How did English get to England? (2) Teutonic (Germanic)

Last week we talked about Celtic or Gaelic, which is probably the oldest surviving language in Britain.

It was eventually largely displaced by Teutonic, or Germanic. This was the predominant language of Shakespeare’s time, with Gaelic surviving in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Southwest England.

Here’s a simplified indication of how Teutonic spread from country to country. Notice how the words gradually change, often as a result of pronunciation, then spelling. This is particularly noticeable from German to Dutch and then Dutch to English, possibly because we are more familiar with the pronunciation of these three languages (Dutch being the root of Afrikaans).

Interestingly, the Icelandic word for father – föður is remarkably similar to that in English, because the ð in the middle is pronounced “th”. This is a good illustration of the fact that the country to country flow that I have suggested is an over simplification. The arrows probably go all over the place for individual words.

So, we now have an English language of which 60% of all words are Teutonic and 40% of common usage words are Teutonic, although doubtless there are some remnants of Celtic, but I have not looked for them.

What about the other 40% of words? They are from the Romance languages which we talk about next week. Romance languages represent 60% of the English words in common usage.


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