« PreviousContinue »
The Celtic itself is so little critically understood, and the probability of the Anglo-Saxons having originally adopted, whether for convenience or conciliation, many Celtic words, is so strong, as to create a doubt as to whether or not many words, said to be deduced from a Saxon original, are not more radically deducible from the Celtic, from which the Saxon itself might have borrowed them; and, accordingly, many words, some of them certainly not Saxon, have been held to be Welsh, and to have been introduced in this
The Celtic elements of the present English are reduced, by Professor Latham, into five classes :
1st. Those that are of late introduction, and cannot be called original and constituent parts of the language. Some of these are the words flannel, tartan, plaid, &c.
2nd. Those that are originally common to both the Celtic and Gothic stock. Some of these are brother, mother, &c.
3rd. Those that have come to us from the Celtic, but through the medium of another language. To these belong the words druid, bard, whose immediate source is Latin, but remote, Celtic.
4th. Celtic elements of the Anglo-Norman, introduced into England after the Conquest, and occurring in that language, as remains of the original Celtic of Gaul.
5th. Those that have been retained from the original Celtic of the island, and which form genuine constituents of our language. These latter are subdivided into three classes :-1st, Proper geographical names--as Thames, Kent:--2nd, Common names retained in the provincial dialects of England, but not in the current language-as givethall, meaning household stuff, and gwlanen, flannel: -3rd, Common names retained in the present languageas basgawd, basket; berfa, barrow; botiom, button; bian, bran; crochan, crockery ; crog, crook.
Another large and very important element of modern English is the Latin introduced at various times, ranging from the first invasion of the Romans to the present day. Of the first period, the few words that remain may called Latin of the Celtic period, and naturally relate to military affairs. To such belong the words street, from
the Latin stratus, laid down; the terminations, coln, from colonia, a colony--as in the word Lincoln; and cest, or chester, from castra, camps, as in Chester, Gloucester, &c.
To the second period belong such words as were introduced into England subsequently to the conversion of the natives to Christianity. They relate chiefly to ecclesiastical affairs. Of these are the words porch, from porticus ; pall, from pallium ; chalice, from calix; candle, from candela ; cloister, from claustrum ; and such like.
The words of the third period were introduced between the battle of Hastings and the revival of literature. Such words owe their introduction to the cloister, the universities, and, to some extent, to the courts of law.
The words in the English language, derived from Latin of the fourth period, were introduced between the revival of literature and the present time. They owe their origin to the productions of learned men, and form a large component part of our modern English.
Besides the Celtic and Latin elements of the language, we find the Danish to a very limited extent, and the AngloNorman more extensively, supplying many words. Of these latter are terms relating to the feudal system, to war and chivalry, and many to law affairs—as the words, duke, court, baron, villain, warrant, esquire, challenge, &c. &c.
The chief element, however, of modern English is the Anglo-Saxon, which may be called the mother-tongue, in contradistinction to all the foregoing, which may be termed the foreign elements.
In the dictionaries of the English language, as it is now spoken, there are calculated to be about 38,000 words; and of these about 23,000 are reported to be traceable directly to a Saxon original; that is, by a little less than the five-eighths of the whole number.
Another standard whereby to try the comparative strength of the several elements, has been found in the analysis of the authorised version of the Scriptures, and of fourteen popular writers in prose and verse, of whom the poet Spenser is the first and Samuel Johnson the last.
Of the whole number of words examined, those that are not of Saxon origin make less than one-fifth, which would
leave more than four-fifths as native—that is, derived from the mother-tongue, or Anglo-Saxon. “ Let the present language of England,” says Professor Latham, “consist of 40,000 words. Of these, let 30,000 be AngloSaxon, 5000 Anglo-Norman, 100 Celtic, 10 Latin of the first, 20 Latin of the second, and 30 Latin of the third period, 50 Scandinavian, and the rest miscellaneous; and we have the language considered according to the historical origin of the words that compose it.”
The conquest of Britain by the Romans did not effect any change in the language thereof; the primitive tongue of the British Isles obtaining universally throughout them during their whole tenure of the country. Even in the present day, dialects of that tongue—the oldest of ail European tongues—the tongue which, whatever name it may be called by, according to the various and vague theories respecting it, whether Japhetan, Cimmerian, Pelasgic, or Celtic, is accounted generally to have been the earliest brought from the East, and to have been, therefore, the vehicle of the first knowledge that dawned upon Europe—dialects of that tongue are spoken in several parts of England. Welsh, for instance, is spoken in Wales, Manx in the Isle of Man, Scotch Gaelic in the Highlands of Scotland, and Irish Gaelic in Ireland.
The removal of the seat of the Roman Empire to Constantinople led, as one cause amongst many, to its final dismemberment and downfall. The necessities of the state, and the incessant conflicts with the northern barbarians, rendered it impossible for the Romans to maintain such a military force in Britain as was required to keep the natives in subjection; and, in A.D. 420, the Emperor Honorius formally released them from their allegiance, which they had professed for about 400 years. No longer overawed by the presence of the Roman legions, the Britons refused to submit to the authority of the provincial governors, the native chieftains began to quarrel amongst themselves for supremacy, the Picts and Scots poured in their devastating hordes from the north, and the whole country was involved in anarchy and bloodshed. In this state of things, Vortigern, one of the native chieftains, called in the aid of two brothers, Hengist and Horsa,
Saxon freebooters who had previously infested the eastern coast; and thus was laid the commencement of the first Germanic settlement in the island, about A.D. 450. Ebbsfleet, in the Isle of Thanet, is the spot where they landed, and the name they were called by was that of Jutes. Six years after they landed they had established the kingdom of Kent; so that the county of Kent was the first district where the original British was superseded by the mothertongue of the present English introduced from Germany.
For centuries afterwards, Germanic tribes continued incessantly to take up their abode in the island; the ancient Britons and their language retiring gradually before them to the West. The accounts that have come down to us, however, relative to these settlers, and the incidents that arose out of their invasion of Britain, do not belong to authentic, but to traditional history; our earliest record thereof, that by Bede, having been written 300 years after the landing of the aforesaid Hengist and Horsa.
“ About the year of_Grace,” wrote he, “445, 446, the British inhabitants of England, deserted by their Roman masters, who had enervated while they protected them, and exposed to the ravages of Picts and Scots from the extreme and barbarous portions of the island, called in the aid of heathen Saxons from the continent of Europe. The strangers faithfully performed their task, and chastised the northern invaders : then, in scorn of the weakness of their employers, subjected them in turn to the yoke, and, after various vicissitudes of fortune, established their own power on the ruins of Roman and British civilization.'
In A.D. 477, invaders from Northern Germany made the second permanent settlement in Britain. The coast of Sussex was the spot whereon they landed. The particular name by which these tribes called themselves was that of Saxons. Their leader was Ella. They established the kingdom of the South Saxons; so that the county of Sussex was the second district where the original British was superseded by the mother-tongue of the present English introduced from Germany.
The third settlement of invaders from Germany was made A.D. 495. They landed under their leader, Cerdic, on the coast of Hampshire, and, like the last-named invaders,
were called Saxons. They established the kingdom of the West Saxons; so that the county of Hants was the third district where the original British was superseded by the mother-tongue of modern English.
The fourth settlement of the Germanic tribes was effected about A.D. 530, in Essex. The fifth, the precise date not being authenticated, was effected by the Angles in Norfolk and Suffolk.
The sixth settlement was accomplished by invaders from Northern Germany in A.D. 547. The south-eastern counties of Scotland, between the rivers Tweed and Forth, were the districts whereon they landed; and accordingly, in these parts respectively, in one after the other, was the original British language superseded by the mother-tongue of our present English, which is thus proved to be essentially a branch of the Teutonic,—the language which was spoken by the inhabitants of Central Europe immediately before the dawn of history, and which constitutes the foundation of the modern German, Danish, and Dutch. Introduced by the Anglo-Saxons in the fifth century, it gradually spread, with the people who spoke it, over nearly the whole of England, the Celtic shrinking before it into Wales, Cornwall, Ireland, and the north of Scotland, in like manner as the Indian tongues are now retiring before the advance of the British settlers in North America.
There is evidence, however, that the original British language was not so speedily extinguished by the introduction of the Anglo-Saxon as was at first generally supposed. The former, of course, experienced the degradation which the aboriginal inhabitants themselves experienced at the hands of their conquerors ; but, being the language of the people, and having numbers on its side, it necessarily held its ground for a considerable time, and only gave way step by step, or retired to other parts of the island, according as the invaders gained on, or amalgamated themselves with, the natives.
The Anglo-Saxon tongue itself was not cherished so enthusiastically at first by the literati amongst the AngloSaxons as to insure its universal and instantaneous spread. From the period of its first introduction, it underwent little or no change for nearly five centuries ; the chief accessions