Did the South East and East of England always speak English?

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Johnysid | 10:07 Wed 06th Jun 2012 | History
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Generations of English people have been told that the Anglo-Saxons invaded, wiping out the Welsh and changing the people of Britain forever. We now know from genetic studies that the Anglo-Saxons imposed a ruling class and did not wipe out the people. Is it time to also reassess the English language? Repopulation of Britain after the Ice Age occurred from two sources so the Welsh are related to the Basques and the English to the North West Europeans. The North Sea only finally became a sea five thousand years ago. In that 5000 years the English are supposed to have lost their language but the Welsh kept theirs.. Did the English always speak a version of English and invite people to stay from Denmark and the Netherlands who spoke a similar proto-English after the Romans left?


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Last paragraph first - you have missed off an additional possibility and the favourite at present, which is the roots of english came to Britain with a wave of settlers from mainland europe around 400 AD.

What exactly do you understand by de-urbanisation? I'd appreciate an explanation, it's not a term I've encountered before.

Replacing languages in 400 years? Visigothic current in Spain and France, Ostrogothic current in northern Italy and provence, both from around 500 and extinct by 900.
Welsh - very nearly rendered extinct between 1700 and 1900. Ditto Scots Gaelic.
Kernow, Manx - almost extinct and only preserved by extreme effort among a minute number of speakers.
Genetic evidence (including the link you supplied) doesn't actually prove that the Anglo Saxon settlement of Britain was non-violent - it may or may not have been, and is unlikely to have been one event of one type.

I'm not relying on any Victorian hypotheses. I'm relying on mainstream empirical research done by people who have spent their lives in this field of study at a high level. With respect, the line of argument you are presenting seems not to have extensive backing in the form of evidence.
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So, two theories: A few thousand Anglo-Saxons taught 2 million people to speak English and entirely forget a Welsh language within 400 years, including renaming every place. OR There had been invasions and counter invasions, movements of people and high volumes of trade across the North Sea ever since Doggerland sank so the people on either side of the sea continued to speak a very similar language.
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Mosaic, somehow I missed your last post. De-urbanisation simply means abandoning towns. Your example of the loss of Ostrogothic and Visigothic is what should have happened to Anglo-Saxon in England if the natives had spoken a variety of Welsh, it was the language of a small number of Germanic invaders disappearing. Your examples demonstrate my point rather than refuting it: try to implant a foreign language such as Anglo-Saxon on a majority population and the new language disappears.

The "empirical research" that you are relying on does not locate the boundary between Germanic and non Germanic speakers before 500AD, it would apply equally whether the boundary lay down the middle of the North Sea or the middle of England.
Happy Friday Johny.
The research still suggests that the Anglo Saxon migrants brought the Germanic language that evolved into English to Britain in the 400s AD.

You asked about languages disappearing in 400 years - I gave you the continental ones as examples of this.

The idea that it was the indigenous language of a wider area in distant prehistory just does not have support and IMO doesn't hold water when held up against the evidence.

So for example, the few scant coin examples that survive from the last centuries before the Romans invaded aren't inscribed with Germanic names. The names of local deities absorbed into Roman practice aren't Germanic, but Celtic. The oldest place names that survive even in the south east of England are in a language that is not Germanic.

In contrast when germanic speakers appear in the archaeological record not only do they dress differently, they write their germanic script in a different alphabet, runic.

It may be that they Germanic immigrants were relatively few in number - this is however not a precise picture and may be revised.

Referring back to Spain and N Italy: the gothic languages disappeared here because the gothic populations went along with a culture that spoke a different language and became impossible to differentiate from that culture.

In Britain, the extant population appears to have adapted over time to new fashions and language and become impossible to differentiate in cultural terms from 'incomers'.

The language they spoke, named their settlements with and eventually wrote in, the garments they wore whose traces we can see archaeologically, and probably how they cooked and ate defined them as who they were -not anything to do with genes. Your mother tongue is not transmitted genetically.

It's undoubtedly true that language is a powerful cultural signifier and I feel the line of argument you are supporting has its origin in a form of patriotism. Everyone wants their side to be the best, oldest, wisest, etc. But to get there, don't lets ignore or distort the science.
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Mosaic: "I feel the line of argument you are supporting has its origin in a form of patriotism".

Postmarxist claptrap! I believe that nation states are the unit of true diversity (they are sovereign) so the idea of being part of a large, German speaking zone is scarcely attractive. You are not seriously telling me that one of the reasons you are opposed to the theory that there was a proto-english spoken around the rim of the North Sea before the Romans invaded is that you believe it would be patriotic to do so?
No Johny, you have me completely wrong.
I do not believe in the proto english theory because the evidence for it is at best half-baked. In addition it appears to be promoted by a small number of vociferous people with political agendas.

"You are not seriously telling me that one of the reasons you are opposed to the theory ..... is that you believe it would be patriotic to do so?"

No, I am not telling you it would be patriotic to oppose this theory.

I suggest it has every right to exist as a theory. It is proposed, and circulates mainly on the internet. Good quality place name study is quite hard to find online but that does not detract from the value of research done.

So rather than you stating your views, and getting aerated that my views differ and / or misreading my replies, ad nauseam, why not take up the debate with some real full time researchers?

Here's a starter

And here's an author with recent published work: Henderson, Jon C. (2007). The Atlantic Iron Age: Settlement and Identity in the First Millennium BC

I'm trying to make links to people whose track record in the field can be picked over and weighed up, and I'd be delighted to hear back how you get on with them.

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