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Author Topic: English in Britain prior to the Romans  (Read 13026 times)

Horsa

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English in Britain prior to the Romans
« on: March 17, 2011, 08:37:49 PM »
I did a quick scan to see if anyone had posted on this topic. I didn't see anything, but I apologize if this is a repeat.

Here is an interesting theory with evidence to back it up that English or a germanic language was being spoken in Britain before the Roman occupation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwXOr47EJ1E&feature=related

Thoughts?

John Nicholas Cross

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Re: English in Britain prior to the Romans
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2011, 11:33:09 PM »
Interesting, but I'd like to see a lot more evidence and hear the opinions of many more linguists and historians.  John.

Graegwulf

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Re: English in Britain prior to the Romans
« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2011, 12:36:13 PM »
This crops up from time to time, but a s John says, some evidence would be nice.

There were clearly Germanic troops in Britain during the Roman period.  It's not beyond the bounds of belief that some tribes were present before then - if the Celts could get here there's no reason nobody else could.  There is evidence (I'm told) that the Belgae were strongly Germanic-influenced, and they were here.

It's a big leap from that to say that they were speaking "English".   The descent from Old English as we know it to modern English is readily traced and reconstructed, and there is no evidence of anything like OE pre-Romans.  A related language with a common ancestor is not the same language.

Paul

Horsa

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Re: English in Britain prior to the Romans
« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2011, 07:15:39 PM »
Well the place-name evidence, the cluster of places ending -ey on a lake that had dried up before the roman road was built - is good circumstantial evidence, and certainly very compelling. The genetic stuff, not so much.

Like you, I don't find it at all hard to believe that culturally germanic people were crossing the English channel before the roman occupation. Also, like you, I find it hard to fathom English developing in England from pre-roman times.

Thinking about it, I have come up with some alternative theories to the island place names of varying (im-)plausibility as a mental exercise.

- Dark age settlers translated the native place names
- The british inabitants translated the place names when they switched to English
- Ditto the previous, but the inhabitants are germanic speaking people descended from pre-roman settlers.
- '-ey' might descend from a word that doesn't mean island and just happens to be applied to a place that was a dried up lake.
- The ASJ settlers had great archaeologists, and perversely named their settlements island to reflect its past.

Garrett

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Re: English in Britain prior to the Romans
« Reply #4 on: March 19, 2011, 08:20:37 AM »
Indeed, an interesting idea, and it's not beyond the realm of possibility to imagine that people speaking a Germanic language would arrive and settle in Britain before the Romans - although I do question why they would settle so far inland.

The linguistic evidence seems a bit skimpy to me. Isn't it possible that the "ey" suffix was used metaphorically, and refers not to real islands but to isolated, and possibly fortified, settlements? German islands in a sea of Britons, so to speak?

My first thought was whether there is any geological evidence to support the idea of an ancient lake in that area. Has anyone ever done a soil analysis to find any lake bed sediment?

Horsa

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Re: English in Britain prior to the Romans
« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2011, 01:50:09 PM »
My first thought was whether there is any geological evidence to support the idea of an ancient lake in that area. Has anyone ever done a soil analysis to find any lake bed sediment?

That was my first thought as well, but it's a 3 minute clip and half of it is wasted on the genetic stuff. Or rather, the genetic stuff, I suppose, is useful, but I was more interested in the lake. I am assuming that newsnight would have a responsible archaeologist on. In fact that they call him an archaeologist suggests that he's done archaeology things like soil analysis and dating techniques, rather than just draw a map around the -ey placenames.


Garrett

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Re: English in Britain prior to the Romans
« Reply #6 on: March 20, 2011, 05:58:14 PM »
In fact that they call him an archaeologist suggests that he's done archaeology things like soil analysis and dating techniques, rather than just draw a map around the -ey placenames.

One would think so. I would also be interested to know if any serious archaeological excavations have been done in these ey-places.

An intriguing topic. Thanks for posting it Horsa. By the way, I like your alternative theories, especially the perverse obsession with naming villages after past events. My own private theory is that the Anglo-Saxons were time travellers.

Horsa

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Re: English in Britain prior to the Romans
« Reply #7 on: March 21, 2011, 05:13:31 AM »
By the way, I like your alternative theories, especially the perverse obsession with naming villages after past events.

When I was at university mucking about with Milton, Virginia Woolf, Strindberg et al., I shared a kitchen with a gang of archaeology students. It was interesting hanging out with people from a different discipline. I remember one interesting exercise where there was a diagram of cross section of the ground and different soil layers and it showed that the earth had been disturbed by various explainable activity over the years. But, there was this one thing that foxed my friend. As a joke, I said, "maybe someone came along, dug a hole, then immediately filled it in again'.

But when he went to the next seminar, it turned out that that was the right answer. The point the lecturer was trying to make was that the data sometimes suggest things that don't make any sense. I'll always remember that.

I think I've read somewhere that in science, the simplest explanation is often the most likely one, but people are funny, and often do odd things.

My own private theory is that the Anglo-Saxons were time travellers.

Yes, I'd go along with that. Though, I wish they'd travel in this direction and sign up for a leornungdæg.

Garrett

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Re: English in Britain prior to the Romans
« Reply #8 on: March 21, 2011, 08:34:58 PM »

I think I've read somewhere that in science, the simplest explanation is often the most likely one, but people are funny, and often do odd things.

Curious things do come up in archaeology. Some years ago I was at a dig at Tel Dor in Israel (on the coast, about 20 km south of Haifa) and one of the teams discovered an anomaly - as I recall, they found Persian artefacts at a Roman level. The obvious answer was that the Persians buried these things, but as they had no apparent value, we couldn't figure out why they would want to bury them at all, and certainly not as deep as they did. They must have had their reasons, but what those were, we had no way of guessing. Ah well, there's nowt so queer as folk, eh?

My own private theory is that the Anglo-Saxons were time travellers.

Yes, I'd go along with that. Though, I wish they'd travel in this direction and sign up for a leornungdæg.

The problem in dealing with time travellers is that, although they could travel here, we can't go back and tell them to come.
« Last Edit: March 22, 2011, 06:04:38 AM by Garrett »