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date: 03 December 2022

The Contact History of Englishlocked

The Contact History of Englishlocked

  • Marcelle ColeMarcelle ColeUtrecht University
  •  and Stephen LakerStephen LakerKyushu University

Summary

Contact between Early English and British Celtic, Latin, Norse, and French came about through a myriad of historical, political, and sociocultural developments: invasion, foreign governance, and the spread of Christianity, but also via peaceful coexistence, intermarriage, cultural exchange, and trade. The so-called Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain brought speakers of an emerging insular West Germanic variety, which became known as Englisc, into contact with British Celtic and, to some extent, Latin speakers. The Northumbrian historian Bede painted a vivid picture of 8th-century multilingual Britain as an island comprising “five nations, the English, Britons, Scots, Picts and Latins, each in its own peculiar dialect, cultivating the sublime study of divine truth.” The Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons led to renewed contact with Latin, the lingua franca of Christendom. The Church became an important conduit for Latin-derived lexis related to learning and ecclesiastical ritual and organization, although it was the cultural appeal of Latin in the early modern period that explains the massive lexical contribution of Latin to English. Later periods of foreign rule and migration following Viking settlement, mainly in the 9th and 10th centuries, and the Norman Conquest of 1066 brought English into contact with Norse and Old French, respectively. Lexical borrowing from these languages involved loans reflecting foreign rule but also basic everyday words. Extensive bilingualism and second-language learning most likely promoted the rapid loss of inflection that English underwent during the medieval period. Opinions usually vary, however, on whether contact brought about direct structural transfer or merely reinforced internal developments already in progress. Contact left its mark most noticeably on the lexicon of English; the influx of Latin and French loan vocabulary extensively reshaped the lexicon and, with it, the derivational morphology of English and explains the heavy Romance element in present-day English.

Subjects

  • History of Linguistics

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