Sunday, January 15, 2006

Mind your language

Carla asked what my take on the language problem as not addressed by Francis Pryor. Unfortunately, like him, I am not qualified to comment on linguistics. But then I haven't written a book where some sort of analysis was required to support my argument :-) I do think it's unlikely that the British would take up another language unless there was some pressing need to do so. For example, if those in charge were a ruling military elite. It's never quite that simple, but it was an era of land-grabbing and the martial aspect, and its consequences, should not be underestimated.


At 3:57 pm GMT, Blogger Stephen said...

Lack of qualifications has never prevented me from expressing an opinion (albeit one prefaced with a disclaimer to the effect that I may well be a long way off base). The language problem as I understand it is that we have evidence that the inhabitants of England started to use a Germanic language to the exclusion of everything except Latin for religious purposes at a time that coincides with the historical accounts of an invasion by Angles, Saxons and Jutes. This can be contrasted with the situation after the Norman Conquest, where there was no mass movement of people, and no wholesale adoption of the language of the invaders. The traditional interpretation of this is that the adoption of Anglo-Saxon reflects a migration; the evolution of Middle English represents a change of elite. Non-linguistic evidence is, however, beginning to argue against a migration in the former case.

I do wonder however whether we have enough data points. Let me ask a hypothetical question - if we had the same quality of evidence for India in the 17th to 19th Centuries as we do for England in the 5th to 7th Centuries, how would we interpret the Raj? I suspect that almost all the written records would be in English, although most of the population spoke native languages.

I do not think that the linguistic evidence, strong though it is, is a complete slam-dunk for those who argue that the Saxon invasion was a mass movement of populations, given the counter-evidence.

At 4:53 pm GMT, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

The onus was on Pryor to slam dunk the argument regarding linguists. He didn't and in addition posed a very pc view of the past which I find hard to believe. Anglo-Saxons were uniformly cuddley and were about two of them in whole country at any given time ;-) But the Romans were absolutely horrid, whatever! Apparently ...


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