A correspondent sent me a Prospect Magazine story by Stephen Oppenheimer about the ethnic origins of modern Britons. Now, I’m very suspicious of attempts to apply biology to linguistics, and I’ve bashed Oppenheimer before, but what the hell, I’ll toss an excerpt up and see if anyone has anything useful to add:

So who were the Britons inhabiting England at the time of the Roman invasion? The history of pre-Roman coins in southern Britain reveals an influence from Belgic Gaul. The tribes of England south of the Thames and along the south coast during Caesar’s time all had Belgic names or affiliations. Caesar tells us that these large intrusive settlements had replaced an earlier British population, which had retreated to the hinterland of southeast England. The latter may have been the large Celtic tribe, the Catuvellauni, situated in the home counties north of the Thames. Tacitus reported that between Britain and Gaul “the language differs but little.”
The common language referred to by Tacitus was probably not Celtic, but was similar to that spoken by the Belgae, who may have been a Germanic people, as implied by Caesar. In other words, a Germanic-type language could already have been indigenous to England at the time of the Roman invasion. In support of this inference, there is some recent lexical (vocabulary) evidence analysed by Cambridge geneticist Peter Forster and continental colleagues. They found that the date of the split between old English and continental Germanic languages goes much further back than the dark ages, and that English may have been a separate, fourth branch of the Germanic language before the Roman invasion.
Apart from the Belgian connection in the south, my analysis of the genetic evidence also shows that there were major Scandinavian incursions into northern and eastern Britain, from Shetland to Anglia, during the Neolithic period and before the Romans. These are consistent with the intense cultural interchanges across the North sea during the Neolithic and bronze age. Early Anglian dialects, such as found in the old English saga Beowulf, owe much of their vocabulary to Scandinavian languages. This is consistent with the fact that Beowulf was set in Denmark and Sweden and that the cultural affiliations of the early Anglian kingdoms, such as found in the Sutton Hoo boat burial, derive from Scandinavia.
A picture thus emerges of the dark-ages invasions of England and northeastern Britain as less like replacements than minority elite additions, akin to earlier and larger Neolithic intrusions from the same places. There were battles for dominance between chieftains, all of Germanic origin, each invader sharing much culturally with their newly conquered indigenous subjects.

Oh, and he thinks Brits are really Basques: “But the English still derive most of their current gene pool from the same early Basque source as the Irish, Welsh and Scots.”

Thanks for the link, Paul!


  1. Interesting idea. Dubious. I think there is a slightly deeper split between English and Continental WG: as far back as you go in written records, Old English is still itself and doesn’t become just another dialect of the Old Frisian/Franconian/Saxon/High German blend, which do all start to look alike after a while. It looks most like Saxon, I thought the other day, looking at Old Saxon. But five hundred years (minimum) apart? Stretching plausibility.

  2. It’s an attractive hypothesis, but too bad there’s no actual evidence of Germanic language in pre-Roman Britain. Forster’s yet unpublished lexical analysis may say that English branched earlier than usually thought, but this doesn’t show that this branch actually came to England early. says:

    Whether the Belgae were Celts or Germanic tribes occupied 19th century and early 20th century historians. Caesar’s sources informed him “that the greater part of the Belgae were sprung from the Germans, and that, having crossed the Rhine at an early period, they had settled there, on account of the fertility of the country,” (De Bello Gallico 2.4) However most of the tribal and personal names recorded are identifiably Celtic. It seems likely that the Belgae had a mixture of Celtic and Germanic ancestry. Perhaps they were Germanic people ruled by a Celtic élite, or were a political alliance of Celtic and Germanic tribes, or, like the later Normans, were a formerly Germanic-speaking people who had adopted the language of the lands into which they migrated. In any case, the Romans were not precise in their ethnography of northern barbarians: by “German” Caesar may simply have meant “originating east of the Rhine”, with no distinction of language intended.

    And the paragraph from Tacitus mentions “German” separately from “Gaul”:

    Who were the original inhabitants of Britain, whether they were indigenous or foreign, is as usual among barbarians, little known. Their physical characteristics are various, and from these conclusions may be drawn. The red hair and large limbs of the inhabitants of Caledonia point clearly to a German origin. The dark complexion of the Silures, their usually curly hair, and the fact that Spain is the opposite shore to them, are an evidence that Iberians of a former date crossed over and occupied these parts. Those who are nearest to the Gauls are also like them, either from the permanent influence of original descent, or, because in countries which run out so far to meet each other, climate has produced similar physical qualities. But a general survey inclines me to believe that the Gauls established themselves in an island so near to them.

    (The paragraph also shows the debate about British origins hasn’t changed much in 2000 years…)

  3. Caffeind,
    By “actual evidence” do you mean reference in texts of the time? That evidence may indeed be absent, but that is not evidence of absence. What interest would the Romans have hasd in the question, beyond the military intelligence value of the information? The same kind of situation obtains in China, where actual references are very sparse in the historical record, but other evidence happens to survive – a “Hunnish” song transcibed into characters that appears to resemble Ket, Hmongic substratum in the dialects in what used to be Chu and so on – but here the question is itself what is the substrate and what is the main language. It can’t be the easiest job to determine with absolute clarity even what is Celtic and what is Germanic anywhere, to begin with, considering their geographical proximity over many centuries.
    Here’s another question – what would have prevented Germans from settling in Anglia and all that low swampy country in the centuries before the Romans showed up? Is that narrow, little body of water really such a barrier? It didn’t suddenly get narrow and easy to navigate in the fifth century.

  4. There’s plenty of physical evidence of intercourse across the North Sea for thousands of years back, but no information about language.
    Don’t forget the parts of the Continent closest to Britain were neither Celtic nor Germanic, but Nordwestblock, until just before the Roman period.

  5. I think that the most interesting thing in the article is the claim that language change didn’t involve a lot of population change (genetically). We’ve seen that in Ireland in historical times: the same people gradually ended up speaking mostly English and not much Erse.

  6. Yes, and it happened in just a couple of generations when the economic pull of English was at its height. The same may have been true of Romanization, or Arabization.
    If elite dominance can change language so effectively, the corollary may be that genetic history tells us almost nothing about language history. But then, there are also lots of cases of language replacement via population replacement.

  7. The most appealing explanation for the receding late Roman Britons is that they did exactly what today’s Britons are increasingly doing in an integrated Europe: move south to better climates.

  8. I was taught that the britian/iberia link went the other way around, that the celrs invaded Spain some time before the Visigoths showed up.

  9. “The corollary may be that genetic history tells us almost nothing about language history.”
    I think that people are less hopeful that it will. It’s still possible to trace physical migration if you have distinct genetic markers, but a second problem is that Celts, Germans, and Slavs aren’t that differtent.

  10. Richard Hershberger says

    Am I safe is assuming that this lexical evidence analyzed by a geneticist is just glottochronology rearing its head again? Did I miss some reason why anyone should take it seriously?

  11. Just thought I’d give another example. The Manichaean liturgy in Central Asia went from Persian to Sogdian to Turkish over the course of centuries (about 5 centuries, I think). The society was stable and continuous, with no major population displacement. Persian was probably a purely-liturgical language to begin with, replaced by the spoken language Sogdian, and then replaced with Turkish as the spoken language changed again.
    C. Asia has been bilingual Persian/Turkish for perhaps a millenium. The movement has been toward Turkish, but plenty of Tajiks (Persian dialect speakers) remain, and there’s pervasive bilingualism.
    Source: Gnosis on the Silk Road, Klimkeit (sp?).

  12. Sure, you could also say Europe has been bilingual Romance/Germanic for two millenia, and that Christian liturgy etc. changed languages more than once. Then the next question is why those linguistic areas have been relatively stable for a long time now, and why much more change occurred in the Migrations Period.

  13. Another take on this whole controversy is here: by a historian taking a look at the original genetic survey information and bringing in evidence from written sources, language, place names, etc. Interestingly, he mentions that the genetic study sampled folks around Britain, and compared it with samples from “Norway, Denmark, North Germany (Schleswig-Holstein), Friesland (Netherlands), and the Basque region of Spain”. This seems pretty odd since you have to leap over a lot of territory to get from that stretch of northern Europe to the Basque region. The study would seem to ignore France and the rest of Spain as possible influences, skewing results toward Oppenheimer’s theory.

  14. I think that the undelying idea is that some, but not all, NW Europeans are the genetic descendants of the pre-Indo-European peoples, even though all but the Basques speak IE languages by now. The contrastive populations would be Mediterraneans, who did replace the original inhabitants in their area.
    These would presumably be Gimbutas’ “Old Europeans”, and the people who built Stonehenge.
    You hear me right. Stonehenge was bult neither by hippies nor by Celts. Ain’t history fascinating?

  15. Wow, he can tell all that from the DNA? Can he tell what language my grandmother spoke by looking at my DNA? 🙂 🙂 🙂 Of course not. If the Brits, Irish, Welsh, and Scots are all Basques from way back then for all I know she could have been speaking Welsh or Basque to me instead of Irish.
    Just a nit on caffeind’s response: “Yes, and it happened in just a couple of generations …”
    to The New Yorker’s point: “We’ve seen that in Ireland in historical times: the same people gradually ended up speaking mostly English and not much Erse.” The modern transition to English in Ireland proably started with the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1367 forbidding the Brits to speak Irish rather than with the Penal Laws of 1695, which would make it more than a couple of generations.

  16. The Brits? In 1367?
    Anyway, the decline of erse must be partly the responsibilty of the Catholic Church with its insistence on Latin services. The Church of England in Wales used Welsh and Welsh survived pretty well as a consequence.

  17. No, it was the Methodists who used Welsh and saved it! And it was reading the Bible that was significant, not the ritual part of services.
    Yes, Irish’s transition from a robust language to a dying one took only a few decades. Existence of an English-speaking elite does not by itself imply language death. By that criterion, English has already conquered half the world.

  18. Indeed. What the Statutes of Kilkenny say is that the English in Ireland had fears for the survival of English in Ireland; they had no effect whatever on the use of Irish. They said nothing about Irish people learning Irish.
    As for the question about the correlation of DNA and language, the simple answer is that people tend to raise thier own offspring.
    “Then the next question is why those linguistic areas have been relatively stable for a long time now, and why much more change occurred in the Migrations Period.”
    Well before that question, there is still the question of how much linguistic change really occurred. Mario Alinei says their is no archeological evidence for a change of population in Bavaria, for instance, and no evidence whatever for language change, since no one can say what language was spoken there. All anyone can say is that the Romans called the tribes Celtic. They could have called them that for any niumber of reasons, but maybe simply because the rulers spoke a Celtic language. The same may have been the case in the low-lying areas of Britain just opposite the low-lying areas of Northern Germany. we don’t know because no one was out there doing descriptive work.
    And on the other hand, there is no evidence for population change in Southern Mexico, but Spanish has gained a lot of ground in only a few decades. Soon to be followed by English, probably, when people start coming home with all their new money.

  19. “No, it was the Methodists who used Welsh and saved it!” Nope, you’re wrong. See “A History of Wales” by John Davies (Penguin, 1993), especially pp 242-3.

  20. Very interesting —‘s “Search inside the book” feature allowed me to investigate dearieme’s reference:
    “The myth concerning the Protestantism of the Celtic Church was given prominence in Epistol at y Cembru, the introduction to the Welsh translation of the New Testament published in 1567… Thereafter, Welsh would be the language of the services in those parishes where the language was in general use…
    “The Welsh bible which resulted from the labours of Salesbury, Morgan, Davies and the others was as central to the experience of the Welsh as was Luther’s Bible to that of the Germans or the Authorized Version to that of the English. Indeed, it could be argued that it was more central, for as German and English were languages of state they had secular means to maintain their unity, purity and dignity…
    “It is sometimes suggested that the Welsh Bible ‘saved the language’. The claim has little substance in view of the fact that most of the non-state languages of Europe were fairly secure as spoken languages for centuries after 1588. What it did ensure was the continuance of the Welsh language as something more than a spoken language.”

  21. And on p245 “Welsh was the only non-state language of Protestant Europe to become the medium of a published Bible within a century of the Reformation. This consideration is one of the most important keys to an understanding of the difference between the fate of Welsh and the fate of other non-state languages – Irish and
    Gaelic in particular…..”

  22. In 1567 Welsh Protestants wouldn’t be Methodists.

  23. I have Davies. p. 343:
    the Methodists were obliged to promote the Welsh language as a medium of evangelical zeal. They used the language in a less self-conscious way than did the scholars and the patriots, and, if the culture they created was narrow and pietistic, its medium was Welsh and its productions were prolific.
    p. 360:
    the upper ranks of the Anglican minstry in Wales had for generations been totally anglicized. Although there were a number of Welsh enthusiasts among the clergy, man parsons considered that their primary duty was to be chaplain to the local landowning families, families which had long been wholly English in speech. In the chapel, there were at least three Welsh services on Sunday and through the chapel the monoglot Welsh could participate in a host of other activities held in the only language they understood.

  24. The revivial of Irish – or its political importance at home – is such that it will become an official language of the EU next Jan,1, with romansian and Bulgarian.
    Bbut there is a serious problem of lack of qualified interpreters and translators. To such an extent that there is a suggestion of setting up a special school for Irish interpreters/translators into various of the many EU offical languages. It is said to take five years to qualify.
    The Eurosceptic British press is loving this one. One report said that life is so nice in the areas of western Ireland where there are the most Irish speakers that even qualified people don’t want to move to crowded Brussels. Having been there, I understand…
    See a good wikipedia piece on the whole EU language question, including the role of non-state lnaguages such as Galician:

  25. “In 1567 Welsh Protestants wouldn’t be Methodists”
    No, but having the liturgy and Scripture in “a language understanded of the people” was an Article of Faith in the first Anglican Book of Common Prayer, whatever that language might be, by that wording. Wales went with Protestant with most of England. The shift to Methodism came later, naturally.

  26. Quite, Jim. It’s not an either/or situation here; it’s a historical process. Without the Welsh prayer book and Bible and the approved use of Welsh in churches, it’s unlikely that the Welsh would have become Protestant enough to welcome Methodism (and all the other sects; you can walk round any Welsh town and see all the competing chapels…). The Welsh-language religious revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries saw the language through some massive social and cultural changes that could have killed it off – industrialisation and mass influxes of English speaking workers, for example – but they weren’t starting from scratch. And the Methodists (et al) didn’t just use Welsh in preaching, but also in literature and hymns, and they both built on and reinvigorated the language’s printed culture. One of the key factors in the survival of Welsh is that point made by John Davies: from the 16th century onwards Welsh was not *only* a spoken language: it was a print language too.

  27. Re lack of qualified interpreters and translators of Irish in EU:
    There has been the same problem with each new language ever added by the EU, most notably the 8 most recent. There has also been resistance to every previous addition, great or small, even Spanish back in 1986.
    Re ‘Erse’:
    “The archaic term Erse (from Erisch), originally a Scots form of the word Irish, is no longer used and in most current contexts is considered derogatory”, according to Wikipedia, which must be wrong on that one.
    Re the Statutes of Kilkenny and English in Ireland:
    It all depends what you mean by ‘English’. The ‘English’ apparently saw no contradiction in enacting this, for example (Statute III):
    Item ordine est et establie que chescun Engleys use la lang Engleis

  28. cm,
    Tha’s hilarious!

  29. Norman language – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia claims:

    In particular a distinctive variety of “Norman French” remained alive in the barony of Forth and Bargy in Wexford until very recent times.

    Is there any basis to this or is someone confused?

  30. Good question. Their footnote says:
    “ The Department of Irish Folklore in University College Dublin possesses recordings of these individuals.”
    But a cursory examination of the site didn’t show me how to access those recordings, and a site search on “Norman” didn’t turn up anything useful. Bah.

  31. Re Norman French in Wexford:
    Someone is confused. What survived until recent times in Forth and Bargy (which I believe are two baronies not one) was Yola, a dialect not of French but of English.

  32. There are quite a few words in Irish that derive from French. Examples: seomra/chambre, garsún/garçon. In particular, the replacement of the Irish legal system by a Norman-French legal system brought in a number of new words.
    The late Seán Ó Tuama did a remarkable investigation of the relationship between the forms of medieval French poetry and traditional Irish song.
    However, this cultural exchange seems to have ended quite a long time ago.
    Let me throw out something else I’ve read somewhere. The language of the pre-Indo-European British, the people who built Stonehenge, was related to Berber. This conclusion supposedly was based on analysis of a small number of pre-Celtic placenames.
    Didn’t the Guanches, the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands, speak a language related to Berber? This would indicate some skill in seafaring. I’ve also read that Guanche teeth were very similar to Cro-Magnon teeth.
    Megalithic structures are found as far south as Malta. However, a similar culture does not necessarily mean a similar language.
    I must admit to buying those Dover Press books. Could someone update me on the current status of this theory?

  33. Oppenheimer’s idea is that the Belgic tribes living in SE England at the time of the Caesarian and Claudian invasions of the island were not Celtic speakers, but rather speakers of a Germanic language, essentially the ancient ancestor of modern English; the English language did not arrive here at the time of the mythical Hengist and Horsa, around the time of the rule of Vortigern and the withdrawal of the Roman legions in the fifth century, but much earlier, before the arrival of the Romans indeed. This thesis is argued with considerable cogency in his recent book, “The Origins of the British”, referring to a mass of sholarship in archaeology, classical history, ethnology and linguistics. His own expertise is in the field of genetic studies, and one must suppose that in his argument that the peoples of SE England are genetically most closely related to the peoples of North Gaul and North Germany must be taken seriously.
    This does not mean, however, that the Belgic British were speakers of a Germanic language – essentially proto Old English. What suggests the Belgic tribes of Britain at least must have been Celtic speakers are the following facts:
    1 All the place names known in SE Britain in roman times were of Celtic derivation: Londinium, Verulamium, Camulodunum, Durobrivae, Calleva, Venta, Durnovaria etc.
    2 There is not a single reference to an indisputably Germanic place name, tribal name, or personal name recorded anywhere in Roman Britain other than near Hadrian’s wall where soldiers from Germany were quartered.
    3 Personal names of SE British tribal leaders such as Caratacus, Boudicca, Cartimandua, and Commius are all Celtic.
    4 Contrary to what Oppenheimer claims in his book, there are numbers of Celtic place names in Southern and Eastern England, presumably surviving from Romano British times. In the area of Buckinghamshire where I live, ther is Chetwodwe (coed is Welsh for wood, anciently *ceto), Brill (bre/*briga – hill), Penn, and others. If the Belgae were English speakers, where did such celtic names come from?
    Oppenheimer is surely correct in assuming that, after the withdrawal of the legions, ther was not necessarily a mass evacuation of Britons to Wales, Cornwall and Brittany in the face of the English invasions from Friesland, Schleswig and Holstein (including Angeln, ther district of N Germany preserving the name of the Angli, a tribe recorded by Tacitus in the first century). and nor was there a great massacre of the Britons, as suggested by Gildas. What seems more likely is that there was a withdrawal of the upper class Romano British elite, who were replaced perhapss by English tribal chiefs, and perhaps an intermarrying of the Briton peasantry with the English lower orders, who in any case shared a common genetic ancestry.

  34. Thanks, Mike, that’s a sensible and convincing comment.

  35. MIke Hickox says

    Mike G’s critcisms of Stephen Oppenheimer aretrenchant. Hopwever, he is still faced by the mystery which Stephen Oppemheimer attempts to solve-why so few Celtic loan words in English ?Even more mysterious given there seems to have been no massacre of the Britons.Perhaps the flight of a Romanised celtic elite could explain it. The language came to be associated with low social staus.

  36. M. A. Golding says

    I see no good reason to doubt he statements of Gildas, written to convince highly literate people to take a desired course of action just a few generations afterwards.

    of course Gildas says the cities were deserted and abandoned after the Saxon revolt and archaeology says that the cities had been declining for decades before that. Also no archaeologist ever found heaps of skeletons littering the streets of Roman-British cities – which however were usually continuously occupied for at least a thousand years before archaeology began, and thus were not virgin sites.

    Perhaps the traditions which Gildas used mixed up cities and civates, the city states which all had cities as their capitals. Perhaps many Romano-British city states were were surrounded by walls, fences, hedges, dykes and other border barriers and had gates on the rods. Perhaps the rebel Saxons broke down those gates and poured into the rural countryside of the city states to slaughter the country people wherever they found them.

    And perhaps the rebel Saxons only slaughtered a few thousand Britons before the news spread like wildfire and the majority of the Romano-Britons, perhaps over a million persons, fled in terror from the Saxons. And they would soon begin dying of hunger, thirst, exposure and disease. To me it seems perfectly possible that most of them could have died during their flight, thus drastically reducing the British numerical advantage over the Saxons.

    And then the majority of the survivors, being already downtrodden lower class Britons, returned home to the east to surrender to the Saxons and become their slaves or serfs. And the Saxon warriors took a lot of British girls and women as concubines as well as sending for civilian Saxons from the continent. The downtrodden Britons rapidly learned to speak the Germanic language of their new oppressors.

    But as Gildas says, the remnant of the Britons from what is now Southern England were rallied by Ambrosius Aurelianus and began a long war against the Saxon invaders. In the end the Britons led by Arthur probably besieged a large Saxon force in a hill fort in Eastern Britain and were in turn besieged by a vast relief force composed of all Saxon fighting men, and crushed both armies.

    Arthur’s Germanic and Scandinavian mercenaries or “New Saxons” settled down to rule the “Old Saxons” in vassal kingdoms in Eastern Britain, sending annual tributes of Old Saxon slaves to be sold in Europe or labor in plantations in Central Britain that grew crops to s export to Gaul.

    Saxon slaves who died in the central British plantations would have been tossed onto the rubbish heaps, while “New Saxons” who died while guarding them might have been carried back east to be buried or else buried in the few pagan Saxon cemeteries in Central Britain.

    The relatively few poor Britons who died in Central Britain would not have had memorial stones erected in their honor, while the much fewer upper class Britons who died there might have been carried back to West Britain for burial or at least had their memorial stones erected in West Britain.

    Thus the absence of pagan Saxon cemeteries and Inscribed British memorial stones in Central Britain is explained by 1) the large drop in population due to the Saxon uprising and Great Flight of the Britons and thus a low population there for the rest of the fifth and sixth centuries, and 2) the low probability that someone who died in Central Britain would have a pagan Saxon burial or an inscribed British memorial stone in Central Britain.

    Then, sometime during the second half of the sixth century, Germanic speaking people gained political control of what is now Southern England at about the same time as the last great British migration to Brittany.

    Presumably there was a great and terrible revolt by the Old Saxon slaves in Central Britain simultaneously with the New Saxons and Old Saxons in East Britain uniting to overthrow the British governments in what is now Southern England.

    Even after the massacres and flight of British refugees in those upheavals, The Britons, now subjugated, would have vastly n outnumbered the Saxons and other germanic speakers in what is now England, but would have had to learn the Germanic language to learn how to obey their new masters and thus avoid punishment.

    But as far as I know people who spoke British or Welsh or were considered to be ethnically British or Welsh remained as a minority in England for centuries. Eventually they all became assimilated into Anglo Saxon culture and all became Anglo Saxon freemen.

    Then the Anglo Saxon lords started turning freemen into serfs as fast as they could. And then the Normans conquered England and replaced the oppressive Anglo Saxon lords with even more oppressive Norman lords who completed turning most freemen into serfs, a condition which lasted for several more centuries..

  37. Now that the progress of the genetics allows it, it’s time to re-analyze these theories.

    The theory of “NordWestBlock” is quite manipulative and rather looks like a well-done propaganda than a really scientific analyze.

    A simple counter example:
    If we follow “Geographia” (II, 2, 9) of Ptolemy, the link between the Irish Menapii and the Belgӕ proves that Z16340 is the Menapii clade.

    Knowing that Ireland is the most Celtic country in the world, Why, if the Nordwestblock theory was true, Ireland wouldn’t be more germanic?
    The Menapii who were described by Caesar as germanic were in fact genetically Celtic, as proven by the Z16340 cluster.
    … And more proves are coming: The number of the kits going in this direction are increasing.

    So… the language spoken by Belgӕ tribes was an indo-european very close from the ancient Brythonic, so a celtic but NOT a germanic language.

    Norman Mongan kindly allowed me to publish this image coming from his book if I mention it.

    His book contains an important quantity of records in Ireland (specially Fermanagh & Leinster) and abroad (Flanders) that increases the credibility of the Celtic Menapii.

  38. David Marjanović says

    …While the Nordwestblock hypothesis really doesn’t look like the most parsimonious explanation of the evidence, you can’t read people’s languages from their genes!

    Ireland is the most Celtic country in the world

    Since when? There are quite a lot of words in Old Irish that don’t have Celtic etymologies, and the split between Brythonic and Goidelic doesn’t look horribly old.

  39. David,

    It’s well known that the genes don’t lie.
    Onomastics appears like a quicksand in front of genetics.

    This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can read people’s languages from their genes.
    The language can change from generations.
    For example, in the case of the Menapii, they should have adapted from the Gaulish Brythonic to the local Goidelic of Leinster when they settled there.

    Another prove of the confusion of Caesar between Celtic and Germanic is the Eburones.
    The golden money of the Eburones shows on one side a Triskel and on the other side a Celtic horse.
    Caesar genocided the Eburones but they were Celtics and not germanics.
    The Eburones have been replaced by germanics AFTER their genocide.
    There’s some indications telling that the “Brigantes” of GB and Ireland could be the only survivors descending from the Eburones.

  40. David Marjanović says

    Ah. You hadn’t mentioned that you claim the Menapii had settled Ireland. That’s completely new to me. What evidence is there?

  41. Wikipedia mentions the idea, but in a paragraph that’s not particularly well-sourced. In any case, arguing for a common descent on the basis of a common name is like arguing that all Johnsons (or even Cowans) descend from a primordial John.

  42. I am tempted to argue that Napoleon was related to Newton. After all, their names obviously mean same thing in related Indo-European languages and share first letter

  43. David,
    Wikipedia is a very uncomplete source about the Menapii.
    Nothing about the genetic realities.
    Here is my link but there are also some archeological evidences about their sea route thru the channel, the Celtic sea and the Irish sea compared with the boat exposed in Bruges (Western Flanders).

    Original link:
    Bad translation thru Google translator:

  44. SFReader… Newton & Napoleon related?
    I have some doubts.
    The phylogeny of Newton is BY3154 under L193:

  45. Napoleon’s name ultimately comes from Greek Νεάπολις (New town).

    And Newton, of course, also means New Town.


    I think not!

  46. SFReader… Newton & Napoleon related?
    I have some doubts.

    Uh, that was a joke.

  47. However there is little evidence either that Britain all spoke a Celtic Language. Actually analysis has shown places such as London and many other place names are equally Germanic as Celtic and also the mercians and northumbrian dialects are spoken and written in the 8th century. How could Anglo-Saxons come in from the south-east and create dialects within a few hundred years? Let alone an entire area learning a Germanic tongue? Also looking at the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition very few Celtic words entered these dialects which seems unlikely considering it is now thought many Ancient Britain survived with such intermarriage you would expect more words and influence unless the Anglo-Saxons adopted the language of those who were ruled if indeed they were forced to be ruled. There is a lot of assumptions of Ancient Britain we are assuming Ancient British leaders names are British without much knowledge of the language or culture.

  48. “The Rise and Fall of British Latin” by Peter Schrijver (2002) suggests that there have been three recoverable language shifts in what is now England: a normal shift from British Celtic to Latin, an inverse shift from British Latin to British Celtic, carrying with it a vast number of loanwords, and a normal shift from British Celtic to English, with just a few loanwords.

  49. David Marjanović says

    an inverse shift from British Latin to British Celtic, carrying with it a vast number of loanwords

    Hardly any loanwords, lots of which came in earlier; but plenty of phonology and grammar. Parts 2.2 and 2.4 of the article emphasize this distinction, in particular page 16.

    and a normal shift from British Celtic to English

    Also a fourth one from British Latin to English.

    Actually analysis has shown places such as London and many other place names are equally Germanic as Celtic

    Please show us that analysis; because here’s one (slides 11–14) that shows London 1) is Celtic and 2) would be something more like… hm, that’s difficult… Fleanton if it were Germanic.

    How could Anglo-Saxons come in from the south-east and create dialects within a few hundred years?

    Part of the explanation seems to be, as Schrijver’s article makes clear, that they came into contact with British Celtic in Anglia but with British Romance farther south. Another part is that the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and/or Frisians need not have spoken the exact same dialect when they came in, so that the last common ancestor of all Old English dialects wasn’t spoken in England. And finally, don’t underestimate what a few hundred years can do – look what happened to Romance or Irish during the same time, for example.

    Let alone an entire area learning a Germanic tongue?

    That’s trivial.

  50. Wulf Ingessunu says

    There are coins known to be minted by the Suessiones who formed part of the Belgae showing a figure with large eyes being ‘swallowed’ by a wolf. This motif is the same as the Norse Myth of Odin (Woden) being swallowed by the Fenris Wolf. One of the Welsh pantheons of gods is clearly based upon the Tuatha de Danaan, and yet there is a figure who has been ‘added’ to this and does not appear in the ancient Irish Gods – Gwydion. Gwydion (Wydion since the ‘G’ would have been silent’) is clearly Woden, since he is also associated with the Ash-Tree and in the ‘Battle of the Trees’ overthrows Bran associated with the Alder-Tree.

    That Germanic Peoples dwelt here in these islands before the so-called ‘Anglo-Saxon Invasions’ is clear from the names of some tribes in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Cauci would be the Germanic ‘Chauci’ who dwelt near to the Angles and Saxons in Germania – in 1999 a ‘Saxon’ dwelling was unearthed under a Viking settlement in Dublin, the same area as the Cauci dwelt according to Ptolemi. Then there are various Scottish Clans descended from the Chatti/Catti who came over from Germania through Frisia and into Northern Scotland.

    Since, no doubt, there are many more worthy scholars out there with far better access to ancient records I would throw in some names of ancient tribes whose origins COULD be Germanic and who dwelt in these islands before the Romans came –

    Belgae, Chatti/Catti/Attacotti, Gangani (Ireland, moving into North Wales as the Concani – the nearest word to ‘Gangani’ is the Old English ‘gangan’ meaning ‘wanderer’), Tegeingl (moved over from Ireland with the Gangani, their name meaning ‘Fair Ingle’ which, with the Roman name ‘Deceanglii’ gives a hint as to their origins – they dwelt in Gwynedd and Anglesey (‘Angle’s Island’) and ended up around the area of Flintshire where their homeland was called ‘Englefield’, the Fir Bolg or ‘Men of Bolg’ (the English version of ‘Bolg’ is ‘Belg’ and when we find the Belgae in Western Ireland this makes some sense.

    More and more scholars and laymen are now coming to the conclusion that there were Germanic Tribes here in very ancient times, tribes who spoke the English Language in some form or other. Even J.R.R. Tolkien uses this theme in his works, where he sees the English being here in very ancient times, even before these actually became islands. There was a massive land-mass in the North Sea around the Dogger Bank and who are we to believe lived there before most of it sank after a massive Tsunami?

    And now we find archaeological evidence that the last parts of Stonehenge were built by Frisians who dwelt here in England in ancient times according to the Oera Linda Book. No, this is NOT a historical document at all, but it does contain reference to a massive catastrophe that sank an island (Atland) in the North Sea!

  51. Wulf Ingessunu: a figure with large eyes

    So, not quite Woden then?

    Moreover, tidal waves do not sink islands

  52. Lars (the original one) says

    But it’s not like the Romans are a semi-mythical people whose presence in Britain we infer from shards of pottery — didn’t they and their equally literate Romano-British successors tell us pretty exactly what kind of peoples and languages were there when they arrived? Of course it’s not impossible that there was a Germanic-speaking ‘colony’ among the mainly Celtic peoples which had the good sense to move back home before the Romans got to them, but to believe in a fully Germanic-speaking Britain then overrun by Celts (the Belgae in the 2nd BC?) and then by Romans would seem to do violence to established facts about when and where Germanic ‘arose’ (Proto-Germanic being spoken around the start of the common era, somewhere on the southern Baltic seaboard, with the history of loans from and into Baltic and Finnish languages indicating long presence there or in areas east of there).

    It seems that Tacitus thought that the Caledonians (in Scotland) might have migrated from Germanic areas, but they were still speaking a Brythonic language.

  53. David Marjanović says

    Gwydion […] is clearly Woden

    …Sure, if you completely randomize the vowels.

    the names of some tribes in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland

    Those could easily be cognates or etymological nativizations. For instance, all those Celtic Brigantes and the Germanic Burgundiones come from the exact same *bʰrg-nt- if you reverse-engineer them to Proto-Indo-European.

    the English version of ‘Bolg’ is ‘Belg’

    Uh, perhaps…

    More and more scholars and laymen are now coming to the conclusion that there were Germanic Tribes here in very ancient times, tribes who spoke the English Language in some form or other.

    That’s a statement from the 1980s at best. It’s not a statement from the 2010s.

    There was a massive land-mass in the North Sea around the Dogger Bank and who are we to believe lived there before most of it sank after a massive Tsunami?

    Tsunami my ass. The top of the Dogger Bank is 14 m under today’s sea level. That means it was gone as soon as the sea level rose that far once the ice age was over. That should be some 8000 years ago – around the time agriculture entered central Europe.

    archaeological evidence that the last parts of Stonehenge were built by Frisians

    By time-traveling Frisians almost three thousand years before Proto-Germanic was spoken.

    a massive catastrophe that sank an island (Atland) in the North Sea!

    Obviously fanfiction of Atlantis. I mean, come on.

    didn’t they and their equally literate Romano-British successors tell us pretty exactly what kind of peoples and languages were there when they arrived?

    Let me be the first to admit that the Romans weren’t that concerned with the languages people spoke. They may well have classified people by other cultural traits like their clothing rather than by their languages. Then there are cases (on the mainland) like the Marcomanni, whose name is Germanic, but whose king, Maroboduus, has an unambiguously Celtic name.

    Proto-Germanic being spoken around the start of the common era,

    In his thesis announced here yesterday, Johan Schalin says 200 BC, but I have yet to read to the chapter where he says why. (He places Proto-Northwest-Germanic around 200 AD.)

    somewhere on the southern Baltic seaboard, with the history of loans from and into Baltic and Finnish languages indicating long presence there or in areas east of there

    Or north of there, with frequent crossings of the Baltic Sea (which frankly isn’t much of a sea). Don’t forget the loans into the Sámi languages.

  54. Lars (the original one) says

    Well, the Sámi were in Finland at that time, weren’t they? But yeah, Uralic languages in Finland and points east is probably more precise. And whether Baltic vs Slavic was a meaningful distinction at that time I don’t actually know.

    At the current state of land rise, the largest open water distance when crossing from Sweden to Åland is 25km. But water levels were 20m higher back then and most of the skerries must have been submerged — so 40km is more like it. It was probably not possible to navigate by sight of land all the way, but each side should have been visible from hills close to the coast on the other side. (East of Åland there are lots of larger (and higher) islands all the way to Finland proper).

  55. David Marjanović says

    Well, the Sámi were in Finland at that time, weren’t they?

    Yes, that’s my point – PGmc south of the Baltic Sea is too far away.

    And whether Baltic vs Slavic was a meaningful distinction at that time I don’t actually know.

    That split is handwaved to dates much earlier than PGmc.

  56. Lars (the original one) says

    That reminds me, I find it odd that Proto-Germanic as a relatively unitary language just ‘teleports’ into an area that is (at that time) walled off from most of its possible relatives within IE by hundreds of kilometers of Balts and Celts — from what we know, that is. Looking at a map, it would make more sense to me if it had been at the forefront of PIE expansion into Europe and ended up furthest away, but then we would logically expect it to have branched out at much deeper times.

    Has anyone considered the possibility that the loans into Finnic and Baltic could be from a chain of Para-Germanic languages stretching back east that were swallowed up by the expansion of those language families, and that PG-as-we-know-it was just a last refuge whose fortunes then changed? The number and nature of the loans into PG might not allow that scenario, of course.

  57. Lars (the original one) says

    PGmc south of the Baltic Sea — well, I actually said seaboard of the Southern Baltic, which for my money would be the part south of Stockholm and the Gulf of Finland, Åland probably included. And north of there it’s too cold for comfort, at least if the PGs had genes like modern Danes.

  58. A para-Germanic spoken in SW Finland looks very probable. Something like this has been argued repeatedly by now, though not usually in terms this explicit. Bear in mind though that good chunk of the “old Germanic” loans into Finnic are demonstrably pre-Proto-Germanic. (Most only by extensive arguments of relative chronology though: “loan X shows sound change 1 in Finnic which predates sound change 2 in Finnic which predates loan Y which predates sound change 3 in Proto-Germanic”.) There are a few placenames too; just two or three though, most Germanic placenames in Finland are at most from a Proto-Scandinavian date.

    The question will be however if it is Proto-Germanic or eastern para-Germanic or perhaps neither that is then the original homeland of “macro-Germanic”. My guess would be East Central Europe with parallel (not chained) maritime expansion to various areas across Scandinavia & Finland.

  59. John Cowan says

    Well, if the Philadelphians are right that Germanic was born in the East as the sibling of the core satem languages and then moved west, where it was heavily overlaid by Italo-Celtic, then para-Germanic is just plain Germanic.

    See also the pike that paid.

  60. David Marjanović says

    PGmc south of the Baltic Sea — well, I actually said seaboard of the Southern Baltic, which for my money would be the part south of Stockholm and the Gulf of Finland, Åland probably included.

    Oh, oops! I misread that as “the southern seabord of the Baltic”.

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