Friday, November 7, 2008


The Germanic tribes that gave rise to the English language (the Angles, Saxons, Frisians, Jutes and perhaps even the Franks), both traded and fought with the Latin-speaking Roman Empire in the centuries-long process of the Germanic peoples' expansion into Western Europe. Many Latin words for common objects entered the vocabulary of these Germanic peoples before any of their tribes reached Britain; examples include camp, cheese, cook, fork, inch, kettle, kitchen, linen, mile, mill, mint (coin), noon, pillow, pin, pound, punt (boat), street and wall. The Romans also gave the English language words which they had themselves borrowed from other languages: anchor, butter, chest, devil, dish, sack and wine.

Our main source for the culture of the Germanic peoples (the ancestors of the English) in ancient times is Tacitus' Germania. While remaining quite conversant with Roman civilisation and its economy, including serving in the Roman military, they retained political independence. We can be certain that Germanic settlement in Britain was not intensified until the time of Hengist and Horsa in the fifth century, since had the English arrived en-masse under Roman rule, they would have been thoroughly Christianised as a matter of course. As it was, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arrived as pagans, independent of Roman control.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, around the year 449, Vortigern (or Gwrtheyrn from the Welsh tradition), King of the Britons, invited the "Angle kin" (Angles led by Hengest and Horsa) to help him in conflicts with the Picts. In return, the Angles were granted lands in the southeast of England. Further aid was sought, and in response "came men of Ald Seaxum of Anglum of Iotum" (Saxons, Angles and Jutes). The Chronicle talks of a subsequent influx of settlers who eventually established seven kingdoms, known as the heptarchy. Modern scholarship considers most of this story to be legendary and politically motivated, and the identification of the tribes with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes is no longer accepted as an accurate description (Myres, 1986, p. 46ff), especially since the Anglo-Saxon language is more similar to the Frisian languages than any of the others.

In conclusion, Proto English was broadly used in Britain in the era of Roman emperor. It is mostly influenced by Latin.



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