11/4/13 - english comes from holland and germany

In today's selection -- in middle of the first millennium A.D., the language spoken in the British Isles was the ancestor of what we now refer to as Celtic. Then conquering tribes from Holland and Germany arrived, pushing the Celts to the edges of the lands and bringing with them the language that still forms the core of modern English with the stirring, simple words later used by Winston Churchill and Neil Armstrong:

"The English language arrived in England, it has been said, on the point of a sword -- and it arrived twice. Its first invasion was with the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and other tribes of northern Holland and Germany who crossed the North Sea in the years after 450 to fill the vacuum left by the departing Romans. They were robust and determined aggressors -- 'warriors eager for fame,' according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 'proud war-smiths' who were rela­tives of the same German 'barbarians' who had headed south to get involved in both sides of the battles over Rome (many Germans fought as mercenaries on the side of Rome). They experienced little difficulty in assimilating the friendly British and they drove those who were recalcitrant back into Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland -- the western crescent of windswept moors and mountains which has been called the Celtic fringe. Between 450 and 600 the Anglo-Saxons took over most of the area which corresponds to modern England, and they referred to the dispossessed Britons as wealisc, meaning 'foreign' -- from which we get the word Welsh.

"To the dispossessed Celts, the Germanic invaders were all Saxons -- from which comes the Scottish word of abuse Sassenach. But many of the new arrivals started to classify themselves as Angles. Bede took up the word, describing them as gens Anglorum, and their language became known as Englisc (Angle-ish) -- a tongue that was spoken to a rhythm and contained many words which we can recognise today without understanding a single thing. They organised themselves into a collection of small kingdoms, from Northumbria in the north, down through Mercia, which occupied roughly the area of the modern Midlands, while the south of the country was split between East Anglia, Kent, Essex, Sussex, and Wessex (the kingdoms of the East Saxons, South Saxons, and West Saxons).

"Computer analysis of the English language as spoken today shows that the hundred most frequently used words are all of Anglo-Saxon origin: the, is, you -- the basic building blocks. When Winston Churchill wanted to rally the nation in 1940, it was to Anglo-Saxon that he turned: 'We shall fight on the beaches; we shall fight on the landing grounds; we shall fight in the fields and the streets; we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.' All these stirring words came from Old English as spoken in the year 1000, with the exception of the last one, surrender, a French im­port that came with the Normans in 1066 -- and when man set foot on the moon in 1969, the first human words spoken had similar echoes: 'One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.' Each of Neil Armstrong's famous words was part of Old English by the year 1000."


Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger


The Year 1000


Back Bay Books


Copyright 1999 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment