British Latin.

Danny L. Bate (a linguist who did his master’s on the history and development of complementizers and complement clauses in Indo-European) asks What did British Latin sound like?:

The transition from Roman Britain to Medieval Britain is a fascinating historical, archaeological and linguistic puzzle. The fifth, sixth and seventh centuries AD in Britain are like a black box, into which we put a well-integrated region of the Roman Empire, and out of which emerges a patchwork of new kingdoms, cultures and languages. Explaining the workings of this change on the basis of the available evidence is a challenge that continues to keep historians very busy, and keeps me up at night.

One opinion I, as a linguist, hold is that by the end of the official Roman administration of Britain (c. 410 AD), Latin had become a common language of the population of Britain. This is to say, at least in the south of what is now England, Latin had become the majority mother tongue of the population, just as it had on the Continent. I disagree with the alternative view that the Romans brought Latin to Britain and then took it all home with them, leaving the barbarian Britons none the wiser. Elsewhere, Latin would over time produce the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Catalan, Italian and so on). However, in Britain, popular Latin was not to endure, since the incoming Angles and Saxons would upset the linguistic lie of the land. […]

I’ve written previously about the great legacy of Latin within Welsh words, but only briefly touched on what kind of Latin the Pre-Welsh language was in contact with. From its lasting silhouette, we may identify some specific features of the Latin spoken by ordinary people based in Roman Britain, since presumably it was these people who were transferring words from one language into the other. This route back to British Latin helpfully avoids the complications of written sources.

Discussing what we can learn about British Latin from the languages it had influences on, namely Welsh, is my task today. In particular, my target is British Latin immediately after the end of imperial governance, when it was perhaps at its geographical peak. This piece looks at seven features that will together provide my answer to the following question:

What can Welsh tell us about what British Latin, spoken in southern Britain c. 450 AD, sounded like?

He discusses the features (vowel prothesis, loss of h-, etc.) and concludes:

British Latin in 450 AD would have sounded barely distinguishable from the Latin over the water. Perhaps it may have seemed somewhat phonetically old-fashioned to someone from Italy, since certain sound changes (like 5 and 6) don’t appear to have reached Britain’s shores. […] Yet, considered altogether, I believe these seven features lead us to think that “spoken British Latin was to all intents and purposes identical with the type of Romance underlying Old French” (Schrijver 2007: 7). The English Channel was no barrier to innovations in language, and the people of Britain swam in the great flow of life and language in the later Roman Empire. This Roman and post-Roman status quo was not to last though – but that’s another story.

I can’t remember if someone passed this interesting piece on to me; if it was you, you have my thanks!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    Still waiting for someone (probably Etienne) to explain to me why Kenneth Jackson was wrong in supposing that the Latin underlying Welsh loans still had contrastive vowel length (after all, if he was right, that’s a pretty major difference from continental spoken Latin.) As is the preservation of /w/.

    The voicing of postvocalic stops (#7) cannot reflect British Latin, because it’s an intra-Brythonic feature that affected inherited Celtic vocabulary just the same. St Patrick is quite irrelevant. (Why on earth should there be a “causal connection”? It’s happened in many languages, including Danish and Kusaal …) And it proves that the Latin which was borrowed by the Britons did not have this feature.

    The article confuses two (possibly) quite different things: the Latin which is at the back of most Welsh loanwords (which certainly did not have the change w -> v or the voicing of intervocalic plosives) and the hypothetic Latin which may or may not have been spoken in what is now southeast England by most of the population when the Germanic invasions began in earnest. If that was a real thing, it may well have been much like contemporary continental Vulgar Latin: but if, so, it can’t be the basis of most Latin loans in Brythonic.

    In particular, you specifically can’t use the features of the former to establish the features of the latter. The more the latter was like contemporary continental spoken Latin, the less it can be the source of the (considerable) Latin-derived vocabulary in the Brythonic languages. You can’t have it both ways.

    (I may be wrong: Etienne knows more about this than I do.)

  2. David Marjanović says

    I disagree with the alternative view that the Romans brought Latin to Britain and then took it all home with them, leaving the barbarian Britons none the wiser.

    Well put!

    the linguistic lie of the land

    …the… lay of the land?

    Still waiting for someone (probably Etienne) to explain to me why Kenneth Jackson was wrong in supposing that the Latin underlying Welsh loans still had contrastive vowel length (after all, if he was right, that’s a pretty major difference from continental spoken Latin.) As is the preservation of /w/.

    What I’ve gathered from Schrijver is that the Latin superstrate in Brythonic is a few hundred years older than the Latin substrate in Brythonic – the former came in as soon as the Romans had made themselves comfortable (as also in Basque and Albanian, more or less), the latter came in when the state was gone and the lowlanders fled west to escape the Angles-Saxons-and/or-Jutes.

  3. …the former … the latter …
    How about “… the older … the newer…”? I was a bit confused. I wasn’t sure if you meant the order in the sentence or the historical order.

  4. You called me?

    (Or, should that be, Me clamavistine?) 🙂

    First, Danny Bate definitely needs to research his topic more thoroughly: Extinct (and not directly attested) Romance varieties are a bit of a specialty of mine, and when it comes to British Latin (which I suppose we could also call British Romance) there are several key references missing from his bibliography. Second, his presentation of the data is also quite muddled. In particular, the statements-

    1-“British Latin in 450 AD would have sounded barely distinguishable from the Latin over the water” and

    2-“Spoken British Latin was to all intents and purposes identical with the type of Romance underlying Old French” (Schrijver’s words, but quoted approvingly)

    -are incompatible with one another. They cannot both be true.

    To answer David Eddyshaw’s questions:

    1-Jackson was wrong in believing that British Latin had preserved vowel length after it had disappeared in continental spoken Latin. On the one hand, he assumed that the bulk of Latin loanwords in Brythonic had entered the language very late in the history of Roman Britain, an unjustified assumption: as a result, it is possible that the Latin words entered Brythonic at a time when Latin vowel length was alive and kicking throughout the Empire. In particular, Jackson utterly fails to clearly separate two separate (albeit related) matters: the phonology of Latin loanwords in Brythonic and the phonology of British Latin: the latter could well have undergone all the changes other varieties of Latin had undergone (through diffusion, naturally) WITHOUT the borrowed Latin element in Brythonic being modified or affected thereby.

    The above would be a serious enough objection if Latin vowel length was clearly and systematically preserved in Latin loanwords in Brythonic. Alas, it is not. Jackson does not make a distinction between Brythonic loanwords from Latin whose form CAN ONLY go back to a form in Latin with preserved vowel length from Brythonic loanwords in Latin whose form IS EQUALLY COMPATIBLE with a Latin form with preserved and one with lost vowel length. Combine the two objections and there is really no basis for assuming an unusually conservative British Latin as far as inherited vowel length is concerned.

    2-The matter of /b/ and /w/: Jackson argued that British Latin must have been conservative, because in the borrowed Latin words in Brythonic intervocalic /b/ and /w/ have separate reflexes, whereas in all modern and attested Romance varieties intervocalic /b/ and /w/ have merged, typically as /v/. The argument falls flat for the same reason: it is not at all clear that, AT THE TIME THE WORDS WERE BORROWED, intervocalic /b/ and /w/ had merged anywhere in the Empire.

    Both of the above points, and several others, leading to the conclusion that there is not one shred of credible evidence indicating that British Latin was either distinctive or conservative compared to contemporary continental Latin varieties, have been presented very lucidly in the following article, which I recommend to all interested hatters (David Eddyshaw: I suspect you would love it), and which Danny Bate would be well advised to (thoroughly!) read::

    Gratwick, A. S. (1982). “Latinitas Britannica: Was British Latin Archaic?”. In Brooks, Nicholas (ed.). Latin and the Vernacular Languages in Early Medieval Britain. Studies in the Early History of Britain. Leicester: Leicester University Press: pp. 1–79.

    (The article contains a very interesting discussion of intervocalic /b/ and /w/ and points out that, even in the fifth century AD, this feature seems to have been unknown in Latin anywhere North of the Alps. Oh, and points out in passing that the APPENDIX PROBI is not a reliable data source on the chronology of Latin/Romance sound changes).

    Of course, the matter of the phonology (and other features) of British Latin might prove to be wholly moot if it turned out that Latin had never been a vernacular language in Roman Britain: and Schrijver’s article (In Danny Bate’s bibliography) is NOT the last word on the topic. The following article-

    Parsons, David. N. 2011. “Sabrina in the thorns: place-names as evidence for British and Latin in Roman Britain” Transactions of the Philological Society: Volume 109, Issue 2 (July 2011: Special Issue: Languages of Early Britain. Edited by Stephen Laker and Paul Russell): pp. 113-137

    -makes what I think is the best case that British Latin, as a vernacular language, quite simply never existed in Roman Britain: what existed were some Latin-speaking social enclaves concentrated among some urban elites closely tied to the continent. Ironically enough, this is what Jackson believed: in a sense research on the topic has come full circle…

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Thanks, Etienne! (my summoning ritual worked …)
    Very interesting.

    Much does seem to turn on the presumed dating of Brythonic borrowings from Latin (the precise issue that the article blurs.) And indeed on the dating of the relevant sound changes in Romance …

    I’ll see if I can chase up some of those references.

  6. Conflation of lie and lay extends to the nouns as well as the verbs. Some nautical senses of lay seem be erstwhile mistakes promoted to the standard by long usage. I guess “lay of the land” is similar in US English, at least in its metaphorical sense, but not yet in UK English.

  7. David Marjanović says

    Sabrina in the thorns

    I found the paywall.
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-968X.2011.01276.x

    This article reviews published work which draws on various kinds of evidence to assess the linguistic situation in Roman Britain. Having reached some interim conclusions about the state of scholarship, it proceeds to examine the particular contribution that place-names can make to the debate on how far Latin may have taken hold in the province at the expense of the native British Celtic. While there is rather more evidence of Latin here than has often been allowed, the widespread continuity of British across much, at least, of Lowland Britain is reaffirmed, in the face of a recent suggestion to the contrary.

    The paper has 25 pages, I’ll read it later.

  8. Is it accepted that Cothraige is an early Gaelic borrowing of Patricius? An alternative theory is that it is a place-name. The dates for St Patrick are also uncertain.


  9. Or, should that be, Me clamavistine?

    Forgive my impertinence in the presence of authority, but wouldn’t “Me vocavistine?” be more idiomatic? (Ancora imparo.)

  10. Conflation of lie and lay extends to the nouns as well as the verbs.

    Yeah, I must admit to nervous cluelessness on the whole topic.

    Bate’s “lie” didn’t seem exceptional; but then D.M.s correction(?) left me in a quandary. I _think_ I (BrE) would say “lie of the land”.

    The nautical usage “to lay (a course to clear) a headland without needing to tack” I’m confident is different. Same idea as to lay a cable or pipeline.

    This intransitive use of the forms of lay instead of the forms of lie already started in Middle English, … wiktionary has lots of usage notes.

  11. @Etienne [Parsons] -makes what I think is the best case that British Latin, as a vernacular language, quite simply never existed in Roman Britain: what existed were some Latin-speaking social enclaves concentrated among some urban elites closely tied to the continent.

    That’s what I would have expected.

    But leaves the question: how did the Colonialists communicate with the great unwashed Bryths? How did they (for example) supervise the tin trade in Cornwall/Devon?

    If the pre-Roman vernacular language persisted throughout Britain (particularly in Eastern seaboard), that would have a more notable influence than Latin on the Anglo-Saxon creole?

  12. PlasticPaddy says

    Re “how did the Colonialists communicate”, I don’t think this problem is very different to the problem 19C colonial civil servants had. Official business was conducted in Latin through an interpreter. Letters were written in Latin (or translated for the recipient) by professional bilingual letter-writers who worked permanently in cities or travelled around villages. Although native Latin speakers were concentrated in cities, they were not restricted to cities, and I suppose most of the “bosses” in their countryside villas had a good command of Latin and conducted their affairs with outsiders in Latin, serving as a conduit for their tenants and “workers”. Note also that retired soldiers would probably have acquired the ability to understand spoken Latin and could serve as interpreters in some specific situations.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    The great number of Latin loans in Brythonic, and the fact that many of them are pretty basic vocabulary, suggests that knowledge of Latin must have pretty widespread. It doesn’t at all follow that most people actually spoke Latin in everyday life, though.

    In Ghana, the vast majority of written materials, both formal and informal, are in English, and English is the language of government, all but the most basic education, and most media. Nevertheless, few people routinely speak English in everyday life. If you eavesdrop im a crowd, you won’t hear much English, even in the cities.

  14. ‘1-“British Latin in 450 AD would have sounded barely distinguishable from the Latin over the water” and

    2-“Spoken British Latin was to all intents and purposes identical with the type of Romance underlying Old French” (Schrijver’s words, but quoted approvingly)

    -are incompatible with one another. They cannot both be true.’

    What is the problem with these two? They look pretty compatible with one another — to the point that I’m having a hard time seeing how they are not (in context) simply restatements of exactly the same idea. Whether the idea is right or not is another question, of course.

  15. David Marjanović says

    Up to this I had only encountered lay of the land and taken for granted it’s an epic lay, a song. Wiktionary says it’s the arrangement/layout of the land, though.

    Is it accepted that Cothraige is an early Gaelic borrowing of Patricius? An alternative theory is that it is a place-name.

    That’s interesting, but there’s a qatrikias in an Ogham inscription somewhere.

  16. Stu Clayton says

    wouldn’t “Me vocavistine?” be more idiomatic?

    A colloquial modern-day English expression, especially a jokey one such as “calling …” [in the sense of “paging”] in a blog comment, is unlikely to have any Latin rendering at all. That is, unless one was contrived by a bunch of bishops for use in Catholic darknets. The notion of a more or less idiomatic Latin equivalent makes no sense here.

    The defunct but embalmed Latinitas Recens gives citophonium for “intercom”, perhaps calqued on the Italian word citofono.

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    contrived by a bunch of bishops for use in Catholic darknets

    Now they’ll have to kill you. And us …

  18. Stu Clayton says

    Actually I have been overwhelmed with requests for the URLs.

  19. J.W. Brewer says

    “Lay of the land” is such a well-established fixed idiom in at least my variety of English that it turns out I don’t have any intuition as to what if any more general sense of “lay” as a noun it involves. Wiktionary gives the relevant sense as “Arrangement or relationship; layout,” but I would frankly like to see some example sentences using the word in that sense outside the fixed idiom before I was convinced.

    “Lie of the land” sounds Totally Wrong to me probably in part just because it’s not the fixed idiom I’m accustomed to but likewise because there’s no more general use of “lie” as a noun active in my idiolect that makes any particular sense when plugged into the phrase. Wiktionary tells me that “lie” is used by golfers to mean “the terrain and conditions surrounding the ball before it is struck,” which might be a similar sense, but I’m not a golfer. I also note FWIW that the golf-based (I believe?) expression “play it as it lays” (which is used in an extended metaphorical sense outside of golf) is more common per the google books Ngram vVewer than the presumably more “correct” alternative “play it as it lies.”

  20. Keith Ivey says

    Google Ngram Viewer suggests there is a transatlantic difference in usage of “lay/lie of the land”, though “lay” has caught up with “lie” in British usage in recent years.

  21. The OED has nine (count ’em, 9) different nouns lay, but our phrase isn’t under any of them; it’s under lie, n.² “Manner of lying; direction or position in which something lies; direction and amount of slope or inclination. Also figurative the state, position, or aspect (of affairs, etc.). the lie of the land.”

    1697 Connecticut Hist. Soc. Coll. (1897) VI. 248 Nott to alter the proper lye of the Land.
    1849 J. F. W. Johnston Exper. Agric. 101 On what geological formation the land rests—its physical position or lie.
    1862 A. Trollope N. Amer. II. 2 Washington, from the lie of the land, can hardly have been said to be centrical at any time.
    1950 E. H. Gombrich Story of Art 1 To show the newcomer the lie of the land without confusing him with details.
    1956 M. Lowry Let. 13 Nov. (1967) 392 If anyone is to blame it is I, for not giving you the lie of the land before.
    1966 D. Varaday Gara-Yaka’s Domain xi. 123 The quick powers of grasping a situation with which all game are endowed, showed themselves in the speedy summing-up by the leading boar, as he got the lie of the land.

    They have a few examples of “lay of the land” under other words where cites happen to use it, but the original expression clearly has “lie,” and the widespread substitution of “lay” in the US would seem to represent the same confusion that can be seen in the use of the verbs.

  22. JWB, googling (wadda ya thank?) ‘”lay of the” -land’ and excluding a lot of songs (Cid and Last Minstrel aside, there is a … lung) gives us “lay of the case” (printers’ term) and a few of one-off usages mostly referring to landscaping, but the amount of songs one should get through to find them…

  23. Both lie and lay turn up for the expression well before 1800 in ngrams, but several of the instances of lay are misOCRings: “law of the land”.

    That said, I suspect that insisting on lie is like a hypercorrection motivated by general anxiety about lay for lie. Lie Lady Lie.

    The notion of a more or less idiomatic Latin equivalent makes no sense here.

    Makes perfect sense to me, confrater Stu. Call in the relevant sense is good Vulgate Latin (and other), yes? Vocare with accusative seems to deliver the intended sense more naturally than clamare with accusative does.

  24. I meant to write “good biblical language”, and then to turn to usage in Vulgate Latin. (I run out of editing time, when commenting on my phone.)

  25. I suspect that insisting on lie is like a hypercorrection motivated by general anxiety about lay for lie.

    I don’t know how you come to that conclusion; isn’t “hypercorrection” used in cases where the form insisted on is not the historical one?

  26. Hat, I wrote “general anxiety” because I did not mean focused anxiety concerning the specific expression “[lie,lay] of the land”. A diffuse attempt at “correction”: one that I have heard from at least one ardent pedant. And I qualified for caution: “That said, …”; and “like a hypercorrection”. What should qualify as “the” historical form is not settled.

    Compare oscillations over tidbit and titbit, by the way.

  27. What should qualify as “the” historical form is not settled.

    It is to me. The OED entry is pretty convincing.

  28. So be it, if you find it convincing; but most pedantic “correction” in this case is surely not backed by knowledge of such authorities. It seems far more likely to be backed by the sort of general anxiety I spoke of. That’s how it was in the clearest case that I encountered, with my ardent pedant (a philosopher, tsk).

  29. Stu Clayton says

    Generalized anxiety disorder: Do you often find yourself worrying about everyday exotic issues for no obvious reason?

    Putin and Zelensky have had general anxiety this year, and simply got rid of them. Self-help is always the cheapest option.

  30. An example of “lay of the land” in (Northern) British usage in the 1980s: Lay of the Land (lyrics with discussion here).

  31. @Nelson Goering: You are quite right, I obviously need to work on my English reading comprehension: for some reason I kept reading/interpreting/parsing the first statement as “British Latin in 450 AD would have sounded barely COMPREHENSIBLE from the Latin over the water” (Leading to my perceiving this as incompatible with Schrijver’s statement). Thank you.

    @Noetica: “Me clamavistine?” versus “Me vocavistine?”: I agree the latter form is better Classical Latin, but inasmuch as “clamare” exists throughout Romance with the meaning “to call”, I would maintain that “Me clamavistine?” almost certainly existed as a more colloquial variant.

    (Indeed, if I believed in reincarnation I could all too readily believe that the various hatters now discussing the semantics of “lie” versus “lay” on this thread were once educated Romans who might have discussed the comparative stylistic/sociolinguistic merits of -inter alia- “vocare” versus “clamare”…)

    @AntC: Just to be clear, while Parsons’ article to my mind makes the best case against the existence of British Latin, I do not in fact believe him: I am QUITE certain that British Latin existed and indeed must have been the demographically dominant language over much if not most of the Lowlands in late Roman Britain.

    @Tοῖν Δῆϝιδοιν: I really hope each of you reads the two references I gave upthread, I would love to see your comments/observations/thoughts.

  32. J.W. Brewer says

    What’s the basis for being confident that the OED folks actively tried to trace the history of “lay of the land” as such to see if it was older or younger than “lie [or lye] of the land”? Especially if their starting position was that “lie of the land” was normative and “lay of the land” an apparent chance/nonce variant.

    I find it interesting that “lay of the land” is as best as I can tell used as a fixed idiom by Americans who are otherwise quite careful to keep up Miss Thistlebottom’s rules about the boundaries between “lie” and “lay.”

    I accidentally muddled them up myself earlier today. Context. I said “Lie down!” to a young child (who should not be presumed to understand the expression other than from context) in need of a change of diaper. Not securing compliance, i said more emphatically “lie yourself down.” Which was Obviously Wrong.

  33. ktschwarz says

    The OED’s entries for lie and lay are unrevised, so they won’t have been researched as thoroughly as they could be today. The surprising thing to me is that the *figurative* use of “lay|lie of the land” may be relatively new, since the OED doesn’t have it before the 20th century. The OED1 (1902) did not lemmatize “lie of the land” as a phrase; it did have the phrase in the quotations from 1697 (Connecticut historical records) and 1862 (Trollope), but those are both literal references to land. The phrase in a figurative sense, with three quotations from the 1950s-1960s, was added in the 1976 Supplement. The phrase “lay of the land” also appears in a quotation from Thoreau under lay, n.7 sense 7a, but that’s also literal. As languagehat found, there are a few uses of the phrase in both versions in quotations in other entries, but out of those, the figurative ones are also recent.

    I would’ve thought that such an obvious metaphor would go back forever. Who knows, maybe the figurative use will be antedated, once somebody starts looking for it—but since the OED1 didn’t notice it, it probably wasn’t very prominent.

    Quite a few current dictionaries have “lie of the land” labeled British and “lay of the land” labeled American, including the Oxford and Cambridge Learner’s Dictionaries, Collins, MW,, and Britannica. Danny Bate is English, and I (like JWB) knew only “lay of the land” as a fixed phrase, so I guess we’re all typical of our nations, and so is AntC. Perhaps the expression existed in both forms originally and then snowballed one way in the US and the other in the UK, like a lot of spelling differences?

    Examples of general anxiety directed at “lay of the land”, complete with “my English teacher told me” and responses citing the OED, can be seen e.g. at Grammarphobia and Phrase Finder.

  34. J.W. Brewer says

    In addition to not being a golfer, I am not an old-timey typesetter, so I did not know the NP “lay of the case” referenced above. I am intrigued to find it in both British and American sources in the late 19th century, but not to find “lie of the case” as an alternative for the same meaning. “Layout of the case” would be semantically transparent to me (once I understood what “case” they meant), but I’m not sure that a clipping is actually what happened historically.

  35. Me clamavistine vs. vocavistine: It’s not a big deal. ‘Clamare’ is attested in specifically this sense of calling over or summoning from Plautus onwards. But I think it is very likely correct to suppose that it had a more colloquial feel, at least in the Classical period.

  36. Also consider in this instance appello.

  37. In Russian the stative lie is simple (the root is -lezh-, often used to give a location of an object: not only lands can lie beyond mountain ranges, but books also lezhat on shelves in heaps), but the dynamic verb is suppletive horror.

  38. David Marjanović says

    I really hope each of you reads the two references I gave upthread, I would love to see your comments/observations/thoughts.

    Gratwick’s paper doesn’t exist on teh intarwebz as far as Google Scholar can tell; it finds it cited aplenty, but it doesn’t find the paper itself.

    Parsons’s begins with a long review of the state of the art, including of course Gratwick’s paper and the voluminous research it has spawned. It mentions a topic that is apparently underresearched: the Latin/Romance loanwords in Old English. While OE has hardly more than 20 Brythonic loans by the most optimistic count so far, there are “perhaps as many as 200” Latin loans “which look to have gone through early Old English sound changes”, and which were, “in the fundamental study by Pogatscher (1888 […] )”, believed to have been borrowed in Britain. “But the situation is not straightforward, because Germanic was clearly already borrowing from Latin on the Continent before the fifth century, and it is not easy to distinguish between pre- and post-Anglo-Saxon settlement phases in the ‘early’ loans.” (I’d have used one more hyphen.) The latest work on this topic, from 1990 and 1993, “concluded very firmly that the bulk of these early Latin loanwords ‘were of continental origin'”, but it “is largely predicated on Jackson’s view of the linguistic situation in Roman Britain”, i.e. that when the empire left the upper crust spoke stilted Classical Latin, the urban middle classes may have spoken Early Romance but somehow had no noticeable contact with the countryside, and everyone else spoke Brythonic. “Beyond this assumption, he [Wollmann 1993] is unable to establish scientific or tangible grounds for placing the vast majority of the loanwords on the continent rather than in southern Britain.”

    And that’s it. “In the context of the current discussion, it would certainly seem wise, once again, to suspend judgement, and to contemplate once more the possibility, at least, that Old English might have received a significant number of loanwords in fthe fifth and sixth centuries from contact with Latin speakers in Britain.” That’s the end of the section “Evidence from Old English”.

    It is clear that there were Latin loans in Proto-West-Germanic. It is also clear that numerous loans are either in southern or in northern West Germanic but not in both. It is further clear that the Migration Period made a mess of West Germanic dialect geography… Nonetheless, to me it seems there’s potential for more research than I personally have seen (for what little that’s worth). For example, Latin cista (itself from Greek) is all over West Germanic; but in German it’s Kiste (“wooden box”), with the Classical vowel quality (and even the feminine gender*) unchanged to this day, while in English it’s chest. Once I read that the unexpected English vowel may mean the word was borrowed separately, from Brythonic. (Not sure why actually.) I wonder if it could be directly from early western Romance – and in that case it would have been borrowed in Britain more easily than in Jutland, I would imagine. That said, I have no idea if German Kasten m. “cupboard” participates in this…

    * Unlike e.g. Fenster n. < fenestra, a southern-only word in WGmc. I think it got the gender of “eye” as in “window”.

    Then follows page after page of features that Parsons argues are all inconclusive; “however, developments like the i-affection in Micheldever, which appear to be neither Latin nor Old English, but seems consistent with early Brittonic, are probably best interpreted in that way.” That’s the end of the whole discussion section, then comes the conclusion.

    The matter with Micheldever is that Andover, Candover and Micheldever, all in Hampshire, “all have as their second element a form that appears in Old English spellings as defer, generally explained as deriving from Brit *dubrī, plural of the *dubro- ‘water’ that we have previously met. The conventional sequence here involves i-affection on /u/ to give a central vowel /ï/, which the Anglo-Saxons did not have, and therefore substituted with other sounds, in this case [e] (Jackson 1953: 285). An alternative explanation of English i-mutation will not really work in this case, because the umlaut vowel should then be /y/. This may begin, at the least, to push the zone of clear British survival further east, into central Hampshire.”

    But if you feed this same short [ʊ] into early western Romance, you get [o]. And if you feed [o…i] into sufficiently early Old English, you get [ø], and soon thereafter e (in most dialects as soon as writing with Latin letters sets in).

    As far as I understand that’s an argument for Romance as opposed to both Classical Latin and Brythonic.

    Particularly puzzling is the sentence: “Knotty philological problems await anyone who wants to deny British i-affection in Brent and London, however.” Parsons just suggested a possible solution on the preceding page! (Not mentioned there is that Lundonia is apparently attested in the “4th c. or later”: check out slide 11 of this presentation.) On top of that, Schrijver argued in the cited paper that umlaut may be an areal feature shared by Brythonic, North and West Germanic and the northwestern Romance in between…

    I’m happy to accept Parsons’s conclusion that the thoroughly romanized area was smaller than the archeologically defined “lowland zone”; but for the actual southeast of England, Schrijver’s stills seems more parsimonious.

  39. Thanks @DM, quoting Parsons “… in Brent and London …”

    (Yes I also couldn’t find Gratwick’s paper — except for lots of references.)

    Having grown up next to Brentford where the River flows into the Thames, my ears pricked up.

    A letter from the Bishop of London in 705 suggesting a meeting at Breġuntford, now Brentford, is the earliest record of this place and probably therefore that of the river, suggesting that the name may be related to the Celtic *brigant- meaning “high” or “elevated” perhaps linked to the goddess Brigantia [citing HMSO 1978]

    Is that the derivation Parsons is talking about?

    “high” or “elevated” Brentford is not/the Brent River rises in the lowlands and oozes rather than flows – until it got canalised in C18th.

    There’s lots of Ait’s/Eyot’s/other spellings/OE iggath along that stretch of the Thames; Including Magna Carta Island. Islands good places for meetings. Did the Bishop mean Brentford Ait?

  40. Gratwick’s paper is, indeed, ⚞cough⚟ nowhere ⚞cough⚟ to be found.

  41. Funnily, blocked in Russia (the “Serbian” (.rs) site, the Icelandic .is is not).

  42. John Cowan says

    umlaut may be an areal feature shared by Brythonic, North and West Germanic and the northwestern Romance in between

    East Germanic, too: Crimean Gothic fyder ‘four’ < Biblical Gothic fidwor (excuse me, 𐍆𐌹𐌳𐍅𐍉𐍂). One of the key pieces of evidence that Crimean Gothic was indeed East Germanic is the preservation of this /d/, grimmed from *kʷetwṓr but lost in North and West Germanic.

  43. ‘you get [ø], and soon thereafter e (in most dialects as soon as writing with Latin letters sets in).’

    David Marjanović, this delabialization is largely limited to the South for most of the OE period, but [ø] (or the like) remained normal in Mercian and Northumbrian texts. Of course, for Micheldever it is exactly such early-derounding dialects that are relevant, so I think your suggestion about Romance mediation might work (and might work better than any of the alternatives).

    ‘Crimean Gothic fyder

    John Cowan, where do you see the umlaut in this word?

    Re the -d-, archaisms are always fairly weak evidence for subgrouping, though this is certainly suggestive, and a corroborating point. Fortunately we’ve got further evidence, including distinctive innovations (which is what we really want), like the -d- in ada ‘egg’, plausibly reflecting Gothic *jj to *ddj. Of course, there are also some obviously non-Germanic words in there too (sada ‘hundred’ and hazer ‘thousand’ are transparently Iranic, for example), and the whole corpus is a bit of a philological mess. But on the whole it does look plausibly like East Germanic that’s been through a lot.

    If people are interested, the UTexas page on Crimean Gothic is pretty good:

  44. but there’s a qatrikias in an Ogham inscription somewhere.

    An ogham *qatrikias or the like is not found in the online database of names at the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project, nor is it in the index of Macalister (1945) Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum, vol. 1, dealing with the ogham inscriptions.

    Harvey’s treatment of Cothraige as a place-name and his presentation of the early documentation of the name is here on JSTOR. On the other hand, McManus (1991:175 n. 35) A Guide to Ogham says, “The derivation of Cothraige from Patricius is one I find difficult to doubt despite Harvey’s assessment.” Schrijver (2007:83) Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages follows McManus (despite the assessments by Harvey and by Pádraig Ó Riain 1997, linked to by mollymooly):

    When the Briton Patricius came to convert the Irish, they found it impossible to pronounce the first letter of his name and substituted it by its closest counterpart in Irish, *kʷ: *Kʷatrikias developed into the oldest Irish name for the saint, Cothraige.

  45. David Eddyshaw says

    After all, it’s not as if Irish c for Brythonic p in loans is an isolated phenomenon by any means (my favourite is clann, borrowed from the form that surfaces in Welsh as plant “children” – itself also an illustration of the degree to which Latin loanwords in Brythonic are often far from highfalutin literary-register forms.)

    Thurneysen has a whole section on this.

  46. David Marjanović says

    Maybe I misremembered. Or maybe my lost source did. I’ve seen OHG afful “apple” and ahhar “field” cited both as counterfactual, illustrating that West Germanic consonant stretching happened word-finally, and as real (alongside aphul~apful and acc(h)ar from oblique cases), illustrating that it did not!

    Crimean Gothic fyder ‘four’

    What did Busbecq mean by y? Perhaps [ɛɪ̯] (modern Dutch ij, Afrikaans y)? Perhaps just elegant variation for i? I think it’s a priori rather unlikely that he meant [y].

    On top of that, *i…w > [y] is a specifically Norse phenomenon that didn’t happen anywhere in West Germanic.



  47. David Marjanović says

    Reminder: if rintsch “hill, mountain” is real, that’s highly suggestive of English having contributed to Crimean Gothic.

  48. Well, I’m quite confident that after the Crimean war a part of English army stayed in Balaclava or somewhere. It is also known that they took some women with them to Crimea (alternatively they could become the ruling military class of local Tauri).
    As for the usual date given for the war (19th century) it is debatable at best.

    P.S. I (intentionally) wrote the above before clicking your link – in hope that it will offer something better. Now reading:)

  49. David Marjanović says

    It’s funnier that way 🙂

  50. I can’t quite tell if people are serious about Crimean Gothic being English or not. (I hope not! I certainly wouldn’t want to place more weight on rintsch, which only very dubiously linked to an OE element, than on apparently East Germanic forms such as ada, mine, ies, or the various apparent nominative singulars in *-s.)

    A standard — and to my mind plausible — explanation for malthata is as a cliticized contraction from *maþlja þata, or something similar. At any rate, it’s certainly not a very distinctive entry, from a dialectological standpoint.

  51. Nobody’s saying Crimean Gothic is English, but it may have had influence from English — follow DM’s link and you’ll see the relevant history.

  52. David Marjanović says

    Most of the Crimean Gothic words that can be narrowed down are East Germanic, no question. The only question is if all of them are.

    I’ve begun to read Gratwick’s 71-page book chapter. Having learned my linguistics mostly from Wikipedia, it will never cease to amuse me that it did not occur to him to use the IPA. (There may be any number of good reasons for this*, but none is mentioned or alluded to.) So, the second paragraph of the chapter is: “The modified phonetic alphabet here used is as follows:”. Fair enough. Unfortunately Gratwick wrote for a surprisingly narrow audience. The cedilla is explained as: “[lo̧:n] ‘lawn’, [gȩ:m] ‘game’ as pronounced in Yorkshire.” So that’s where Fiona Hill’s accent with the am[ɛː]zing FACE vowel is from, I guess; I’ve never been in shouting distance of Yorkshire, have consumed very little British TV and no radio and haven’t heard anybody else talk like that. “[ə] second vowel in Arthur” is fair enough, despite the existence of hundreds of millions of Americans without any second vowel in Arthur, but “[å] affected pronunciation of Bath” I can only guess from other uses of the letter å (e.g. in German dialectology, more or less for IPA [ɒ]… actual Scandinavian would be misleading). I have heard RP-oid accents in which the PALM/START/BATH vowel is a bit rounded (and LOT gets out of the way by being a plain [ɔ]), but I have no idea about their social status.

    The actually surprising part is [qᵘ]: “halfway between keen and queen“. I’m not saying such a thing doesn’t exist, the IPA even has diacritics for “more rounded” and “less rounded”… but… is that level of phonetic detail really going to be important? Is Gratwick postulating a language that distinguished more than two degrees of rounding? Stay tuned, I’ll probably get to it eventually.

    Too bad that the difference between the underdot and the cedilla overlaps with the resolution of the scan.

    * Some of the characters may have been unavailable to the typesetter. Or perhaps there’s a social reason: I’ve read that part of why Americanists have been so reluctant to use the IPA is that the English departments at their universities use it, and those departments are or used to be prescriptivist. Or perhaps Gratwick sometimes wanted more vagueness than IPA symbols in brackets might imply: he uses [ẹ ọ] for IPA [e o], [ȩ o̧] for IPA [ɛ ɔ], and [e o] as cover symbols for both… three lines after heavily implying they’re IPA [ɛ ɔ] when short and IPA [e o] when long, the latter illustrated with French examples that… aren’t long. Well.

  53. I suppose there could have been influence — but rintsch is hardly evidence of that. I saw in the other thread that ada was cited as a supposed OE word, along with other comparisons of similar quality… I’ll try to read more, though.

  54. David Marjanović says

    Speaking of a surprisingly narrow audience…! Page 5:

    For elsewhere Jackson allows that the Latin of the merchant, the soldier, and the artisan will for the most part have been subject to the same processes of change as elswehere in the Empire ; and indeed anyone with a first-hand acquaintance with the epigraphic material or the coinage of Roman Britain could not possibly maintain anything else. So by the early fifth century such Latin as Patrick learnt as a boy in Cumbria, if that is where he lived, would sound distinctly weird not only to a visiting continental but also to a Londoner.

    No examples, no references, nothing. The readers are assumed to have “a first-hand acquaintance” with the evidence – or else to trust in Gratwick’s authority, despite page 3 where he just said: “But in comparative philology it is not the mantle of authority, but first-hand evidence, quantification, and the quality of one’s argumentation that counts.”

    The argumentation on the next few pages is good, but one wonders how the following passage on p. 10 got published:

    One would also like to know proportionally how frequent examples of spellings such as […] actually are in the material, but it is no use expecting anything so subtle as analytic quantification from Richter, to whom it was all one whether a feature is widely and frequently attested in contemporary documents or extremely sporadic and localized, or in a manuscript or on a stone ; if someone tells her that he knows a man who says he has seen a swallow, she believes him, tells us, and declares that it is summer, in spite of the blizzard.

    Entertaining, sure, but come the fuck on.

  55. ‘Is Gratwick postulating a language that distinguished more than two degrees of rounding?’

    I have no real idea, but is he trying to get at the idea of a unitary /kʷ/ as opposed to the diphonemic /kw/ of queen? It’s a bizarre description any which way, though.

  56. David Marjanović says

    In any case, this is simply how he transcribes Latin qu, so it doesn’t seem to matter. I’m on page 47 now.

  57. John Cowan says

    the English departments at their universities use it, and those departments are or used to be prescriptivist.

    The speech departments, rather. English departments have no interest in pronunciation, only in spelling, and then only in special cases like Spenser and Milton. (Insofar as they teach Old and Middle English, they do care about pronunciation, but generally use Germanist notation for the former and and ad hoc explanations for the latter.)

  58. David Marjanović says

    For example, Latin cista (itself from Greek) is all over West Germanic; but in German it’s Kiste (“wooden box”), with the Classical vowel quality (and even the feminine gender*) unchanged to this day, while in English it’s chest. Once I read that the unexpected English vowel may mean the word was borrowed separately, from Brythonic. (Not sure why actually.)

    Because of a-umlaut in Brythonic, as Gratwick explained on p. 47: *i…a(ː) > e, *u…a(ː) > o. Indeed, Welsh cest “belly, receptacle” could be explained that way. (It could equally well be a later loan from early western Romance.)

    Funnily enough, vaguely southern West Germanic also had *i…a > [e] (not [ɛ] where those remained distinct). I’m not going to dive deep enough into the history of West Germanic final vowels to explain why this didn’t happen in Kiste; it’s not expected to have been borrowed with [a], though, as far as I understand.

  59. Etienne, if you’re still around, would you be able to comment further on the issue of merger of Latin /b/ and /w/? I found it surprising to read that per Gratwick “even in the fifth century AD, this feature seems to have been unknown in Latin anywhere North of the Alps”, as it doesn’t seem consistent with what I’ve heard before about when this change started to be attested, and seems to be contradicted by some of the inscriptional data reviewed in “On the Vulgar Latin merger of /b/ and /w/ and its correlation with the loss of intervocalic /w/: Dialectological evidence from inscriptions“, Béla Adamik (2017), which suggests confusion is found in some inscriptions from before 300 AD in Germania Superior. I haven’t gotten to read Gratwick yet, but I found a 1984 article by Damian McManus (“Linguarum diversitas: Latin and the vernaculars in early medieval Britain”) which criticizes the methodology Gratwick used to reach conclusions regarding this merger.

  60. PlasticPaddy says

    @xerib, de, dm
    Spellings in Ogham inscriptions of names in initial Q do not seem to include the usual candidates (Patrick, Peter, Paul, Paulinus), in fact I do not think there is any instance of Q used for British or Roman P in a borrowed name. From the examples, I feel that most uses of initial Q were deliberate archaisms for names that had initial C (or the q-/qi- is shortened from maqi in compound names). Maybe DE will disagree…

    Qasigni (TULLA/1)
    ( same name as Casoni?)

    Q[–]ci (DENAN/1)
    see qeccias

    Qeccias (KNBOY/4)

    Qecia (GLEBE/1)
    see qeccias

    Qenilocgni (MRAME/1)
    see qeniloci

    Qeniloci (BLYGH/1)
    place name? Connlaodh?

    Qenuven[– (CLOOM/1)
    see quenvendani

    Qerai (RFILD/1) Qerai (RFILD/2)

    Qetais (DRCOM/1)
    see qeccias

    Qet[ias?]s (BAWGL/1)
    see qeccias

    [Qe]tteas (DRUML/3)
    see qeccias

    Qic[– (BLVOO/2)
    see qeccias

    Qici (FARDL/1)
    see qeccias

    Qlog (ARDFE/1)
    inscription corrupt

    Qonfal (MADR2/1)

    Qregas (RCROG/2)
    see qerai

    Qrit[–] (BLVOO/1)
    see qritti

    Qritti (GRENL/1) Qritt[i][ — (BLNIG/1)
    compound name? There is also maqiritte and maqirite.

    Quagte (BRAW1/1)
    compound Cu-Acto?Or should a be e?

    Queci (DRUML/4)
    see qeccias

    Queniloc (BLYGH/1)
    see qeniloci

    Quenvendani (HENLL/1) Quenvendani (HENLL/1)
    compound Conn-Fintan?

    Qui[– (WRHAM/2)
    –Latin name?

    Qunacanos (ISLAN/1)

    Qvenatavci (GULV1/1)
    compound? Brythonic? Compare ending in dobit(a)uci

    The qic* might be a separate name, there is also an attested Ccicamini.

  61. David Marjanović says

    in Germania Superior

    Confusion between /β/ and /w/ is well known in Germanic: e.g. *haβukaz > Habicht, but hawk.

  62. PlasticPaddy says

    re hawk, Bosworth-Toller has hafoc (compare modern havoc) but crano-hawc. In hafoc the f is pronounced as [Beta]. Someone else could clarify whether crano-hawk represents devoicing when the stress goes on crano, i.e., ‘crano-havoc > *crano-hafk > crano-hawk.

  63. David Marjanović says

    Why would [fk] ever become [wk]? If anything I’d expect the opposite.

    But [βk] becoming [wk] makes sense – and would mean this particular example dates from well after the end of the province of Germania Superior. Hm.

  64. The traditional environment for [β] vocalization in English is the position between a back vowel and a velar consonant or /l/ (which may have often been velar [ł]): hawk, crawl, and awkward are a few examples in standard PDE. Jordan insists on direct contact in syncopated forms (a supposed *hafces > hawkes, giving hawk analogically), but such forms are often lacking and unlikely. I suspect that *βuk sequences actually were affected here, but I’m currently suffering from feline paralysis and can’t immediately check my Middle English books on the other side of the room to see whether anyone has discussed this.

  65. Stu Clayton says

    I’m currently suffering from feline paralysis

    Hadn’t heard that one. Urban Dictionary: “The inability to move or accomplish anything useful because the cat is lying in you lab [sic] purring/sleeping.”

    Otherwise, I see from articles in the ‘net that it can be fatal in cats. Scary.

  66. David Marjanović says

    One thing Gratwick showed but didn’t explicitly mention is that some of the Latin words in Welsh must have entered early. If you really want to, you can find a sociolinguistic alternative* for why “enclosure, wall” is both magwyr from Vulgar macēria and moger from Classical māceria, though that seems strained for such a humble word, it seems to me. But crog “gallows”, from none other than crux, can obviously only be from pre-Christian times.

    (How exactly is another matter. It has been plausibly suggested that crux was borrowed as */krʊkaː/, presumably to keep the feminine gender of this consonant stem – I’d compare it to Lithuanian direktorius. That would explain the o.)

    I like the use of bogus as a strictly defined technical term for cultismos y semicultismos.

    Also interesting is the use of blocked/unblocked vowels for vowels in closed/open syllables.

    Sometimes Gratwick just gave up: p. 52…

    […] which is perhaps just conceivable at the time when Latin compound verbs came to be re-composed in some Vulgar Latin. More likely it is just barbarous.

    …and sometimes, well (p. 66):

    More than half the loan-material consists of terms which existed in Classical Latin and which survived through later colloquial Latin without deformation or changed only in ways which cannot be perceived in the descendants of the borrowed British forms. Such loanwords, therefore, could have been borrowed at any time as far as phonological criteria are concerned. A prima facie accusation of correctness or archaism can only properly be levelled at a loanword which is definitely unaffected by some post-Classical change in Latin which we know for certain was dominant well within the Occupation period, and, as we have seen, such criteria are rarer and less powerful than Jackson makes out. In particular, the slur of correctness should not be cast against that whole class of words, which is the majority, whose form is compatible either with an origin in ‘good’ latin or in ‘bad’. If an old lady has a broom and we see her flying around on it, we know what to call her ; but it would be bad logic and worse justice to go round denouncing all the old ladies we have seen sweeping their gardens with brooms, for though some no doubt belong to the coven, others certainly are innocent, and we cannot distinguish them.

    * Though Gratwick did argue against the one Jackson had come up with: p. 64:

    Besides, there is implicit in Jackson’s theory the assumption that in the late Empire the grammarians somehow contrived to maintain a correct tradition of pronunciation; as if in Modern Greek the phonemic register of the katharévusa were in any particular different from that of the dhimotikí. In fact, later grammarians could not possibly know what was a correct Ciceronian pronunciation; what they could do, more or less competently, was to describe, prescribe, and proscribe for the written language of the auctores, a language increasignly divergent in lexis, syntax, word-order and morphology from the spoken.

    Fun fact: the phonotactics of katharévusa did differ – but often in the opposite direction from Classical times. Specifically, it was a spelling-pronunciation with the modern values of the letters, not the Classical ones. Where Classical and dhimotikí have [mbr] [ndr] for μβρ νδρ, katharévusa mercilessly used [mvr] [nðr] because that’s what happens when you read the letters one by one.

  67. David Marjanović says

    Gratwick (1982) also hinted that b/v confusion spread from Greek. The data in Adamik (2017) roughly fit this, and that’s actually been known since at least 1922 (slightly misquoted in Gratwick’s endnote 42).

    Gratwick, endnote 37, after quoting Quintilian: “So in the late first century at Rome to speak Latin with a Greek accent had in certain well-off Roman levels of society the same sort of social and ‘heducational’ implications as an exaggerated public-school accent  ; and it is interesting that when 〈B〉 for 〈V〉 become [sic] visible at Rome itself in the second century A.D., it is not so much in vulgar, but in decidedly pretentious public documents (e.g. the almost comic baccham for uaccam in the Arval Acts, CIL vi. 2099, A.D. 183) that it occurs.”

    Adamik found lack of b/v confusion in Belgica, confirming Gratwick’s endnote 50. The same endnote mentioned that in Ravenna b and v “only even begin to be confused in the sixth-century material.”

    The labiodental approximant, [ʋ], has remained absent from this entire discussion up to and including the 2017 paper.

  68. PlasticPaddy says

    Re the corresponding Old Irish form croch, Wiktionary has
    “From Insular Proto-Celtic *krukā (compare Welsh crog), borrowed from the oblique stem of Latin crux. Doublet of cros, which was instead formed by attaching feminine ā-stem inflectional endings directly onto the nominative singular”. The u in crucem is not long, so I would have thought the development to o in both Welsh and Irish is not so unusual. At least in Old Irish you also have cucullus > cochall.

  69. David Marjanović says

    In Irish (and western Romance) that’s unconditional, but in British Celtic (and Northwest Germanic) it only happened if *a followed; otherwise the outcome is unchanged (spelled w in Welsh).

  70. David Eddyshaw says

    Yeah, it’d’ve been crwg in Welsh without the effect of the final -a. Welsh still has adjectives showing the effect of this in masculine versus feminine forms, e.g. trwm “heavy”, feminine trom.

    (In fact, it’s quite a good rule of thumb that Welsh nouns with y or w in the last syllable are masculine, and those with e or o are feminine. Not infallible, though. Telyn is feminine, for a start …)

  71. David Marjanović says


    Unfortunately not cognate with this, it seems.

  72. John Cowan says

    I find it interesting that “lay of the land” is as best as I can tell used as a fixed idiom by Americans who are otherwise quite careful to keep up Miss Thistlebottom’s rules about the boundaries between “lie” and “lay.”

    That is true, which is to say that it is standard. However, lie of the land is also standard in AmE.

    As far as the verbs lie and lay go, there are some exceptions from the usual “lie is intransitive, lay is transitive” rule, at least in AmE. In particular, lay ‘lay eggs’ and lay ‘bet, wager’ are intransitive but standard.

    Per AHD5, which is the most conservative/prescriptive AmE dictionary currently being maintained, both lay low and lie low are standard in the senses ‘keep oneself or one’s plans hidden’ and ‘bide one’s time while remaining ready for action’. (However, the transitive sense ’cause s.o. to be dead or unable to get up from a lying position’ can only be lay low: the pandemic has laid, not lain, many millions of people low.)

    AHD5 also says that still-nonstandard lay down ‘lie down’ is derived from the short-form reflexive construction without -self, which is now archaic and poetic: here/now I lay me down to sleep (1698) and like a bridge over troubled waters I will lay me down (1970) are examples. Lay is a regular verb, which is probably another pressure towards its use; however, a friend of Gale’s consistently made lie regular, saying I lied down. (Of course the unrelated but now-homonymous lie² ‘tell an intentional untruth’ is now always regular, though it was originally class 5; lie¹, the one we have been discussing, is class 2.)

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