, and the Angles at the North of the Humber.

The Celts were driven to the West (Wells, Cornwall) and the Roman towns were burned to the ground. It’s the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon civilization. Society is organized in clans and families and class distinctions are established: Eorls -hereditary aristocracy- and Ceorls -simple freemen-. They also established local assemblies called Moots, and administered justice through a system of fines, the Wergild, which varied according to the crime and the rank of the injured party.

The Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy is born:

Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Kent, Sussex, Essex, and Wessex.

 

 

 

 

Word formation in English

Morphology is the branch that deals with the internal structure of words, whose structure are mainly modified by means of two phenomena: INFLECTION and DERIVATION.

  • Inflection: interacts with syntax. In English there are just a few examples left such as the genitive ‘s, but it’s almost inexistent in Present day English. In Old English inflection was quite rich.

  • Derivation: the introduction of new elements in the vocabulary leads to the creation of new words. It’s the most dynamic mechanism in word formation.

UM_pc012_A79-041_008_0007_005_0001 - Example of Elizabeth trance automatic writing

L.R. Trask pointed out the importance of other mechanisms involved in word-formation:

  • COMPOUNDING: the combination of two terms create a new term. One of the members usually qualifies (qualifier) the other (head). For example football, blackbird, greenhouse.

  • CONVERSION or ZERO DERIVATION: moving one word from a lexical category to another with no affixation or modificaion. Drink>verb>>noun

  • CLIPPING: reducing a word to a shorter form: telephone, brassiere, gymnasium > phone, bra, gym. It shouldn’t be mixed up with abbreviation. We don’t call it clipping until it has become a regular conventional word.

  • BLENDING: combination of compounding and clipping. Abbreviated forms of two terms combined into a single word: motel, heliport, Eurovision, brunch.

  • BACK-FORMATION: need of speakers to maximize existing strategies in an economic and convenient way. The suffix -er is added to verbs to denote the agent that performs the action (lover, singer). At different points English borrowed from Latin: sculptor, actor, editor. From Norman French: lecher, burglar. All these end up in what seems to be a phonetic variant of -er and are reinterpreted as one of their compounds: verb + agent indicator, and after accepting the noun, they start using the 1st morpheme as a verb.

  • REANALYSIS: using similar mechanisms to those of back-formation but more complex. Notion is similar to analogy. It’s necessary step previous to analogical development. Trask uses the following example to illustrate reanalysis: bikini = piece of clothing in two parts. Originally, Bikini was related to an atoll where the earliest nuclear bomb tests took place; thus, the meaning it confers to the piece of clothing is that it is supposed to have huge impact compared to bathing suits; as in English the prefix bi- = two, when a new bathing suit involving only the bottom part of the bikini was launched, it was called monokini, as bi in bikini was re-analysed as bi = two.

  • FOLK ETYMOLOGY: speakers give a transparent meaning to a word with a dark structure. For instance: bridegroom = in ancient times [guma = man + bryd = bride] = brydguma = brideman. When guma disappeared, the origin of bridegroom became obscure. Then, speakers associated it with groom = servant. Today groom = somebody who works with horses.

  • INITIALISM: reduction of a phrase or name to a few letters (usually the first one) of the principal words. When the letters are spoken one by one. As in FBI, BBC.

  • ACRONYMS: reduction of a phrase or name to its initial letters, but pronouncing it as a new word: RADAR, NATO.

(From Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable).

The Origin of the English Language II

As you will remember from my previous article on the origin of English, it is a close relative of German, even if Present day English does not bear much resemblance to its “cousin”. We must take into consideration that although both languages had a great part of their vocabulary in common to begin with, in the case of English, only 85% of it survived the Norman invasion – above all basic vocabulary -. Now, let’s see some basic similarities.

 

We can find several similarities in lexicon, such as the existence of some words in Present day English and German whose origin can be traced right back to Old English:

OE sprecan / PdG sprechen / PdE speak

OE nū / PdG nur / PdE  now  

OE cū / PdG Kuh / PdE cow 

OE cyning / PrG König/ PdE king

and others whose resemblance to Modern German is patent, while the equivalent terms in Present day English are no longer their descendants:

OE burg / PdG Burg (castle) / PdE fortress

OE beame / PdG Baum / PdE tree

OE þū / PdG du / PdE you

OE oððer / PdG oder / PdE or

OE scīene / PdG schön / PdE beautiful

OE niman / PdG nehmen / PdE take

another similarity which links Old English to Present day German is the prevalence of self-explained compounds:

hydrogen – Wasserstoff (water-stuff), telephone – Fernsprecher (far speaker)

lēohtfæt – lamp-lēoht (lēoht = light, fœt = vessel)

fiellesēocnes – epilepsy (falling sickness)

If we look at its grammar, Old English resembles German more than it does Present day English:  nouns and adjectives have four cases, adjectives have three separate forms, one for each gender, and verb inflection is less elaborate than that in Latin but yet it has distinct endings for person, number, tense and mood, and we can also find a remarkable resemblance since we start studying verb conjugation:

infinitive – bīdan(remain) / present simple, second person singular – bītst, third person singular – bīt(t)

Old English, a synthetic language just like Modern German, contrasts in the most striking manner with Present day English due to the complete absence of inflections in the latter, where this kind of complexity is unnecessary, as it conveys meaning – as an analytic language – through the placing of the words alone, without resorting on inflectional morphemes. As a Germanic language, Old English developed a twofold declension; a strong declension which is used with nouns when they are accompanied by a definite article or similar (demonstrative, possessive pronoun), and a weak declension, used when the noun is preceded by such determinants, which has remained in use in Present day German, whereas in Present day English adjectives bear no inflections at all.

gōd cnæpling- gut Junge

sē gōda cnæpling-der gute Junge

 

 

 

 

 

 

The origin of the English language I

Within the Indo-European family tree, surviving languages show various degrees of similarity due to their common origin, bearing a more or less direct relationship to their geographical distribution. They fall into eleven different groups: Indian, Iranian, Armenian, Hellenic, Albanian, Italic, Balto-Slavic, Germanic, Celtic, Hittite and Tocharian.

indoeuropean-language-family-tree

Germanic, which antedates the first written records, can be divided into three branches: East Germanic, North Germanic and West Germanic.

East Germanic comprises languages such as Gothic – which accounts for the first written record of Germanic, in the shape of runes in Scandinavia – Burgundian and Vandalic.

North Germanic, which gave way to Old Norse, or early Scandinavian and from which two branches grow out of dialectal differences; on to the East, developing into Swedish and Danish and the other to the West, developing into Norwegian and Icelandic -the most literary of all, with an important body of heroic literature such as the Elder or Poetic Edda compiled by Snorri Sturluson (12th-13th centuries) -.

edda

Finally, there is West Germanic, to which English belongs, and which separates in High German and Low German due to the operation of the 2nd Sound Shift, by which West Germanic voiceless plosives /p, t, k/ and voiced plosive /d/ changed into other sounds in AD 600 in the southern mountainous Germanic area, but not in the lowlands (North). This phenomenon of unknown origin is often assumed to have its origin in the contact with non-Germanic population due to the migration of foreign tribes into Germanic territory.

Thus, High German is the origin of Rhenish, East Franconian, Bavarian and Alemannic, and Low German divides into Old Saxon (essential constituent of Plattdeutsch), Old Low Franconian (basisfor Dutch and Flemish), Old Frisian and finally, OLD ENGLISH.

map 1

Old English is not entirely uniform, though. It comprises four dialects: Northumbrian, Mercian – each bearing their distinctive features and their common ones -, West Saxon and Kentish. Nearly all Old English literature preserved in manuscripts come from West Saxon, which attained the position of literary standard and was eventually cut short by the Norman invasions, giving way to a standard based on the dialect used in the East Midlands.

map2