‘stable-isotope analysis, which uses tooth enamel to identify the area in which a person grew up, suggests that there was no mass influx of population from the continent in the post-Roman period’ (Pryor, 2004, p. 214). So when looking at the external evidence, how is it as proof of how the English language developed? I think that when viewed alone it gives a limited view of the language, but it does provide a context of what external events such as the Anglo-Saxon and Viking invasions.
To understand how the English language evolved we need to look at how the evidence relates to another type of evidence, that of Internal evidence. Internal evidence shows how the language was actually spoken and how the vocabulary, grammar and spelling may have had similarities to our Modern English. Internal evidence takes the form of texts and documents that demonstrates how the language was used at the specific time being discussed. When looking at internal evidence we could also be looking at personal or places names and how certain borrowings were kept or discarded.
One of the examples of this found in Changing English is Caedmon’s story where there is a lengthy example of the language that was used at that time. By looking at the old English spellings we can try and get a feel for how these words were pronounced at that particular time. We can also them compare them to modern English spellings of these words. An example from this text would the letter order of words, hwi?? t and change the letter order of the ‘h’ and ‘w’ we then get a word that is very similar to the modern English word ‘what’.
Another type of internal evidence can be found in David Crystal’s The Celtic Language Puzzle, where he asks the question ‘Why did the Anglo-Saxons not end up speaking the Celtic languages of Britain? ‘ One of the reasons speculated on is that both the Anglo-Saxons and the Celtics already had some language in common with Latin. Celtic words which were derived from Latin include ‘Schola’ for school and even place names like Eccleston from the Latin word ‘ecclesia’ (Crystal, 2004).
If this is the case then a possible reason for the lack of Celtic words would be that the Anglo-Saxons brought with them their own words that had identical meanings to the Celtic words so there was no reason for them to ‘borrow’ any. There does appear to have been a survival of typically Celtic personal names especially among Anglo-Saxon nobility like Ci?? dwalla, Ceadda and Ceawlin. Crystal states that one of the reasons for this as ‘A likely scenario is that Anglo-Saxon chieftains would be living in accord with members of the Romano-Celtic nobility, and intermarrying with them.
A child would be named for a senior one or other family, and this would be as easily Celtic as Germanic’ (Crystal, 2004). Our understanding of the English language and how it evolved is reliant on the evidence available and if the context that it was written in and does it actually reflect the language being spoken at the time and in the areas of Britain being discussed. As Dick Leith (Leith, 2007) states on Bede ‘He may have tidied up the picture in order to construct a coherent history that emphasised the role of his own people, the Anglo-Saxons’.
So does the evidence tell us more about the Anglo-Saxons and how they viewed themselves rather than providing a historical account of how the English language developed. Much of the evidence provides more questions than answers and cannot be looked at separately from internal evidence as both types of evidence are equally important in discovering how the English language has progressed from Old English to the Modern English of today.
Word Count: 1173 References Granddol, D. ,Leith, D. , Swann, J. (2007) Changing English, Routledge, Open University Press.