Celtic and English Again

iffr762 at utxvms.cc.utexas.edu iffr762 at utxvms.cc.utexas.edu
Sat Feb 27 01:30:21 UTC 1999

	I lost the emissive that this is a response to ...

	With regard to the notion that external influences only affect
phonology, never syntax, this is simply wrong.  It would be better not
to demand examples.

	It is not controversial either 1) that AS society was
"class-stratified", or 2) that OE was a standard language.  Putting these
two together, it is certainly reasonable to suppose that OE as we have it
represents the language of the (or an) upper class.  Nor is it
controversial that standard written languages often mask features of
"vulgar" speech.  The idea that "in those days, people wrote as they
spoke", or for that matter that AS society was egalitarian, is little more
than a naive and romantic fantasy, which basically no informed person has
believed in for about a hundred years.

	To try to draw some great deep conclusion from the fact that the
non-Celtic proportion of the vocabulary in OE is 99%, whereas in French it
is only 98%, would be silly.  Plug in any reasonable numbers you like, it
remains silly.  In any such situation, there are too many other variables
involved for any simplistic prediction about "expected percentage of
substrate vocabulary" to be valid.  "Low" or perhaps "very low" is about
the best that can be done.  Even the idea that words for basic household
items are those that will be borrowed does not hold up.  "Tors"  and
"crags" are not basic household items, yet they are Celtic borrowings in
English.  The reason is simple:  the North sea coast that the Anglo-Saxons
came from does not have these terrain features.  As for Celtic borrowings
in French, perhaps the word for 'plow' could have been borrowed because
the types of plows (Roman and Celtic) were not the same, reflecting the
different agricultural conditions.  And maybe they just got tired of
refering to sheep as "eggs", even if sheep are kind of white and round

	Regardless of whether these particular examples are perfectly true, the
point is that there are certainly "other variables" that affect the situation.
As the dialect geographers pointed out long ago, evey word has its own history,
and when it comes to borrowing, this includes various pragmatic considerations
of the sort adduced above, which cannot be ignored in order to make some sort
of ironclad prediction that the percentage of borrowed items must fall within
some very narrow range, that these will belong only to a limited set of
semantic categories, etc.  It depends on what individual speakers _decide_ to
do.  And they are not automatons.


More information about the Indo-european mailing list