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Why is modern English so widely divergent from other British languages? Options
kaliedel
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 8:11:22 PM
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By "other British languages," I mean ones like Gaelic and Cymry (Welsh.) Despite all developing on the same island nation, there seems to be more similarities between modern English and the other Latin languages than other nearby dialects. I realize Rome colonized much of England during the first century and beyond (which would account for the Latin influence), but the jump from English to Gaelic seems too huge. Anyone well-versed in etymology have an explanation?
ValerieK
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 9:45:44 PM
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It's a matter of who invaded/occupied/stuck around in Britain when. :-)

The Roman occupation was never terribly well assimilated, so the influnce of Latin on the Celtic languages was pretty limited.

English started several centuries later, with the arrival of the Angles (England = Angle-land) and Saxons, and is a Germanic language. They stayed and made it their home in a way the Romans never did. Several centuries after that, you get the Norman Conquest, bringing (a) the transition from Old English to Middle English, and (b) an infusion of French influence. So the Romance (the language family rooted in Latin) elements in English actually come mostly from that; the rest are from church and academic Latin.

Meanwhile, the speakers of Celtic languages retreated to more and more marginalized areas of Scotland and Wales, where the isolation and resistance to the invaders kept Gaelic and Welsh from assimilating as many changes.

This is an extremely simplified short version, but hopefully it at least partially answers your question! The language families -- Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, Afro-Asiatic, etc -- are a great place to start in exploring the evolution of the languages spoken around the world today.
kaliedel
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 3:36:22 PM
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Interesting. I knew Rome treated Britannia more as a glorified colony than anything more meaningful, and was aware also that Roman generals (I believe it was Julius Agricola) intended to invade Ireland (to them, Hibernia) but never really got around to it, instead having to deal with the rioting Picts (modern-day Scots.) It's a wonder how things remained so insular with regards to the language.
krmiller
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 5:54:53 PM
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As ValerieK said, the Celtic languages (divided into Goidelic--Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, and Manx--and Brythonic--Welsh, Cornish, and Breton) have had very little influence on modern English, because the two population groups managed to stay separate in a way that the Germanic and Norman peoples didn't. I actually did a research paper for a linguistics class on the evolution of the English language (it was more specific than that, but there's no need to go into it), and as I recall from my research, linguists think that we only have about eight or ten words from Celtic languages. That doesn't count placenames, of course, as many places in the UK still have Celtic names.

However, there's also a theory that English is actually Celtic as its base. Apparently the word order and verb construction of English are more similar to that in Celtic languages than that in Germanic languages. Here's a link.

I thought this was going to be a thread about American English versus other versions of English, like Australian and South African! Actually, now that I have the idea, maybe I'll start a thread on that myself.
ValerieK
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 8:48:55 PM
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Interesting re: the Celtic theory -- thanks for the link! If nothing else, it would explain where our weird 'r' in English comes from...
LiteBrite
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 4:53:06 PM
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In the case of Irish Gaelic, though, there is the fact of the concerted effort to revive the language into popular usage in the early 20th century. It was a measure of resistance against continuing British imperial occupation, which had demanded the use of English by the Irish for hundreds of years. I can't say I'm an expert on this though. This tidbit of knowledge on the subject comes via research on W.B. Yeats, who was heavily involved in the Gaelic language movement.
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