. "Understanding Britain." John Randle.


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The History of the English Language. 



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 What is English? 

 The origins of English

"Understanding Britain." John Randle


Chapter 1

The Founding Of Britain



During The glacial periods Britain was connected to the continent by stretches of land in the present Channel and North Sea areas, so that animals and humans were able to move from the continent to the Britain. There are firm evidences that human occupation increased in Britain from 200,000 to 150,000 BC.


Palaeolithic man hunted and collected. Many Palaeolithic settlements have been discovered at the shore of lakes, where they are supposed to hunt animals when they came to drink.


In the following era, the Mesolithic period, men had to adapt to post-glacial conditions in which a drop of food supply occurred. The discovery of axes provided Mesolithic men to make clearings in the woods.


In 4,000 BC a new people joined the scanty Mesolithic population. These newcomers were Neolithic people who knew about forest clearance, sowing, keeping animals, and pottery. Farming expanded throughout south England and tools became more sophisticated.


The most spectacular achievement in the Neolithic era was the monumental architecture. They have left remains of causewayed camps[1], burial mounds (barrows), chambered tombs and ritual centres called henges. Over four thousand years ago the Neolithic people of Britain began the construction of Stonehenge in Salisbury Plain; it dates from before

[1] Camps communicated by paths.



 2,000 BC. It is one of the most mysterious and complex archaeological ritual sites in the world.


The discovery of flagstones[1] helped the construction of chambered tombs. Chambers were used, and re-used, for the burial of large groups of people, such as families or tribal groups.


Neolithic people saw the arrival of a new people in 2,000 BC: the Beaker[2] folk. These people know how to extract and work metal. They made copper first and, later, bronze. These metals improved their tools, their decorative objects, and were used in musical instruments too. The Beaker folk seem to have dominated, and then merged with the local population. They continued to use Stonehenge, but they did not share the Neolithic burial rites. They buried their dead in single shallow graves with their personal possessions.


Some Early Bronze Age graves have yielded great riches including gold work which indicates that there were amore sophisticated and defined aristocracy than in Neolithic times. Later Bronze Age society (1400-700 BC) seems to have developed more slowly, and this together with the burial practice of cremation provokes a decrease in the number of archaeological discoveries.


The development of trade in the 8th C BC and the settlement of new people in Britain introduced the Iron Age in the isle.


At the end of the 2nd C BC, the Belgic tribes arrived and settled in the south England. Ancient ways of life

[1] Spanish losa


[2] The beaker was a characteristic drinking vessel used by this people. And it was generally buried with their dead.





was taken prisoner. Romans took hostages[1] and imposed an annual tribute to the Britons. Roman troops retired.


Trade between Britain and Rome increased and the annexation of Britain to the Empire was being planned by Roman leaders.


The conquest of most of Britain came in AD 43, when Aulus Plautuis, under the command of the Emperor Claudius, arrived in Britain with 40,000 men. Roman troops established control over the south-east of Britain and Claudius himself arrived in Britain. He received the submission of many Briton Kings and then left. Nevertheless, there were British leaders who still resisted such as Caracatus, who finally was taken prisoner in AD 51, and Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni People. Iceni were harshly treated by Romans and their revenge was terrible: in AD 61, Colchester, St Albans and London were destroyed and some 70,000 people killed. Finally Boudiccas revolt was suppressed and she took poison.


Southern Britain settled down to peace and rapid Romanisation. Where possible, Romans ruled through the existing upper class, which was encouraged to adopt Latin language, Roman costumes, dresses and the luxurious Roman lifestyle.



The northern area of Scotland was not conquered by the Romans; the fierce Picts, a Celtic people, resisted the Roman attacks. Nevertheless, Romans had control over the lowlands of Scotland 

From AD 122 to127, Romans constructed the Hadrians Wall: a military defence from the peoples in the north of Scotland. The wall extended from the Tyne to Solway, and it has different functions: it divided two tribes, the Brigantes y Selgovae, and also prevented them to make an alliance against Rome; and it separated the fierce Picts from the roman population.  


The fiercest allies of the Picts were the Scotti. They lived in Ireland until the third century but then they moved to the western coast of Scotland. Ireland was divided into warlike population from Celtic or Iron culture. Despite the power of the Roman legions, Ireland was not conquered by Rome.


The Romans established a flourishing province in Britain. They founded the first cities: Londinium (London) became the provincial capital and centre of trade in northern Europe. London became exporter of corn, lead and tin. Villas the characteristic Roman establishment in the countryside spread throughout Britain.


In the 4th C was threatened not only by Picts and Scots, but also by the Saxons, different people who came from present-day Denmark, north-west Germany and the Netherlands.  In 367 there was a combined attack on Britain by Picts, Scots and Saxons.  In 410, the Roman army withdrew, and the Romano-British population had to defence themselves from the invaders. Without Roman military help, Roman civilization in Britain disintegrated.


Roman Britain enjoyed a peaceful time and good government. Celtic population seemed to have retained their own languages, and Latin was confined to the upper classes of society. Public buildings and sanitation systems developed in towns where only a minority of the population lived.


[1] Prisoners.



The Saxons and Vikings

Instead of taking advantage of the Roman withdrawal, Picts and Scots quarrelled with each other until the 9th C. Saxons came across the North Sea and attacked east and south-east coasts of Britain.


Vortigern, a British leader, employed two Saxons warriors, Hengist and Horsa, to defend the country. But soon they turned against Vortigern and appropriated the lands in the south-east and they continued the invasions. By 450, Essex, Sussex and Kent were controlled by the Saxons. In the west, the Saxons faced the troops of King Arthur who mounted stiff opposition. In 503, King Arthur defeated the Saxons in the battle at Mount Badon. The west remained British, though intermarriage and, later, Christianisation lessened the differences between the two peoples.


The rest of England, now so called by the arrival of one of the Saxons tribes, the Angles, and the lowlands of Scotland, fell to the invaders.


 By the 7th C, England was divided into seven kingdoms, the Heptarchy. The small kingdoms were: East-Anglia, Kent, Essex and Sussex. And the three powers were: Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex.


Saxons abandoned the Roman villas and towns   

and settled in villages and homestead[1]. They were excellent farmers and they know how to work the lands. The heavy plough was their main innovation which helped so much for the agricultural production. 


The Saxons lived in strong family and tribal units. Their major feature was the loyalty bounds to a chief or king. They introduced the wergild, a custom which dictated that a man who committed a murder should pay an economical compensation to the family of the dead, rather than be executed. But, on the other hand, there are evidences of burial of living people, servants or wives, at the funeral of a great person. The Sutton Hoo treasure is one of the most spectacular hoards of Europe of this time. It probably belonged to king Raedwald (d.625) of East-Anglia.


Christianisation came to England in 597, when St Augustine being not able to enter London, established the ecclesiastical capital at Canterbury. Conversion was accepted by the Saxon Kings, because they thought that Christianity would reinforce their authority and their hierarchical structure by means of educated advisers and administrators.


While southern England was converted by Roman Christians, the northern areas were converted by monks of Ireland and Scotland. Christianity had been brought to Ireland by St Patrick in 432. In Ireland and Scotland and northern England, Christianity followed the Celtic ritual, meanwhile in the rest of England, it followed the Roman rite. There were many differences between these rites such as the date of Eastern, and the austere character of the Celtic church. Finally, these differences caused a split in northern and southern churches that was solved in the Synod of Whitby in 663. It determined that the English Church as a whole should follow the Roman rite, although Celtic rite persisted in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.


[1] Farmsteads, farms, farmhouses.



  Christianity inspired great works of art. Northumbria enjoyed a Golden Age in the 7th C, when the monastic centres produced manuscripts and copies of the scriptures wonderfully enriched and illuminated. The monastery of Lindisfarne became the most important centres because of its production of manuscripts. In the 8th C, the centre of culture moved to Canterbury. The monastery of Monkwearmouth was the home of the reputed scholar the Venerable Bede, who completed his major work in 731, Historia Ecclessiastica Gentis Anglorum. Bede gives an outline of the English history from a Saxon perspective.


                                                                                      In the 8th C, a new wave of invaders came to England, the Vikings[1]. These people were heathen  

tribes from present-day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark highly skilled in fishing and fighting. They attacked every coast they landed. In 793, the Vikings shocked Christendom: they destroyed the monastery of Lindisfarne and killed the monks who lived there.


In 865, Vikings began the great invasion of Northumbria and East-Anglia. Scotland and the Isle of Man were also conquered. Ireland was completely raided.


But Vikings encountered great opposition in Wessex ruled by King Alfred the Great, a skilled warrior and a learned man. In 878, the Peace of Edington divided England in two areas: the Danelaw, the Viking area (East-Anglia and part of Northumbria); and the British zone. Besides, the Viking Prince, Guthrum accepted conversion to Christianity. This fact and the origin of both people, the Germanic stock, favoured the fusion with the local population. Their tongues would later form the basis of English.


Alfreds dynasty, the House of Wessex, became the ruler of the Saxon England. Alfreds grandson, Edgar, was crowned King of a united England in 973.


Edgars son, Ethelred II, popularly known as the Unready was weak ruler. He failed to the Vikings attacks and he was forced to pay a tribute to the Vikings, the Danegeld. Ethelred II died in 1016, and his son Edmund lived only few months longer. Saxon resistance collapsed, and Canute King of the Vikings became ruler of a great empire including England, Scotland, Denmark and Scandinavia. Canute offered strong support to the Church. The empire Canute achieved, disintegrated at Canutes dead in 1035. His two sons, Harold Harefoot (reigned 1035-1040) and Hardicanute (reigned 1040-1043) ruled England in succession.  

Neither Harold nor Hardicanute had any children. Thus, the English crown came back to the House of Wessex in the figure of King Edward the Confessor. He was the son of Ethelred II and Emma of Normandy. Edward faced several problems that were in fact resolved by the powerful William Godwin, the adviser and ruler de facto of England. Godwin tied up with the royal family through his daughter who was married with King Edward. But this marriage was unfruitful, they had no offspring. England would face one of the most important episodes of its history at this moment: the problem of the succession to the throne will decide the future of England.


[1] Also called Danes

Two claimants to the throne appeared: Harold Godwinson, the son of William Godwin and brother-in-law of Edward; and William, Duke of Normandy, cousin of King Edward.



Williams claim was reinforced when Harold Godwinson shipwrecked and became prisoner of William. He forced Harold to swear an oath recognising William as the rightful heir to the throne. Nevertheless, nor Harold neither William was the natural heir of Edward, but they thought they were. In January 1066, King Edward died and Harold was crowned king in London; and William immediately began to prepare Englands invasion.



The Normans


King Harold had to face two threads: William, Duke of Normandy and his half-brother Earl Tostig, whom Harold had formerly dispossessed and driven out of the country. Tostig allied with Harold Hardrada, king of Norway, and enjoyed the support of the king of the Scots.


In September 1066, Tostig and Hardrada landed in the north of England. King Harold was in the south awaiting Williams invasion; but he had to move rapidly to the north to fight Tostigs troops. Finally both bands met at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire on the 25 September. Harold defeated and killed Tostig and Hardrada; and the plan to revive Canutes empire was abandoned by the Vikings.


Meanwhile, on the 28 September, Duke William landed at Pevensey Bay on the Sussex coast with 8000 men. Norman army was formed by knights who fought on horseback and both rider and horse were covered with chain-mail. Harolds men were foot soldiers armed with axes and spades. Harolds troops marched rapidly southwards to confront William. The two armies met at Hastings on 14 October. After a long battle William and the Normans won. Harold died after an arrow hit him in the eye. William moved to London, and was crowned king in Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of York on Christmas Day 1066[1].


English people were discontented and provoked revolts which were easily suppressed by William The Conqueror. The popular revolts were definitively dissolved in 1071, after the revolt led by Hareward the Wake in East-Anglia.


Hastings is a turning point in the history of England. The native aristocracy was replaced by the French



[1] The battle of Hastings is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry

aristocracy which moved from Normandy to England. Language was a social marker: the new rulers spoke French and the subjects spoke English.


A new social order came also from Normandy: the Feudal System. Clearly defined social classes appeared in English society:


         The King: at the top of society.

         Greta nobles and barons surrounded the king, and they were considered upon the king as near-equals.

         Lesser lords who lived in manor or villages.

         Ordinary people or peasants owed services to the lesser lords. They were Saxon population and they cannot move from one manor to another without the permission of their lords.


The Normans needed a great army in England, between 4000 and 7000 knights. A lord would supply his overlord or baron with a fixed number of knights, and the baron would supply the king with a number of knights. Thus, the king could form an army in times of trouble. Nut at the same time, barons, lords or lesser lords could raise an army against weak kings.


Around the king was the royal curia, or court, which was formed by advisers and officials. In 1086, the kings advisers compiled the Domesday Book in which population and wealth data were recorded.    


William The Conqueror died in 1087, in Rouen, Normandy. This control of lands both in England and France would provoke great problems, thus, as a consequence, wars between England and France would become a commonplace from this point in history on.



Kings of England



House of Wessex










Alferd, The Great


Edward The Elder




Edmund, The Magnificent






Edgar The Peaceable


Edward The Martyr


Aethelred  II The Unready


Edmund Ironside


Canute The Great

Danish Kings


Harald Harefoot




Edward The Confessor

House of Wessex (restored)


Harold II


William I The Conqueror





55-54 BC

Expeditions of Caesar


Claudian invasion


Foundation of London


Revolt of Boudicca


Hadrians Wall

After 296

Britain becomes a civil diocese of four provinces


Barbarian Conspiracy


Britain revolts from Constantine III: end of Roman rule in Britain


Roman troops withdrew from Britain


The adventus Saxonum: Hengest and Horsa settle in Kent (Traditional date)


Hengest rebels against Vortigern


Battle of Mount Badon


St Augustines mission arrives in Kent


Synod of Whitby


Bedes Historia Eccesiastica Gentis Anglorum


Danish raids on Lindisfarne, Jarrow and Iona


Alfred defeats the Danes at Edington, Guthrum is Christianised


Death of  Alfred, Edward The Elder becomes king of Wessex


Edgar becomes king


Edgar is crowned and consecrated and receives the submission of the British princes.


The Danes defeat Alderman Byrhtnoth


Aethelred orders the massacre of all Danes in England


King Swein invades Britain


Canute defeats Edmund at Ashigdom, Canute becomes king of all England


Harold Harefoot becomes king


Hardicanute becomes king


Edward The Confessor becomes king, the house of Wessex restored


Edward dies, Harold Godwinson becomes king

Stamford Bridge, Yorkshire, Tostig and Hardrada killed by Harold

Hastings, William, Duke of Normandy, killed Harold and becomes king of England  








Let's have a little fun after our historical work


The History of the English Language  

In the beginning there was an island off the coast of Europe. It had no name, for the natives had no language, only a collection of grunts and gestures that roughly translated to "Hey!" "Gimme!" and "Pardon me, but would you happen to have any woad?"

Then the Romans invaded it and called it Britain, because the natives were "blue, nasty, br(u-i)tish and short." This was the start of the importance of u (and its mispronounciation) to the language. After building some roads, killing off some of the nasty little blue people and walling up the rest, the Romans left, taking the language instruction manual with them.

The British were bored so they invited the barbarians to come over (under Hengist) and "Horsa" 'round a bit. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes brought slightly more refined vocal noises.

All of the vocal sounds of this primitive language were onomatapoeic, being derived from the sounds of battle. Consonants were derived from the sounds of weapons striking a foe. "Sss" and "th" for example are the sounds of a draw cut, "k" is the sound of a solidly landed axe blow, "b", "d", are the sounds of a head dropping onto rock and sod respectively, and "gl" is the sound of a body splashing into a bog.

Vowels (which were either gargles in the back of the throat or sharp exhalations) were derived from the sounds the foe himself made when struck.

The barbarians had so much fun that decided to stay for post-revel. The British, finding that they had lost future use of the site, moved into the hills to the west and called themselves Welsh.

The Irish, having heard about language from Patrick, came over to investigate. When they saw the shiny vowels, they pried them loose and took them home. They then raided Wales and stole both their cattle and their vowels, so the poor Welsh had to make do with sheep and consonants. ("Old Ap Ivor hadde a farm, L Y L Y W! And on that farm he hadde somme gees. With a dd dd here and a dd dd there...")

To prevent future raids, the Welsh started calling themselves "Cymry" and gave even longer names to their villages. They figured if no one could pronounce the name of their people or the names of their towns, then no one would visit them. (The success of the tactic is demonstrated still today. How many travel agents have YOU heard suggest a visit to scenic Llyddumlmunnyddthllywddu?)

Meantime, the Irish brought all the shiny new vowels home to Erin. But of course they didn't know that there was once an instruction manual for them, so they scattered the vowels throughout the language purely as ornaments. Most of the new vowels were not pronounced, and those that were were pronounced differently depending on which kind of consonant they were either preceding or following.

The Danes came over and saw the pretty vowels bedecking all the Irish words. "Ooooh!" they said. They raided Ireland and brought the vowels back home with them. But the Vikings couldn't keep track of all the Irish rules so they simply pronounced all the vowels "oouuoo."

In the meantime, the French had invaded Britain, which was populated by descendants of the Germanic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. After a generation or two, the people were speaking German with a French accent and calling it English. Then the Danes invaded again, crying "Oouuoo! Oouuoo!" burning abbeys, and trading with the townspeople.

The Britons that the Romans hadn't killed intermarried with visiting Irish and became Scots. Against the advice of their travel agents, they decided to visit Wales. (The Scots couldn't read the signposts that said, "This way to Lyddyllwwyddymmllwylldd," but they could smell sheep a league away.) The Scots took the sheep home with them and made some of them into haggis. What they made with the others we won't say, but Scots are known to this day for having hairy legs.

The former Welsh, being totally bereft, moved down out of the hills and into London. Because they were the only people in the Islands who played flutes instead of bagpipes, they were called Tooters. This made them very popular. In short order, Henry Tooter got elected King and begin popularizing ornate, unflattering clothing.

Soon, everybody was wearing ornate, unflattering clothing, playing the flute, speaking German with a French accent, pronouncing all their vowels "oouuoo" (which was fairly easy given the French accent), and making lots of money in the wool trade. Because they were rich, people smiled more (remember, at this time, "Beowulf" and "Canterbury Tales" were the only tabloids, and gave generally favorable reviews even to Danes). And since it is next to impossible to keep your vowels in the back of your throat (even if you do speak German with a French accent) while smiling and saying "oouuoo" (try it, you'll see what I mean), the Great Vowel Shift came about and transformed the English language.

The very richest had their vowels shifted right out in front of their teeth. They settled in Manchester and later in Boston. There were a few poor souls who, cut off from the economic prosperity of the wool trade, continued to swallow their vowels. They wandered the countryside in misery and despair until they came to the docks of London, where their dialect devolved into the incomprehensible language known as Cockney. Later, it was taken overseas and further brutalized by merging it with Dutch and Italian to create Brooklynese.



  http://english4fun.ru. , , .



What is English?

The origins of English
The history of the English language really started with the arrival of three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain during the 5th century AD. These tribes - the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes - crossed the North Sea from what today is Denmark and northern Germany.

At that time the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language. But most of the Celtic speakers were pushed west and north by the invaders - mainly into what is now Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Angles came from Englaland and their language was called Englisc - from which the words England and English are derived.

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