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Celtic and the History of the English Language

Celtic and the History of the English Language | human geography | Scoop.it
A little while ago a link to this list of 23 maps and charts on language went around on Twitter. It’s full of interesting stuff on linguistic diversity and the genetic relationships among languages, but there was one chart that bothered me: this one on the history of the English language by Sabio Lantz.



The Origins of English

The first and largest problem is that the timeline makes it look as though English began with the Celts and then received later contributions from the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and so on. While this is a decent account of the migrations and conquests that have occurred in the last two thousand years, it’s not an accurate account of the history of the English language. (To be fair, the bar on the bottom gets it right, but it leaves out all the contributions from other languages.)

English began with the Anglo-Saxons. They were a group of Germanic tribes originating in the area of the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark, and they spoke dialects of what might be called common West Germanic. There was no distinct English language at the time, just a group of dialects that would later evolve into English, Dutch, German, Low German, and Frisian. (Frisian, for the record, is English’s closest relative on the continent, and it’s close enough that you can buy a cow in Friesland by speaking Old English.)

The inhabitants of Great Britain when the Anglo-Saxons arrived were mostly romanized Celts who spoke Latin and a Celtic language that was the ancestor of modern-day Welsh and Cornish. (In what is now Scotland, the inhabitants spoke a different Celtic language, Gaelic, and perhaps also Pictish, but not much is known about Pictish.) But while there were Latin- and Celtic-speaking people in Great Britain before the Anglo-Saxons arrived, those languages probably had very little influence on Old English and should not be considered ancestors of English. English began as a distinct language when the Anglo-Saxons split off from their Germanic cousins and left mainland Europe beginning around 450 AD.

For years it was assumed that the Anglo-Saxons wiped out most of the Celts and forced the survivors to the edges of the island—Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland. But archaeological and genetic evidence has shown that this isn’t exactly the case. The Anglo-Saxons more likely conquered the Celts and intermarried with them. Old English became the language of government and education, but Celtic languages may have survived in Anglo-Saxon–occupied areas for quite some time.

From Old to Middle English

Old English continues until about 1066, when the Normans invaded and conquered England. At that point, the language of government became Old French—or at least the version of it spoken by the Normans—or Medieval Latin. Though peasants still spoke English, nobody was writing much in the language anymore. And when English made a comeback in the 1300s, it had changed quite radically. The complex system of declensions and other inflections from Old English were gone, and the language had borrowed considerably from French and Latin. Though there isn’t a firm line, by the end of the eleventh century Old English is considered to have ended and Middle English to have begun.

The differences between Old English and Middle English are quite stark. Just compare the Lord’s Prayer in each language:

Old English:

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum;
Si þin nama gehalgod
to becume þin rice
gewurþe ðin willa
on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg
and forgyf us ure gyltas
swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum
and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge
ac alys us of yfele soþlice

(The character that looks like a p with an ascender is called a thorn, and it is pronounced like the modern th. It could be either voiceless or voiced depending on its position in a word. The character that looks like an uncial d with a stroke through it is also pronounced just like a thorn, and the two symbols were used interchangeably. Don’t ask me why.)

Middle English:

Oure fadir that art in heuenes,
halewid be thi name;
thi kyngdoom come to;
be thi wille don, in erthe as in heuene.
Yyue to vs this dai oure breed ouer othir substaunce,
and foryyue to vs oure dettis, as we foryyuen to oure dettouris;
and lede vs not in to temptacioun, but delyuere vs fro yuel. Amen.

(Note that u and v could both represent either /u/ or /v/. V was used at the beginnings of words and u in the middle. Thus vs is “us” and yuel is “evil”.

While you can probably muddle your way through some of the Lord’s Prayer in Old English, there are a lot of words that are unfamiliar, such as gewurþe and soþlice. And this is probably one of the easiest short passages to read in Old English. Not only is it a familiar text, but it dates to the late Old English period. Older Old English text can be much more difficult. The Middle English, on the other hand, is quite readable if you know a little bit about Middle English spelling conventions.

And even where the Old English is readable, it shows grammatical inflections that are stripped away in Middle English. For example, ure, urne, and urum are all forms of “our” based on their grammatical case. In Middle English, though, they’re all oure, much like Modern English. As I said above, the change from Old English to Middle English was quite radical, and it was also quite sudden. My professor of Old English and Middle English said that there are cases where town chronicles essentially change from Old to Middle English in a generation.

But here’s where things get a little murky. Some have argued that the vernacular language didn’t really change that quickly—it was only the codified written form that did. That is, people were taught to write a sort of standard Old English that didn’t match what they spoke, just as people continued to write Latin even as they were speaking the evolving Romance dialects such as Old French and Old Spanish.

So perhaps the complex inflectional system of Old English didn’t disappear suddenly when the Normans invaded; perhaps it was disappearing gradually throughout the Old English period, but those few who were literate learned the old forms and retained them in writing. Then, when the Normans invaded and people mostly stopped writing in English, they also stopped learning how to write standard Old English. When they started writing English again a couple of centuries later, they simply wrote the language as it was spoken, free of the grammatical forms that had been artificially retained in Old English for so long. This also explains why there was so much dialectal variation in Middle English; because there was no standard form, people wrote their own local variety. It wasn’t until the end of the Middle English period that a new standard started to coalesce and Early Modern English was born.

Supposed Celtic Syntax in English

And with that history established, I can finally get to my second problem with that graphic above: the supposed Celtic remnants in English. English may be a Germanic language, but it differs from its Germanic cousins in several notable ways. In addition to the glut of French, Latin, Greek, and other borrowings that occurred in the Middle and Early Modern English periods, English has some striking syntactic differences from other Germanic languages.

English has what is known as the continuous or progressive aspect, which is formed with a form of be and a present participle. So we usually say I’m going to the store rather than just I go to the store. It’s rather unusual to use a periphrastic—that is, wordy—construction as the default when there’s a shorter option available. Many languages do not have progressive forms at all, and if they do, they’re used to specifically emphasize that an action is happening right now or is ongoing. English, on the other hand, uses it as the default form for many types of verbs. But in German, for example, you simply say Ich gehe in den Laden (“I go to the store”), not Ich bin gehende in den Laden (“I am going to the store”).

English also makes extensive use of a feature known as do support, wherein we insert do into certain kinds of constructions, mostly questions and negatives. So while German would have Magst du Eis? (“Like you ice cream?”), English inserts a dummy do: Do you like ice cream? These constructions are rare cross-linguistically and are very un-Germanic.

And some people have come up with a very interesting explanation for this unusual syntax: it comes from a Celtic substrate. That is, they believe that the Celtic population of Britain adopted Old English from their Anglo-Saxon conquerors but remained bilingual for some time. As they learned Old English, they carried over some of their native syntax. The Celtic languages have some rather unusual syntax themselves, highly favoring periphrastic constructions over inflected ones. Some of these constructions are roughly analogous to the English use of do support and progressive forms. For instance, in Welsh you might say Dwi yn mynd i’r siop (“I am in going to the shop”). (Disclaimer: I took all of one semester in Welsh, so I’m relying on what little I remember plus some help from various websites on Welsh grammar and a smattering of Google Translate.)

While this isn’t exactly like the English equivalent, it looks close. Welsh doesn’t have present participial forms but instead uses something called a verbal noun, which is a sort of cross between an infinitive and gerund. Welsh also uses the particle yn (“in”) to connect the verbal noun to the rest of the sentence, which is actually quite similar to constructions from late Middle and Early Modern English such as He was a-going to the store, where a- is just a worn-down version of the preposition on.

But Welsh uses this construction in all kinds of places where English doesn’t. To say I speak Welsh, for example, you say Dw’i’n siarad Cymraeg, which literally translated means I am in speaking Welsh. In English the progressive stresses that you are doing something right now, while the simple present is used for things that are done habitually or that are generally true. In Welsh, though, it’s unmarked—it’s simply a wordier way of stating something without any special progressive meaning. Despite its superficial similarities to the English progressive, it’s quite far from English in both use and meaning. Additionally, the English construction may have much more mundane origins in the conflation of gerunds and present participles in late Middle English, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Welsh’s use of do support—or, I should say, gwneud support—even less closely parallels that of English. In English, do is used in interrogatives (Do you like ice cream?), negatives (I don’t like ice cream), and emphatic statements (I do like ice cream), and it also appears as a stand-in for whole verb phrases (He thinks I don’t like ice cream, but I do). In Welsh, however, gwneud is not obligatory, and it can be used in simple affirmative statements without any emphasis.

Nor is it always used where it would be in English. Many questions and negatives are formed with a form of the be verb, bod, rather than gwneud. For example, Do you speak Welsh? is Wyt ti’n siarad Cymraeg? (“Are you in speaking Welsh?”), and I don’t understand is Dw i ddim yn deall (“I am not in understanding”). (This is probably simply because Welsh uses the pseudo-progressive in the affirmative form, so it uses the same construction in interrogatives and negatives, much like how English would turn “He is going to the store” into “Is he going to the store?” or “He isn’t going to the store.” Do is only used when there isn’t another auxiliary verb that could be used.)

But there’s perhaps an even bigger problem with the theory that English borrowed these constructions from Celtic: time. Both the progressive and do support start to appear in late Middle English (the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), but they don’t really take off until the sixteenth century and beyond, over a thousand years after the Anglo-Saxons began colonizing Great Britain. So if the Celtic inhabitants of Britain adopted English but carried over some Celtic syntax, and if the reason why that Celtic syntax never appeared in Old English is that the written language was a standardized form that didn’t match the vernacular, and if the reason why Middle English looks so different from Old English is that people were now writing the way they spoke, then why don’t we see these Celticisms until the end of the Middle English period, and then only rarely?

Proponents of the Celtic substrate theory argue that these features are so unusual that they could only have been borrowed into English from Celtic languages. They ask why English is the only Germanic language to develop them, but it’s easy to flip this sort of question around. Why did English wait for more than a thousand years to borrow these constructions? Why didn’t English borrow the verb-subject-object sentence order from the Celtic languages? Why didn’t it borrow the after-perfect, which uses after plus a gerund instead of have plus a past participle (She is after coming rather than She has come), or any other number of Celtic constructions? And maybe most importantly, why are there almost no lexical borrowings from Celtic languages into English? Words are the first things to be borrowed, while more structural grammatical features like syntax and morphology are among the last. And just to beat a dead horse, just because something developed in English doesn’t mean you should expect to see the same thing develop in related languages.

The best thing that the Celtic substrate theory has going for it, I think, is that it’s appealing. It neatly explains something that makes English unique and celebrates the Celtic heritage of the island. But there’s a danger whenever a theory is too attractive on an emotional level. You tend to overlook its weaknesses and play up its strengths, as John McWhorter does when he breathlessly explains the theory in Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue. He stresses again and again how unique English is, how odd these constructions are, and how therefore they must have come from the Celtic languages.

I’m not a historical linguist and certainly not an expert in Celtic languages, but alarm bells started going off in my head when I read McWhorter’s book. There were just too many things that didn’t add up, too many pieces that didn’t quite fit. I wanted to believe it because it sounded so cool, but wanting to believe something doesn’t make it so. Of course, none of this is to say that it isn’t so. Maybe it’s all true but there just isn’t enough evidence to prove it yet. Maybe I’m being overly skeptical for nothing.

But in linguistics, as in other sciences, a good dose of skepticism is healthy. A crazy theory requires some crazy-good proof, and right now, all I see is a theory with enough holes in it to sink a fleet of Viking longboats.

Via Charles Tiayon
ryan davis's insight:

The English language has taken a long journey to get where it is today. It even sailed across an ocean to get here.It overcame all of the Native American languages that were present here in America at that time. RD

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Why conservative Christians would have hated Jesus

Why conservative Christians would have hated Jesus | human geography | Scoop.it
Even as they profess to spread his word, fundamentalists are forgetting Jesus' most important message

Via Religulous
ryan davis's insight:
Jesus would let anybody into a church no matter what they had done in the past.Jesus had always practiced empathy and was the nicest man to anyone he ever met on his travels. RD
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Kortney Renee Honstein's curator insight, December 1, 2014 6:20 PM

The article in a summary is expressing that the conservatives who would hate if the Pope loved the people who were cast out then they would "be one" with the people who once killed Jesus. But for the people who love the many cast outs they would be like gold in Jesus' eyes. They would be the good souls. And because of these sayings the conservative Christians would have hated Jesus. 

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Why Does #Pharma Promote "Me-Too" Drugs to Docs & Consumers? Competition. Duh!

Why Does #Pharma Promote "Me-Too" Drugs to Docs & Consumers? Competition. Duh! | human geography | Scoop.it

Companies pay doctors millions of dollars to promote not their most innovative or effective drugs, but some of their most unremarkable.

In the last five months of 2013, drug makers spent almost $20 million trying to convince physicians and teaching hospitals to give their freshly-patented drugs to patients, but many of them are near-copies of existing drugs that treat the same conditions.

 

A hefty portion are also available as generics, chemically identical copies that work just as well at a fraction of the price. And still others have serious side effects that only became apparent after they were approved by the FDA.

 

That's all according to a thorough analysis from ProPublica's Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones, who combed through federal data on payments made by pharmaceutical and medical device companies to doctors and teaching hospitals and released publicly for the first time last fall under the Affordable Care Act. That data is now available (in a semi-understandable form) on the government website Open Payments.

 

So why are companies paying so much to try to get doctors to prescribe their products?

 

In a word: competition.

 

Take multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca's blood-thinning drug Brilinta, for example, ranked third in ProPublica's list of the highest payments to doctors. One of Brilinta's biggest competitors, Plavix, has been available generically since 2012 at a fraction of the price.

 

In order to make a profit in such a crowded market, producers of new drugs — who have often spent a fortune on research and development — must make them appealing to the doctors who prescribe them.

 


Via Pharma Guy
ryan davis's insight:

The drug industry pays millions of dollars on presenting their "new" products that have the same affects as cheaper drugs and possibly have different side affect that wont be known until after it is approved by the FDA and that at that point the drug has been sold do people have taken it which means they are at risk 

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Pharma Guy's curator insight, January 10, 2015 8:39 AM


You don't need ProPublica's physician payment database to know that the same is true for marketing to consumers: Read DTC Melee–a-Trois: Pradaxa, Xarelto, and Eliquis.

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What is population health management? [Video]

What is population health management? [Video] | human geography | Scoop.it
Population health management uses data and technology to drive better health for patients by giving providers the ability to monitor their entire patient population at-a-glance and in real-time.
ryan davis's insight:

population health management uses data and technology to help patients get healthier by giving a way to monitor the entire patient population without much work and in real-time

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Learning new languages will literally make you see the world differently

Learning new languages will literally make you see the world differently | human geography | Scoop.it

Researchers have found that people who speak more than one language literally see the world differently, ScienceMag reveals. Researchers have found that depending on the primary language spoken, people looking at the same set of events perceive things differently. For example, Russian speakers apparently can distinguish shades of blue faster than English speakers, while Japanese speakers group objects by material rather than shape.

DON’T MISS: Watch: Mesmerizing video gives an incredible look at Friday morning’s solar eclipse

But a new study from the Lancaster University in the United Kingdom focused on bilinguals and looked at how these people see the world and it found some surprising results.

“[We’re] taking that classic debate and turning it on its head,” psycholinguist Panos Athanasopoulos said, by asking whether “two different minds [can] exist within one person” rather than asking whether speakers of different languages have different minds.

In the study, scientists looked at English and German speakers and how they treat events. The English language focuses on situating actions in time, whereas German speakers tend to specify the beginning, middle and end of an event. When looking at the same scene, a German speaker would say that “A man leaves the house and walks to the store,” while an English speaker would say “A man is walking.”

Researchers told 15 native speakers of each language to look at clips showing various ambiguous actions (people walking, biking, running or driving) and asked them to describe them as goal-oriented or not goal-oriented. German speakers matched ambiguous scenes with goal-oriented ones 40% of the time, while English speakers did so 25% of the time. The conclusion was that German speakers are more likely to focus on possible outcomes of actions and English speakers pay more attention to the action happening in front of them.

Scientists then looked at 30 bilinguals who were shown at the same kind of videos, and actively challenged them to switch languages. When English was blocked, subjects saw ambiguous videos as more goal-oriented, just as German speakers from the former test. When German was blocked, subjects acted as English speakers.

The study suggests that languages have an important unconscious role in a person’s perception of events.

“By having another language, you have an alternative vision of the world,” Athanasopoulos said. “You can listen to music from only one speaker, or you can listen in stereo … It’s the same with language.”

“This is an important advance,” Atlanta Emory University cognitive scientist Phillip Wolff said about the study. “If you’re a bilingual speaker, you’re able to entertain different perspectives and go back and forth. That really hasn’t been shown before.”

More details about the study are available in this month’s edition of Psychological Science."


Via Charles Tiayon
ryan davis's insight:

I think that the people explained what they saw more based off of how you were raised than the language you speak.And how they brought the bilingual people in there and said that there answers changed it is easy to change ones point of view on a certain matter. Even though i think this article made no sense i still do believe that learning a new language van change someones life just not in the way described in the article. R.D

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Riley Tuggle's curator insight, March 23, 2015 10:06 AM

This study is very interesting to me. I think it is crazy how language can change the way you perceive the events happening all around you. This research shows how much language impacts our lives and may even help us make better, or worse, decisions. I would love to test this, how the scientists tested it, myself. I think it would be fun observing the results that may surprise me.  -RT

Cassie Brannan's curator insight, March 23, 2015 10:16 AM

In this article, ScienceMag reveals that researchers have found that people that speak more than one language, sees the world in a different perspective. Depending on primary languages spoken, people looking at the same set of events think of them differently. For instance, some people may do one thing better than other people. -CB

 

jada_chace's curator insight, March 23, 2015 7:31 PM

Speaking two languages can change the way you perceive the events occurring around you. The test in the research shows how language affects our lives dramatically. Scientist Phillip Wolff stated, “If you’re a bilingual speaker, you’re able to entertain different perspectives and go back and forth. That really hasn’t been shown before.” I believe this is true, coming from a student who can speak French. By speaking in a different language allows your brain to be more active and think more efficiently. -JConner

Rescooped by ryan davis from Global health and human development in Victoria
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OECD Better Life Index

OECD Better Life Index | human geography | Scoop.it
Your Better Life Index by the OECD shows how countries perform according to the importance you give to the 11 topics – like education, housing, environment, and so on – that contribute to well-being.

Via Diane Boase
ryan davis's insight:

the better life index shows how countries perform. it grades countries on things like education , housing ,environment  things that contribute to well being in the better life index america would be in a better position than africa

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Modern Faces and Ancient Migrations

Modern Faces and Ancient Migrations | human geography | Scoop.it
Our friends at Abroad in the Yard wrote an interesting article back in December 2011 about Modern Faces and Ancient Migrations. As you’re probably aware, the migration of people, their ethnicity an...

Via Community Village Sites
ryan davis's insight:

there are many debates about where people migrated to or from. a big debate on the subject is the native americans deriving from china and migrating here. my opinion on that is that the native americans probably derived from another country but not asia. this is what i believe because they do not look like the typical asain people that you see today

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Blake Welborn's curator insight, November 11, 2013 10:22 PM

Great article about ancient migrations and the people who migrated, which details what was one of the first migrations and the areas that it occurred in, and who was doing the migrating. 

Anhony DeSimone's curator insight, December 18, 2013 9:51 PM

This map shows where the Native Americans have migrated in the United States over along period of time. The interesting aspect about this map is that they did not migrate in one particular place. They migrated all over the south, east, west and north of the country.

bobby isham's curator insight, September 10, 2014 9:57 AM

There is a lot of debates about migrants all over the world. There are questions of where these people came from and why they went where they did. One big debate is whether the Native Americans came from Asia to North America and whether there was one or more waves of them.