Celtic influence in English

Gordon Selway gordonselway at gn.apc.org
Sun Feb 7 20:41:37 UTC 1999


The historical and archaeological evidence (and some from comparing ancient
DNA with that of current inhabitants) suggests that there may have been no
population displacement in the area I live in (the lower Severn valley),
but only repeated accretions, perhaps since the last retreat of the

It is clear that, once the region had come within 'English' control (577
CE, after the Wessex victory at the battle of Deorham), it did not change
from Welsh to English speaking for as long as 300-400 years (and in
isolated pockets not for 1,250 years or so), and that there was a period of
both languages being spoken.

Rather more interestingly, a generation after the region had nominally
become English, there were still Celtic bishops about, who seem to have
joined with their colleagues in rejecting, at a spot within the area, the
proposal of Augustine or his emissary that they join him in converting the
'English'.  And of course there is the probability that the Wessex royal
house was a blend of the native Briton and the foreigner, and that their
followers were probably a mixture of 'Teuton' and 'Celt'.

A yet more peculiar twist comes from a retired local chiropodist (who was
used to identify the origins of a skeleton from the 5th or 6th century
uncovering during the preparations for a new garage in Winterbourne Gunner,
Wilts).  It seems that the feet of the Celts and the Teutons had different
characteristics, and that the feet of the remains were typical of the
Celts.  And this corresponded with what she had found from examining feet
in her professional life.  Those of us from families long established here
(such as mine) tended to have 'Celtic' feet, while newcomers were more
likely to have 'Teutonic' feet.  [! or some other mark of mild scepticism:
except that as the other half of me comes from around the North Channel, it
would not be surprising if I showed 'native' traits anyhow].

And there are at least one or two specific borrowings from British/Welsh in
Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Gloucestershire English, at least as described
in the 19th century.  'Brock' is one (and in the OED); 'metheglin' is
another (which may not be in the OED).


Gordon Selway
<gordonselway at gn.apc.org>

At 9:33 pm 4/2/1999, iffr762 at utxvms.cc.utexas.edu wrote:

[ moderator snip ]

>The processes of grammatical and lexical influences occur by
>different mechanisms and do not necessarily co-occur.  The well-known case
>that Emenou discovered(?) in India is a good example:  very high
>grammatical influence, very low lexical influence.  Borrowing of words is
>volitional, dependent on probable reception and other considerations,
>whereas foreign accents are not, being created by very real limitations in
>language-acquisistion ability after a point.  Thus it is entirely
>conceivable that Britons could have an "accent" in (Old) English,
>and yet choose not to carry over any great number of British words,
>essentially because of the status differential.

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